The Trials of Radclyffe Hall
A fascinating figure of English literary and political history, Radclyffe Hall was born in 1880 in Bournemouth, England. Hall suffered through an exceedingly unhappy childhood until her father’s death. With her inheritance, Hall leased a house in Kensington and began to live the way she pleased. She started dressing in chappish clothes, called herself Peter, then John, and wrote her first collection of verse. She was a political reactionary, a reformed Catholic, a member of the Society for Psychical Research, fussy about food and obsessive about work. She got her pipes from Dunhill’s, wore brocade smoking jackets, spats in winter, and had her hair cropped off at the barber’s.
Hall is most famous today for her book, The Well of Loneliness, which she wrote in 1928. A novel about lesbian love, the book caused an enormous scandal on its publication and it was suppressed both in the U.S. and the United Kingdom, where Hall was put on trial under the Obscene Publications Act.
Brilliantly written, witty, and satirical, this major new biography by Diana Souhami brings a fresh and irreverent eye to the life of this fascinating eccentric.
The wealthy, conservative lesbian Radclyffe Hall is remembered now for a single brave act: the publication of her troubling classic The Well of Loneliness (1928), the first novel in English on the theme of “sexual inversion.” It appeared the same year as Virginia Woolf’s jeu d’esprit Orlando, which is more or less about Woolf’s love of Vita Sackville-West, but the authorities failed to decipher the subversive undertone of Woolf’s modernist prose—and it was Hall’s blandly realistic novel that was seized and banned. The best yet of Diana Souhami’s biographies, The Trials of Radclyffe Hall is an absorbing and irreverent account of Hall’s life and work, with emphasis on the stormy reception of The Well of Loneliness and Hall’s long relationship with the artist Una Troubridge, “a formidable acolyte, an indispensable servant, even if there was the grip of tentacles about her and the clink of chains.” —Regina Marler