Change Your World-NOT your Body

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Different Women Doing Woman Different: Radclyffe Hall

Radclyffe Hall British writer/poet (1880-1943). Hall is most noted for two things, that she was a lesbian and that she authored The Well of Loneliness. And somewhere between the two, Hall not only carried female differently, she tried through her work to convey both.

Hall was born in Bournemouth, England to wealthy angry unhappy and neglectful parents. Where she was neglected with love, she received instead in a good education, in both England and Germany. It was in Germany that a young adult Hall met the much older married with children/grand-children, Mabel Batten and fell in love. Batten encouraged Hall's writing, insisted on Hall dressing "masculine" and renamed Hall "John." Whether Batten's hardcore Catholicism kept her internalized lezbophobia (Sapphophobia) in check and man-making Hall was her way to deal with it. Or whether Batten's heterosexualism required Batten to man-make Hall so she could stomach the lesbianism of the relationship. Either way, it couldnt have been emotionally healthy for Hall who already suffered from an emotionally unhealthy relationship with her mother from the time she was born.

After a period of years in an unstable relationship with Batten, Hall fell in love with Batten's cousin Una Troubridge and after Batten's death in 1916, Hall and Una lived together and remained together until Hall's death, despite Hall cheating. Hall considered herself a congenital (sexual) invert, a condition derived from Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis that likely came to Hall's attention when she was in Germany. Meaning a masculine brain inside a female body with masculine traits that is attracted to women. True inverts according to Krafft-Ebing/Ellis could only exist in females IF females held what they considered a certain internal/external masculinity. In simple terms, true inverts were women similar to yours truly! What they called "feminine" inverts, werent true inverts, their inversion (lesbianism) occurred due to external factors, as in they werent born lezzies! Umm yeah, the more things change the more things stay the same!

Hall used inversion to create the novel she is most remembered for, The Well of Loneliness. The main character Stephen is likely modeled after Hall herself. Hall utilized the novel to both assuage some of her own lesbian shame by justifying her attractions to women and in the hope of showing society that homosexuality wasnt a choice but something one is born and should be forgiven. Only trouble was, Hall filtered her understanding of herself and other lesbians she associated with through the homophobic lens of Krafft-Ebing/Ellis. Her main character hates herself, is unhappy, alien and even when she finds loves, pushes it away. The Well leaves the reader to think the sexual invert shouldnt be hated because her condition isnt her fault, but also her condition is so accursed nothing good, healthy or loving can ever come from it. For all its issues, the Well did something worth having the novel banned, burned and Hall put on trial for obscenity, Hall dared to write when referring to Stephen and Mary that "that night, they were not divided."

Radclyffe Hall carried female differently and she struggled to make some sense and understanding of why. Sadly her conclusions were drawn from straight men in power positions whose authority over rode her common sense, but not her bravery.

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3 comments:

  1. Looks very miserable..

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  2. Brilliant and heart touching post.

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  3. I never read the book, "The Well of Loneliness", but I've been reading reviews and articles on it. According to Wikipedia, "Although its only sexual reference consists of the words "and that night, they were not divided", a British court judged it obscene because it defended "unnatural practices between women". In the United States the book survived legal challenges in New York state and in Customs Court.

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