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07 October 2015

Toupie Lowther (1874 – 1944) Part II: The Well of Loneliness.

Part I: sporting champion and war service
Part II: The Well of Loneliness.

Also in 1926, Radclyffe Hall wrote a short story, "Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself", although it was not published until 1934. It drew on Toupie's accounts of her life during the war, her masculinity and her lack of fit in society. Ogilvy, "My God! If only I were a man", who, even as a child had insisted that "her real name was William and not Wilhelmina", finds a role in the war leading an ambulance unit, but afterwards finds that again her masculinity has become absurd. She commits suicide.

A few years later Radclyffe Hall incorporated much more of Toupie into the life of her FTM invert anti-hero Stephen Gordon, who is an accomplished fencer, tennis player and motorist, in the ambulance unit in the battles at Compiègne, and is awarded a Croix de Guerre. The book was published in 1928 as The Well of Loneliness.

It was prosecuted for obscenity that same year. This had a side effect of outing the Hackett-Lowther Unit as being largely a lesbian organization. In his summing up, the barrister Charles Biron said:
“ ….according to the writer of this book, a number of women of position and admirable character, who were engaged in driving ambulances in the course of the war, were addicted to this vice".
For a while after the trial, Toupie took to dressing as an heterosexual woman: skirts, silks etc, and disassociated herself from Hall and Troubridge.

Toupie's brother, Claude, unmarried, but the father of one son, after a career as a right-wing Conservative, died the next year after a period of illness – the outing of his sister cannot have helped.

Toupie spoke of being the inspiration for Stephen Gordon and some books say that John and Una dropped her for saying so. Una wrote in her life of Radclyffe Hall:
“She passed out of our lives when John wrote The Well of Loneliness, and we afterwards heard that she had resented the book as challenging her claim to be the only invert in existence. Later still, when she was growing very old, I was told that she had moreover acquired the illusion that she had served as a model for Stephen Gordon.”
In 1935, Toupie's elder sister Aimée, an unmarried amateur thespian, died of tuberculosis.

Toupie retired to the village of Pulborough, Sussex. During the war years, a little girl needed a field in which to keep her shetland pony, and a vacant field was known to be available:
"The little girl made her way up the hill to Lowther Lodge, and knocked on the door. Which was opened by an elderly gentleman with short grey hair wearing a suit. Rather surprised Joanne asked if Miss Lowther was in. 'I am Miss Lowther' said the elderly gentleman 'come in'.
Toupie died in 1944, like her sister, of tuberculosis.

Michael Baker's 1985 biography of Radclyffe Hall credits Toupie with a husband and a child. As DR Boodle clearly demonstrates, he had confused May Lowther (1874-1944) with her second cousin Barbara Lowther (1890-1979). This confusion was repeated in several later books. Eg. Sally Cline in her Radclyffe Hall – a Woman called John, 2010 writes:
Barbara “Toupie” Lowther, another friend of Ladye’s – eldest daughter of the 6th Earl of Lonsdale, provoked a similar response in John on the matter of war work. Toupie, who had married Lieutenant-Colonel James Innes in 1914 and become the mother of two small babies, did not allow marriage or motherhood to restrict her activities. Even before she divorced James in 1921 she and  Norah Desmond-Hackett had formed a spectacular, women only ambulance unit, which despite opposition from the authorities, eventually drove alongside the French army on the Compiegne battlefront.”
Emily Hamer writes:
"In 1917 Barbara 'Toupie' Lowther began to set up an all-women ambulance unit".

Two authors, Kerry Greenwood and John Longenbaugh, have written murder mysteries with a fictional Toupie Lowther as a central character.

No-one else seems to have mentioned that Claude Lowther died within a few months of the Well of Loneliness trial.   Being such a right-wing Conservative, he cannot have taken it easily when his sister was outed.

In Halberstam's Female Masculinity, it is immediately after the discussion of Toupie Lowther that Halberstam writes:
"Toupie and Miss Ogilvy, the women in Havelock Ellis's surveys, and even Stephen Gordon seem much more closely related to what we now call a transsexual identity than they do to lesbianism.   Indeed the history of homosexuality and transsexuality was a shared history at the beginning of the century and only diverged in the 1940s, when surgery and hormonal treatments became available to, and demanded by, some cross-identifying subjects."
The game of more-trans-than-thou is a sterile road.  We could point out that Toupie Lowther was less down the road to manhood than Violette Morris and Joe Carstairs but all three had to make decisions without the options of hormones or surgery or role models.   To confuse such a comparison, remember that Morris did have top surgery but never took a male name.  We can wonder how each of them would have decided if hormones and surgery had been available twenty years earlier.
  • The Evening Telegraph, 6th May 1898.
  • Arthue Wallis Myers. Lawn Tennis at Home and Abroad. Scribner's Sons, 1903: 181-2.
  • Regis and Louis Senac. Spalding's Athletic library, The Art of Fencing. American Sports Publishing Company, 1904: 29.
  • Toupie Lowther. "Chapter VII: Ladies' Play". In Reginald F. & H. Lawrence. Doherty. On Lawn Tennis. Baker and Taylor Co.,1903.
  • A. Wallis Myers. "Miss Toupie (Toupee) Lowther". The Bystander, 19 December 1906.
  • Mary Dexter & Emily Loud Sanford. In the Soldier's Service: War Experiences of Mary Dexter: England, Belgium, France, 1914-1918. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1918.
  • "Englishwomen with the French Army: Miss Toupie Lowther’s Unit". The Times, 15 August 1919.
  • Una Toubridge. The Life of Radclyffe Hall. Arno Press, 1975: 113.
  • Lovat Dickson. Radclyffe Hall at The Well of Loneliness A Sapphic Chronicle. Collins, 1975: 117-8, 174.
  • Michael Baker. Our Three Selves: The Life of Radclyffe Hall. Hamilton, 1985.
  • Emily Hamer. Britannia's Glory: A History of Twentieth-Century Lesbians. Cassell, 1996: 50-3, 99, 114-5, 207.
  • Sally Cline. Radclyffe Hall A Woman Called John.   Faber and Faber, 1997:63, 74-5, 153-4, 163, 173, 177, 178, 181, 187, 193, 196, 201, 209, 221, 230, 251,263, 334.
  • Diana Souhami. The Trials of Radclyffe Hall. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998: 33, 40, 52, 66, 75, 111, 118, 119, 120, 121, 122, 127, 130, 132, 137, 144, 147, 159-160, 162, 198, 211, 242, 367.
  • Judith Halberstam. Female Masculinity. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004: 83-5.
  • Kerry Greenwood. Murder in Montparnasse - A Phryne Fisher Mystery. Crows Nest,2012.
  • D. R. Boodle. Toupie Lowther 1874–1944: Her life - A new assessment. 12/6/2014.
  • John Longenbaugh. The Pale Blue Ribbon. Kindle, 2015.

1 comment:

  1. There is a new book: Toupie Lowther: Her Life, by Val Brown, Matador, 2017. The book follows and expands D.R. Boodle's website, and fails to cite it. Probably Brown and Boodle are the same person. I do not know why the book does not say so. In any case the website and the book together constitute the authoritative account of Lowther's life.


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