Magazine article The Spectator

A Girl Named John

Magazine article The Spectator

A Girl Named John

Article excerpt

At first glance nearly 300 pages about Radclyffe Hall - or John as she preferred to be called - and her soi-disant wife, the terrible Lady Troubridge, might seem more than the average reader could possibly cope with. Indeed in her new biography, Diana Souhami leaves nothing to the imagination in her account of John's life, the development of her monumental ego, her heartless treatment of her lovers, the obsessive greed displayed in her relationships with them and her manipulative use of money. Yet this reviewer found herself engrossed from page one, carried along at breakneck speed by the pace and wit of Souhami's style, by her acute sense of irony and her general good humour, amazed all the while at the behaviour of these two frightful women.

Only towards the end did it begin to seem almost impossible to stomach any more. Una Troubridge's behaviour builds up to a crescendo of such nastiness that the reader may well feel the need to throw the book aside, to avoid contamination from her vileness, stupidity, spite, treachery, deceit and greed.

As anyone who has read The Well of Loneliness, Radclyffe Hall's autobiographical and best known novel, will realise, John always felt, from earliest childhood, that she had been born into the wrong body. The novel describes in somewhat overblown language the isolation and misery which result from society's repressive and unyielding attitude to those whom Radclyffe Hall chose to describe as sexual inverts. The plight of Stephen, the novel's protagonist, can hardly fail to move and in 1928 the book was ready to be written, but, as Cyril Connolly wrote at the time:

The Well of Loneliness may be a brave book to have written, but let us hope that it will pave the way for someone to write a better... It is time [homosexuality] was emancipated from the aura of distinguished damnation and religious martyrdom which surrounds its so fiercely aggressive apologists.

The trouble with John was that she was not only stupid but totally humourless.

The Well of Loneliness is the only one of Radclyffe Hall's books which appears to have begun to withstand the test of time, yet the poor misguided woman had such an inflated view of her own talents - a view which was bolstered ceaselessly by Una that she fondly believed herself to be the greatest living English writer -- never mind Forster or Virginia Woolf.

Marguerite Radclyffe Hall was born in 1880 to a hysterical American mother who had tried to abort her and a dissolute English father known as Rat Radclyffe Hall. …

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