Outside of Rita Mae Brown & Fannie Flagg, I am not really all that keen on Lesbian Literature, although I kissed a girl & I liked it. But as the chronicler of the lives of famous gay people, I need to note that today is the birthday of Radclyffe Hall, who lived her lesbianism openly & proudly, & was the writer of what is arguably the most important lesbian novel ever written.
At 21 years of age, after a desperately unhappy upbringing Marguerite Antonia Radclyffe-Hall inherited a large sum of money that left in trust by her grandfather.
Hall lived with the singer Mabel Veronica Batten, who was 25 years her senior, until her death in 1916. Soon afterwards she began a relationship with Una Elena Troubridge, a talented sculptor. She was married to Admiral Ernest Troubridge & Radclyffe Hall sued him for libel after he described her as "a grossly immoral woman".
Hall liked to be called John & cultivated a strikingly masculine appearance, sporting cropped hair, monocles, bow-ties, smoking jackets, & pipes.
Although she had enough money to live in leisure, Hall set about to be a writer. She published several novels, including The Forge (1924), The Unlit Lamp (1924), A Saturday Life (1925) & several volumes of poetry. Her 4tg novel, Adam's Breed (1926) was a best-seller & won prestigious literary prizes.
In 1928 Radclyffe Hall published the explicitly lesbian novel- The Well Of Loneliness. The publisher, Jonathan Cape, argued on the book jacket: "In England hitherto the subject has not been treated frankly outside the regions of scientific text-books, but that its social consequences qualify a broader & more general treatment is likely to be the opinion of thoughtful & cultured people."
There was a campaign by the press to get the book banned. The London Sunday Express urged: "In order to prevent the contamination & corruption of English fiction it is the duty of the critic to make it impossible for any other novelist to repeat this outrage. I say deliberately that this novel is not fit to be sold by any bookseller or to be borrowed from any library."
British Government put pressure of Jonathan Cape to withdraw the book. One official described the book as "inherently obscene… it supports a depraved practice & is gravely detrimental to the public interest". It was ordered that all copies be destroyed, & that literary merit presented no grounds for defense. The publisher agreed to withdraw the novel & proofs intended for a publisher in France were seized in October 1928.
Several writers, including, Arnold Bennett, T.S. Eliot, E.M. Forster, George Bernard Shaw, Lytton Strachey, Leonard Woolf, Virginia Woolf, & T.S. Eliot signed a letter of protest about the banning of the The Well Of Loneliness to The Daily Chronicle. In the USA, the book faced obscenity trials, garnering letters of support from Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Mencken, Sinclair, Dos Passos, St. Vincent Millay, & more, & both times the book triumphed. Its first year, the book sold more than 100,000 copies. It was finally published in the UK in 1949.
Although she continued to live with Troubridge, Hall fell in love with a Russian nurse, Eugenie Souline in 1934. Despite the initial protests of Troubridge, the trio of women lived together in Florence.
At the outbreak of the WW2, the 3 women left Italy & settled in Devon, England. Hall developed bowel cancer & died on 7th October 1943. Just before her death, Hall changed her will, leaving everything to Troubridge, including the copyrights to her works. In her new will she asked Troubridge to "make such provision for our friend Eugenie Souline as in her absolute discretion she may consider right". Troubridge only provided Souline with a small allowance. The Well Of Loneliness has never gone out of print.