cover image Radclyffe Hall: A Woman Called John

Radclyffe Hall: A Woman Called John

Sally Cline, Author Overlook Press $32.5 (304p) ISBN 978-0-87951-831-8

In the one book on which the reputation of British writer Marguerite Radclyffe Hall (1880-1943) has survived, The Well of Loneliness (1928), ""Stephen""--a young woman--after long suppressing her love for Mary Llewellyn, succumbs to her passion, ""and that night they were not divided."" It is the only explicit line about lesbian sexual fulfillment in the novel, but it was enough to have the book, already the recipient of prestigious literary prizes, condemned under the Obscene Publications Act of 1857. Cline (Women, Celibacy and Passion) sees an additional spur to Hall's sexuality in an abusive stepfather. As Radclyffe Hall she wrote seven risque yet decorous novels, and as ""John"" to her intimates, she engaged in three long-term liaisons with other women. She dressed as a man and never considered her lifestyle and that of her lesbian circles anything but a different shade of normal. Not so her public, which divided into those who considered her writings about outcast types serious and courageous, and those who condemned her works as salacious. Cline's sympathetic biography, replete with new data about Hall's life and work, becomes tedious in its flat recital of facts and occasional lapses into such awkward descriptions as an ill lover who ""coughed her way into 1914."" Still, the details remain for reappraisals of Hall as novelist, poet, personality and pioneer. Illustrations. (Feb.)