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Radclyffe Hall

Radclyffe Hall: A Life in the Writing

Richard Dellamora
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 344
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    Radclyffe Hall
    Book Description:

    The Well of Loneliness is probably the most famous lesbian novel ever written, and certainly the most widely read. It contains no explicit sex scenes, yet in 1928, the year in which the novel was published, it was deemed obscene in a British court of law for its defense of sexual inversion and was forbidden for sale or import into England. Its author, Radclyffe Hall, was already well-known as a writer and West End celebrity, but the fame and notoriety of that one book has all but eclipsed a literary output of some half-dozen other novels and several volumes of poetry. In Radclyffe Hall: A Life in the Writing Richard Dellamora offers the first full look at the entire range of Hall's published and unpublished works of fiction, poetry, and autobiography and reads through them to demonstrate how she continually played with the details of her own life to help fashion her own identity as well as to bring into existence a public lesbian culture. Along the way, Dellamora revises many of the truisms about Hall that had their origins in the memoirs of her long-term partner, Una Troubridge, and that have found an afterlife in the writings of Hall's biographers. In detailing Hall's explorations of the self, Dellamora is the first seriously to consider their contexts in Freudian psychoanalysis as understood in England in the 1920s. As important, he uncovers Hall's involvement with other modes of speculative psychology, including Spiritualism, Theosophy, and an eclectic brand of Christian and Buddhist mysticism. Dellamora's Hall is a woman of complex accommodations, able to reconcile her marriage to Troubridge with her passionate affairs with other women, and her experimental approach to gender and sexuality with her conservative politics and Catholicism. She is, above all, a thinker continually inventive about the connections between selfhood and desire, a figure who has much to contribute to our own efforts to understand transgendered and transsexual existence today.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0465-0
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations (pp. ix-x)
  4. PREFACE (pp. xi-xxii)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Writing Radclyffe Hall Writing (pp. 1-24)

    The position of social and economic privilege occupied by Hall and Troubridge, their Tory sympathies, Roman Catholicism, and eugenicist views are not factors calculated to endear them to members of contemporary lesbian and queer counterpublics.¹ In recent years, Hall’s self-identification as a masculine woman drew even more criticism. To some second-generation feminists, Hall was felt to have misled generations of young women into believing that, if they desired sexual intimacy with other women, then they must be psychically male. In 1975, for example, Jane Rule, complaining about the reputation of The Well of Loneliness as “the Lesbian bible,” quoted two...

  6. 1 Reading the Poetry (pp. 25-52)

    In view of Hall’s uncertainty about the durability of close ties between women, it is not surprising that one finds in her early volumes of verse not only poems that celebrate a singular relationship with another woman but also those that imagine sexual and emotional ties as fleeting. Hall’s personal life during her twenties and early thirties resembles the High Victorian Bohemianism exemplified by Charlotte Cushman (1816–1876), an actor celebrated for her performance in Shakespearean trouser roles. With the wealth that she earned on the stage, Cushman retired to Rome, where she supported various American relatives and Emma Stebbins,...

  7. 2 Psychic Incorporation: War, Mourning, and the Technology of Mediumship (pp. 53-76)

    With the onset of World War I and the traumatic death of her first long-term partner in 1916, the relaxed view of the possibilities of desire between women evinced in Hall’s poetry came to an end. In the following years, she lost contact with many of the artistic and often feminist women that her connection with Mabel Batten had opened to her. Instead, the next six years were anxious ones, dominated by guilt over the circumstances attending Batten’s death and by Hall’s attempt to repair the loss. During this period, Hall turned to members of another group, the Society for...

  8. 3 Symbiosis of Publicity and Privacy: The Slander Trial of 1920 (pp. 77-95)

    Hall’s insistence on making the private public brought her into court in 1920. While biographers have mentioned the action for sexual slander that she brought at this time, none have recognized its importance.¹ The case established the preconditions both for her emergence as a successful novelist and for her decision to write the first novel in English to take female sexual inversion as its focal point. As in the case of the 1928 trial, which resulted in the suppression of The Well of Loneliness, the earlier trial was a contest over the permissible limits of the representation of desire between...

  9. 4 The Unlit Lamp: A Feminist Experiment (pp. 96-114)

    The first novel completed by Hall and the second to be published, The Unlit Lamp (1924), is a feminist work that focuses on the impossibility of lesbian desire. To say impossible is to speak paradoxically because during the postwar decade Hall lived in an open same-sex relationship while contributing to the construction of a lesbian public culture in England. The impossibility to which the novel refers then is theoretical, specifically in the difficulty that psychoanalytic theory in the 1920s and early 1930s, whether practiced by men or women, had in articulating and grounding adult female sexuality.¹ As Hall indicates, however,...

  10. 5 Paris and the Culture of Auto/biography in The Forge (pp. 115-137)

    Biographies deal in myths of origin. In her memoir of Hall, Troubridge reports that the germ of The Unlit Lamp occurred to Hall while the two, on vacation at the Lynton Cottage Hotel in North Devon, noticed an elderly woman with her middle-aged “maiden daughter” under circumstances similar to the ones in which a young female couple notice Joan Ogden near the end of the novel.¹ Similarly, biographies of Radclyffe Hall have a single story to tell about the origin of The Forge (1924), her first published novel. In 1922, Hall was working to place the manuscript of The Unlit...

  11. 6 Una Troubridge and Gender Performativity in A Saturday Life (pp. 138-163)

    This chapter begins and ends with a discussion of the reflexive relationship between Hall’s next novel, A Saturday Life (1925), and emergent lesbian public culture. Beginning with a discussion of personal agency within the project of modernist self-fashioning, the chapter moves outward to consider how the novel is mediated by an unfolding culture of sexual dissidence: namely, the emergence of Noël Coward as a presence in West End theater in the early 1920s; the continuing impact of Colette’s outspoken experiments in sexual self-figuration; and, finally, the material provided by a series of unpublished memoir-like essays written by Hall’s partner, Una...

  12. 7 Catholicism, Adam’s Breed, and the Sacred Well (pp. 164-185)

    The following two chapters focus in whole or in part on The Well of Loneliness. In Chapter 8, I consider how the topic of female same-sex marriage emerged as a focus of discussion in litigation attending publication of the novel. Further, I extend the discussion to other writing—male and female, public and private—at the time, which indicates that Hall’s effort was part of a wider attempt by homosexuals between the world wars to invent appropriate interpersonal forms for homosexual existence. The present chapter approaches The Well of Loneliness as a sacred text. The religious character of the novel...

  13. 8 The Well of Loneliness as an Activist Text (pp. 186-213)

    The call to action that a reader like Grace Spencer heard in Hall’s early novels is amplified in The Well of Loneliness. In that novel, Hall focuses on the question of what spatial and temporal forms are necessary to enable the public existence of sexual inverts.¹ Hall believed the answer to lie in the extension of the civil and religious institution of marriage to female couples. At the time, many Sapphists disagreed with her. For their part, the prosecutors of Hall’s publisher singled out the novel’s advocacy of samesex marriage as one of its most objectionable features. Moreover, while the...

  14. 9 From Sexual Inversion to Cross Gender in “Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself” (pp. 214-227)

    In The Well of Loneliness, Hall parsed female same-sex desire through the sexological model of sexual inversion. As I mentioned in the preceding chapter, this choice was strategic. If Hall was to claim public space for the lives of subjects of female same-sex desire, it was necessary that those subjects be recognizable in widely shared, implicitly objective terms. For this purpose, the obvious place to turn was the language of sexology; and in that direction the available terms were female homosexuality and female sexual inversion, phrases in synonymous use at the time. In choosing such a model, however, Hall subjected...

  15. 10 After Economic Man: “The Rest Cure—1932” (pp. 228-236)

    The fates of Miss Ogilvy and other protagonists of the short stories included in Hall’s 1934 collection are marked by their experience of World War I. This much is also true of Charles Duffell, the protagonist of “The Rest Cure—1932.” As someone who played the role of a leading industrialist during the war, Duffell’s consciousness is very much an effect of that conflict. As with Ogilvy, Hall is interested in knowing whether he can survive the war. This question is specifically directed toward Duffell’s masculine engenderment. In Hall’s analysis, the coherence of Duffell’s masculine bodily ego is based upon...

  16. 11 Oneself as The Other: Hall, Evguenia Souline, and the Final Writing (pp. 237-264)

    The final chapter of this book focuses on three sets of writing, each of which is premised on Hall’s involvement with Evguenia Souline: Hall’s letters to Souline, published for the first time more than half a century after Hall’s death; the incomplete manuscripts of Emblem Hurlstone, a novel that Hall undertook during the period of suspense after she and Souline had met but before they became lovers; and the typescript and printed versions of The Sixth Beatitude (1936). Hall repeatedly assured Souline that she provided the inspiration for both novels. But the letters also include the only metacommentary on her...

  17. NOTES (pp. 265-292)
  18. BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 293-306)
  19. INDEX (pp. 307-316)
  20. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. 317-319)