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Radclyffe Hall

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Radclyffe Hall

by Charles Buchel (Karl August Büchel)
oil on canvas, 1918
36 in. x 28 in. (914 mm x 711 mm)
Bequeathed by Una Elena Vincenzo (née Taylor), Lady Troubridge, 1963
Primary Collection
NPG 4347

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This portraitback to top

In this portrait Hall's short hair, masculine jacket, cravat and monocle, proclaim her defiance of convention.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Portraits, p. 103
  • 100 Pioneering Women, p. 86 Read entry

    The writer and poet Radclyffe Hall (née Marguerite Antonia Radclyffe-Hall, 1880–1943) is best known today for her semi-autobiographical novel The Well of Loneliness, which invoked public outrage following its publication in 1928, for its candid and sympathetic depiction of a lesbian relationship. Despite protestations from Vera Brittain, Arnold Bennett, T.S. Eliot and other eminent contemporaries, the publication was banned in Britain. In a letter of thanks to one supporter, following the furore, Hall explained: ‘I wrote the book in order to help a very much misunderstood … section of society.’ A woman of independent means, Hall had first published several volumes of verse under her full name, before turning to novels from 1924. Adam’s Breed (1926) was awarded two prestigious literary awards, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize (1926) and Prix Femina Vie Heureuse (1927). The ban on The Well of Loneliness was overturned in 1949, six years after Hall’s death. Her life, like her writing, was ground-breaking and controversial. Privately known as ‘John’, she wore men’s clothes, and at a time when male homosexual behaviour was illegal, she lived, openly, with singer Mabel Veronica Batten, and later (1916-43) with sculptor Una, Lady Troubridge.

  • Ribeiro, Aileen, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p. 208
  • Ribeiro, Aileen; Blackman, Cally, A Portrait of Fashion: Six Centuries of Dress at the National Portrait Gallery, 2015, p. 217
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 272
  • Tinker, Christopher, Speak its Name! - Quotations by and about Gay Men and Women, 2016, p. 88
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 196 Read entry

    This portrait of the novelist Radclyffe Hall (born Marguerite Antonia Radclyffe-Hall) precedes the publication of her first book, The Forge (1924), by several years. It belongs to a period in her life when Hall, a lesbian and a professed ‘congenital invert’, had fallen in love with another woman, Una Troubridge, one of several affairs in which Hall became involved. From 1918 the two lived together, with Troubridge becoming ‘wife’ to Hall, to whom she gave the nickname John. Having inherited a generous legacy from her grandfather, Hall had a private income until her forties. Believing herself to be a man trapped in a woman’s body, she cultivated the masculine appearance captured in this portrait by Charles Buchel (1872–1950), which was distinguished by short hair, bow tie, monocle and well-cut jacket and trousers. Hall and Troubridge remained together until the former’s death and throughout the scandal that accompanied the publication of Hall’s fifth novel, The Well of Loneliness (1928). Reflecting Hall’s campaigning support for homosexuals, its treatment of lesbianism provoked controversy and, despite support from Virginia Woolf and John Buchan, the book was banned in England following a trial for obscenity.

Events of 1918back to top

Current affairs

Despite the suspension of the Suffrage movement during the war, the Government finally agrees to grant women the right to vote as recognition of their vital role in the war effort. However, The Representation of the People Act only extended the franchise to female householders and university graduates over 30. Equal rights to men were not granted until 1928.

Art and science

War Poet, Wilfred Owen, is killed in action just a week before the end of the war. His poems, including Dulce et Decorum Est and Anthem for Doomed Youth, tell of the horror of war in the trenches and the tragic loss of a generation of young men who enthusiastically signed up to fight in a war that became seen as futile rather than glorious.


British representative, Admiral Rosslyn Wemyss, signs the Armistice calling a ceasefire on the 11th November 1918 and ending the war. Germany and Austria loose their empires and become republics. Around the same time a global flu pandemic brakes out - known in England as Spanish Flu - killing 50-100 million people within a year compared to 15 million fatalities from the four years of war.

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