“A Writer of Misfits”: “John” Radclyffe Hall
and the Discourse of Inversion
And it may be that being myself a “misfit,” for as you know beloved, I am a born invert, it may be that I am a writer of “misfits” in one form or another—I think I understand them—their joys & sorrows, indeed I know I do, and all the misfits of this world are lonely, being conscious that they differ from the rank and file.
—John Radclyffe Hall, letter to Evguenia Souline, October 24, 1934 1
At the beginning of the twentieth century, as Michel Foucault has argued, the discourse of sexuality became a medical discourse and sexual acts were transformed through complex discursive practices into stable notions of identity. 2 By the early teens and the 1920s, communities of inverts and their “wives” had developed into visible and elaborate subcultures and, with the publication in 1928 of Radclyffe Hall's novel of inversion, The Well of Loneliness, the topic of inversion became highly publicized. Hall's complex understanding of her own sexual subjectivity has been handed down to modern readers in the form of her novels, her letters, and recollections of her life made by her partner Una Troubridge and many other literary luminaries. The recent publication of Hall's letters allows for new insights about the psychic mechanisms of inversion and the romantic relations between inverts and their lovers. By historically contextualizing here the life of Radclyffe Hall—or John as she insisted upon being called—I want to call attention to the multiple and contradictory models of female masculinity produced by not only John but also her many inverted friends and contemporaries.