In her 2019 memoir, In The Dream House, author Carmen Maria Machado writes about the importance of seeing queer people not as saints, but as full human beings – human beings with complicated and sometimes upsetting ideologies. She writes in her essay, “Dream House as Queer Villainy,” “…it sounds terrible but it is, in fact, freeing: the idea that queer does not equal good or pure or right. It is simply a state of being—one subject to…moral complexities of every kind.” It is with this focus on nuance in mind that I, along with the Hall-Troubridge Online Archive team, have been working to bring the papers of queer writers and personal and creative partners Radclyffe Hall and Una Troubridge to the public, thanks to a generous Digitizing Hidden Collections grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR).*
The papers document Hall’s career as a writer, Troubridge’s work as a translator, and their personal and creative partnership. Their writings, correspondence and diaries offer insight into a broad range of subjects including gender identity and sexuality; spiritualism and religion; and sociopolitical movements spanning the two world wars.
Once the project is complete, 38,500 images captured from original manuscripts and objects in this collection will be available to the public, offering a rich opportunity for researchers to learn about the complexities of these two writers’ lives and work.
Given the size of the collection, the Hall-Troubridge Online Archive presents an opportunity for researchers to take a deep dive into the work and lives of Hall and Troubridge, groundbreaking writers in queer literature with a complicated legacy. Their lived experiences and sometimes paradoxical beliefs informed their written work.
This sizable collection includes drafts of Hall’s landmark novel, The Well of Loneliness, Troubridge’s translations of the work of French writer Colette, as well as personal papers, research materials, and other objects, offering an intimate look into the couple’s work and lives together.
The two writers lived their lives unapologetically, but also benefited from being white and upper-class in English society – aspects of their identity that informed their beliefs and politics while they were alive.
The couple’s leanings towards fascism and other far-right ideologies certainly complicate their legacy as groundbreaking queer writers today, and digitizing their papers offers an opportunity to shed full light on the lives they led.
This project is also an opportunity to observe a multi-dimensional perspective of what queer life looked like for people in the time they lived, which is indispensable for historians, researchers, and anyone else interested in the full breadth of queer history.
Although we are not yet back on site, our plans for a return to digitization are underway, and our ultimate goal for this project has not changed. While our digitization of the collection has paused since the Harry Ransom Center closed in March, work on the collection has not.
From kitchen tables, home offices, and bedroom desks, working from home has given the Hall-Troubridge Online Archive team a chance to give the collection the care and nuance it requires. From compiling accurate, informative, and respectful metadata to planning and preparing teaching guides for the collection, our work has continued in different ways over the past few months.
Even though we have not been able to work onsite, our ultimate goal for this project has not changed: to tell Radclyffe Hall and Una Troubridge’s stories, with their many complexities, and allow people to learn and gain a greater understanding of their life and times from these objects.
Top Images: (Left) Allen Guy, [Radclyffe Hall with cigarette], 1934. Radclyffe Hall Literary File, Photography Collection, Harry Ransom Center. (Right) Unidentified photographer, Studio Portrait of Una Troubridge. Radclyffe Hall and Una Vincenzo, Lady Troubridge Papers (Manuscript Collection MS-01793), Harry Ransom Center.
*This project is supported by a Digitizing Hidden Collections or Recordings at Risk grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.