Friday, July 18, 2014

Radclyffe Hall: Cover Me

The English friend who'd asked me if I'd read Well of Loneliness (1928) when I was an ardent young lesbian-feminist* e-mailed me the cover of the edition he owned, published by Virago in the 1980s. 

Virago's cover––below left, from a painting by Gluck (Hannah Gluckstein) of herself (dark hair) and her lover Nesta Obermer––
is so much better than the embarrassingly pornish one I owned 
(Avon, 1974), below right.
Either of Gluck's women look like they could be the novel's main character, Stephen, so-named by parents who wanted a son, who announces when she's a little girl:
“I’m going to learn fencing so as I can kill your brother-in-law who’s a beast to your sister, I’m going to fight duels for wives in distress, like men do in Paris,  and I’m going to learn how to lift pianos on my stomach by expanding something–the diapan muscles–and I’m going to cut my hair off!”
I especially like the bit about lifting pianos. Makes me want to try reading the book again, which I haven't since I was ... 17?

Gluck's painting is much closer to reality too: Una Troubridge and Radclyffe Hall, right, who were together until Hall's death.
(How bout those wonderfully chunky dogs?!)
* If I had to define myself now at midlife, I'd rather not, but since I brought it up, I guess I'd call myself "culturally queer" (like I'd call myself a cultural Catholic, though I don't practice or even believe in God). 

By which I mean... what? 
I'm not quite sure.
But here's one example: when I was in second grade, I announced to my mother that I was never going to fall in love. It looked like a bad deal to me. 

I think I was reacting against the Disney-ized way "falling in love" was depicted: you, if you were a girl, were supposed to wait for love to activate your being, when I, at seven or eight, felt very fiercely that I already was a full being. 
So I feel an allegiance to others who don't see themselves in that story for any number of reasons, which is, of course, a very broad swath of people.


deanna said...

This is rich information. I think I'll return and read it again, and I shouldn't just comment on the fly, but...

I realized early on I would be content never to marry. I played war with my brothers (though mainly we played "army", having fun being different characters who marched around). That's to say I reacted against Disney, too.

I guess I characterize myself as a counter-culture Christian. But since I left the counter-culture group I was in, I may now be more of a conventional (Protestant) heretic. Hard to say...

Fresca said...

"a conventional (Protestant) heretic."
*big smile*

I was surprised when I got to know Catholicism how very counter-cultural it is:
while it presents a confused view of human sexuality, it did (does) offer girls an option to marriage: spiritual service.
In real life, of course this could be liberating for some and enslaving for others, depending.

Some women have told me that Catholic nuns were their role models growing up, because they were powerful women who got to do things and go places.

Fresca said...

P.S. DEANNA: The Orthodox Church is not Protestant, is it? Or... oh, wait, do you mean you are a heretic in relation to Protestantism? That makes more sense.