9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 27 August 1999
In this brilliant biography Diana Souhami re-creates the life and world of Radclyffe Hall. Writing about her subject with compassion, humour and wit, Diana Souhami treats Radclyffe Hall sympathetically, yet does not seek to lionise her; instead she delights in detailing the remarkable absurdities of her subject's life. Souhami's style is elegant and engaging: The Trials of Radclyffe Hall has me want to read all her other biographies.
on 25 January 2015
Marguerite Radclyffe-Hall was born into a degree of wealth and society but also into a family torn apart by conflict. Abandoned by her father, treated badly by her mother and abused by her stepfather, her early years were difficult. However on the death of her father she came into money and Marguerite transformed into Radclyffe Hall, writer and 'invert'.
Perhaps most famous as the author of 'The Well of Loneliness', a lesbian novel famously banned for obscenity, this biography tells how the trauma of Marguerite's early life had such an influence on her writing and her lifestyle. Mannish in her appearance, Radclyffe Hall had three serious affairs with women lasting many years. Her lifestyle was extravagant, travelling extensively and keeping various pets (usually discarded after a short period for various faults), Radclyffe wrote several books but none matched the impact of 'The Well...'
Souhami is an excellent biographer who produces an unflinching portrait of a woman I found hard to like. Yes, she suffered because of her sexual proclivities but she chose to flaunt her 'inversion' in a conservative society. She felt that she was a great writer but critics were not in agreement and, whilst her most famous oeuvre was banned for obscenity, there was no sex in it. As a sexual predator and great manipulator of her lovers Hall does not present as a sympathetic character but Souhami does a great job of placing her actions into context.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 26 December 2011
Radclyffe Hall was "one of England's great eccentrics", best known as being openly a pipe smoking lesbian. She is also remembered as the author of a novel " The Well of Loneliness", which rates being called " inherently obscene" by one Home Secretary. Born in the late Victorian era, sexually subversive, a Catholic convert, she was born in the wrong era and in the wrong gender. She died during the Second World War. This is a lavish, delightfully readable, hugely well researched biography, from Diana Souhami, the author of the equally impressive "Mrs Keppel and Her Daughter". Using the name of " John", the author revels and teases in describing the manly ways of the subject but throughout Radclyffe Hall is sensitively, even comically portrayed. In the closing stages of her life, suffering from advanced cancer, Radclyffe Hall entered Lady Almina Carnarvon's Nursing Home of The Glebe at Barnet in Hertfordshire, indeed she was the last patient there before the place closed down in 1943. The description of that scene is moving and sad. In a way sad is also a description of John's life, and the description of it by the author as " Trials" is very apt. This is a frank, and sometimes shocking account of an arrogant and often unsavaory bully, but well worth reading. The images from the many photographs included conjure up the lost era of John's life and her close friends, battleing for their own survival between the two World Wars of the 20th century, and victims, the faces of several of these posers linger in the memory too of the divine decadance of the fictional Sally Bowles and more than a touch of real life absurdity.
This is an excellent and meticulously researched biography of Radclyffe Hall and her circle, and brilliantly evokes the lesbian milieu she moved in. The author has a rather abrupt style, with very short sentences, which grated on me at times, and she has a tendency to be just a bit too detailed on occasion, but on the whole the book does just what the best biographies should do – give a non-judgemental and fully explored portrait of the subject, backed up by first –person narratives and accounts when possible, always avoiding speculation and guesswork. I very much enjoyed learning more about this unusual, interesting – if often irritating - character, and gaining a deeper understanding of her life and times.