Radclyffe Hall is England most influential lesbian writer.
A legend in her own lifetime,
a party girl,
a religious zealot
a communicator with the dead.
Her life reads like a soap-opera: scandals, desire, lawsuits, jealousy and betrayal.
Did she steal the Prince of Wales' lover?
Did she die at the hands of her Russian nurse?
Why in 2019 do women flock to Highgate cemetery, eagerly craning their necks through the gates of her majestic crypt as she spends eternity with the wrong lover?
The Cedar Circle of Lebanon,
Highgate Cemetery, London
I go Salsa dancing. Usually, I go for a few drinks and gossip afterwards.
Roger, our instructor is a genial northerner. Like many of us, he has had many lives. The Queen Mother’s milliner, a session singer, a published author, a Marilyn Monroe aficionado… He currently works with special needs children during the day and teaches Salsa a couple of evenings a week.
One evening, Roger volunteered one of his secrets: “I am the custodian of Radclyffe Hall’s crypt in Highgate…” “…My friend Monica gave me a couple of Radclyffe’s first editions…” “…I’ve got Monica & Marya’s book in a suitcase somewhere in my attic…”
Who was Radclyffe Hall? How does one become the custodian of a vault? Two long lost lovers reunited by a TV advert?! — I was hooked.
Back home, I quickly realised that Radclyffe and her merry band are all over the internet. Blogs, essays, Pinterest, books.
I quickly discovered the conspiracy theories dividing the world into two: Team Una or Team Eugenie. Who were they? Would I have to take sides?
I bought books, went to Highgate and witnessed first hand the trepidation and discreet photo sessions in front of Hall’s vault. I was told by our guide that her tomb is never without freshly cut flowers? But why does she lay next to the wrong lover?
Radclyffe Hall must be seen
in context: the world at the start of the twentieth century was in turmoil.
Radclyffe witnessed two World Wars.
She saw women finally allowed to vote and get rid of their corsets.
She saw the birth of Jazz, Art Deco, Cubism…
... Flapper dresses & Chanel suits.
With all that noise, her preoccupation: being the spokesperson for women who loved women seemed out of steps. Radclyffe Hall was combative and litigious. With no allies and with all here bridges burnt, her message was quickly put back firmly into the closet.
I decided to put myself in her shoes: I researched and visualised the parties, the reckless drives in the middle of the night on Greek islands, the sex, the desire to show the world that there was another way for women. I now believe that Hall & her friends were the original hell-raisers — bandits in petticoats. I came to love and admire Radclyffe and her gang. It is no surprise to me that the establishment wanted us to loathe and laugh at them and
I came to love and admire Radclyffe and her gang.
It is no surprise that the establishment wanted us to
loathe and laugh at them & to brand these
as silly ones.
The time is right to tell Radclyffe, Mabel, Una, Gladys and Eugenie stories. These heroines are not loathsome or ridiculous but from a different time, a time when the rules were different and they broke every single one of them!