Radclyffe Hall was born in England in 1886 to Radclyffe Radclyffe-Hall and Mary Jane Diehl Radclyffe-Hall. She was raised by her mother and an Italian stepfather. She started writing quite early and produced several volumes of poetry and a number of novels including 'Twixt Earth and Stars (1906), A Sheaf of Verses (1908), Poems of the Past and Present (1910), Songs of Three Counties, and Other Poems (1913), The Forgotten Island (1915), The Forge (1924), The Unlit Lamp (1924), A Saturday Life (1925), Adam's Breed (1926), The Well of Loneliness (1928), The Master of the House (1932), Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself (1934), and The Sixth Beatitude (1936).
Her 1928 The Well of Loneliness is a frank account of the situation of the “invert” or homosexual in the early decades of the twentieth century. The book garnered popularity and notoriety when it was the subject of an obscenity trial. The book has always had an uneasy welcome, however, even in the feminist canon when it was reclaimed in the early 1970s. As Esther Newton suggests, “Heterosexual conservatives condemn The Well for defending the lesbian's right to exist. Lesbian feminists condemn it for presenting lesbians as different from women in general” (282).
The book opens with the arrival at Morton Hall of Lady Anna Gordon as a young bride. She and her husband, Sir Philip, have an affectionate relationship that does not bear children for ten years. They so longed for a son that they named their infant daughter Stephen Mary Olivia Gertrude. Lady Gordon has a distaste for her own daughter and is afraid to be affectionate with her; she “hated the way Stephen moved or stood still, hated a certain largeness about her, a certain crude lack of grace in her movements, a certain unconscious defiance” (16). At seven, Stephen is aware of her own differences and develops a crush on the servant girl,