Friday, August 12, 2011

The Loneliness of a Novelist

Radclyffe Hall

"You're neither unnatural, nor abominable, nor mad; you're as much a part of what people call nature as anyone else; only you're unexplained as yet -- you've not got your niche in creation." - Radclyffe Hall

Radclyffe Hall was born on this day in 1880. She is best known for The Well of Loneliness, the only one of her eight novels to have overt lesbian themes. Published in 1928, The Well of Loneliness deals with the life of Stephen Gordon, a masculine lesbian who, like Hall herself, identifies as an invert. Although Gordon's attitude toward her own sexuality is anguished, the novel presents lesbianism as natural and makes a plea for greater tolerance.  Although The Well of Loneliness is not sexually explicit, it was nevertheless the subject of an obscenity trial in the UK, which resulted in all copies of the novel being ordered destroyed. The United States allowed its publication only after a long court battle. Even though her place in literary history is primarily based upon that novel, or the controversy surrounding it, Hall was well known before her trial. 
In 1926, just two years before The Well of Loneliness, Hall’s Adam’s Breed, a psychological novel about an alienated Italian-Englishman, won both the Prix Femina and the James Tait Black Prize. Her early poems and songs were also popular one of them especially so. A decade before she was accused of writing a “vial of prussic acid” for the nation’s schoolchildren, Hall’s “The Blind Ploughman” was an international hit as a tribute song to WWI veterans who had lost their sight.

Set my hands upon the plough, my feet upon the sod:
Turn my face towards the east, and praise be to God!
Ev'ry year the rains do fall, the seeds they stir and spring;
Ev'ry year the spreading trees shelter birds that sing.

From the shelter of your heart, brother drive out sin.
Let the little birds of faith come and nest therein
God has made His sun to shine on both you and me;
God, who took away my eyes, that my soul might see.

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