Radclyffe Hall: The Poet who Inspired Many

A fighter of social prejudice towards homosexuality in the 20th century, and most well known for her novel The Well of Loneliness, Radclyffe Hall described herself as inverted. This was a popular contemporary term for people whose natural gender was different from their biological ones. This term was used to describe both homosexuality and transgender identities at this time in history.

Her book was banned three weeks after it was published, and wasn’t available in the UK until 1949, where it went on to achieve recognition for one of the first storylines to write about an openly lesbian relationships. Her other books she had written before the Well of Loneliness had been best sellers, as they featured storylines of heterosexual relationships.

Hall believed that sexual inversion was a condition people were born with, and something that should be widely accepted. Her book follows the life of upper-class woman called Stephen Gordon, who abandoned her relationship with another woman due to the social isolation they encountered as a result. She noted the book was intended for the public to develop a deeper understanding and gain toleration as this is the way that God had made them.

It is thought Hall may’ve been non-binary, as she frequently wore masculine clothes and went by John to her close friends, but always referred to herself as she.

Marguerite Antonia Radclyffe Hall was born in Bournemouth, Hampshire in the 1880’s. She was raised by her mother Mary Jane Sager, after her father abandoned them from an early age. But her relationship with her mother was strained after she remarried, and after revealing that Hall was supposed to be aborted but it failed. She also used her daughter for the inheritance her father had left for her upon leaving.

As she grew, she realised that she had been left a comparable sum of inheritance, meaning she had enough for her to avoid marriage or work. This led her to do what she pleased, and she began experimenting with her fashion, wearing manacles and hats. Reaching adulthood without vocation, she perused many women, who she later remarked she lost to them marrying.

She met Mabel Batten, an amateur singer of lieder when she was 27. Mabel was 51, and married with an adult daughter and grandchildren, but the pair hit it off and fell in love. After her husband died, they began living together and Hall was introduced to a circle of artistic, intellectual women of whom many were lesbians.

Hall, however, soon found herself falling for Batten’s cousin, Una Troubridge, a sculptor, whom she became lovers with. The love triangle caused tension between the three women, until Batten’s death in 1916. Hall embalmed her body and had a silver crucifix blessed by the pope laid on her casket. She later set up residence with Troubridge, until her death, living the rest of her life in Kensington, until she died in 1945.

But where she did much to promote LGBTQ+ acceptance, Hall did stay strict to her otherwise conservative beliefs and by the end of her life was nearing fascist ideals. And although the Church condemned same-sex relationships, she always stuck to her strict Catholic beliefs, though she could not escape her lifelong attachment to spiritualism and reincarnation.

She remains an inspiration for the LGBTQ+ community, despite her later views, as someone who wrote for what they believed in, not just because the public desired (or didn’t desire) it. She was openly gay in a time that it wasn’t accepted and still allowed her beliefs to be apart of her life, even if they went against her sexuality. She dressed how she wanted, dated who she wanted, and died who she was, a woman who didn’t let the pressures of society dictate her life.

Published by Heather Dalgleish

21-year-old journalism student. Author and illustrator for In Full Bloom Magazine

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