'As a Lover' & 'Exploring the Wreck'
: (Re)creating the lesbian past through historical fiction

  • Hilary McCollum

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


'As a Lover' is a novel about identity, belonging and repression. It tells the story of the impact of the publication and subsequent banning of Radclyffe Hall’s 'The Well of Loneliness' (1928), which is considered to be the first overtly lesbian novel in English. It was banned for obscenity in 1928, within months of publication. The title of my novel is taken from one of the very few explicit lines in The Well, “she kissed her full on the lips, as a lover.” The story is told from the perspectives of Maggie Dillon, an invented character, and Radclyffe Hall, a real historical figure. Maggie is a young firefighter, originally from Belfast, whose life is influenced by The Well, and Radclyffe Hall is The Well’s author. Through these different perspectives I explore the connection between historical fiction and the lesbian past for both real historical figures and events and purely imaginary ones, whilst also representing issues of interest to a contemporary audience such as the impact of religiously inspired homophobia on lesbian self-identity. 'As a Lover' is embargoed for five years and subject to a future review decision in January 2027.

‘Exploring the Wreck’ considers the issues involved in (re)creating the lesbian past through historical fiction. It proposes that lesbian historical fiction creates knowledge about the lesbian past that can be assessed for plausibility or at least possibility with reference to other sources of information. As a genre, lesbian historical fiction is under-researched, and scholarship has tended to consider individual writers and texts rather than the genre as a whole. I provide an overview of lesbian historical fiction, and draw on a stylistically diverse range of novels to think about its relationship to the past and the present through its representation of patriarchal restrictions on women’s lives and freedoms. The critical component concludes with an examination of Emma Donoghue’s Life Mask, chosen as a case study because it is a broadly realist novel that represents real historical events, as does my own novel, As a Lover.

Note that the creative component, "As a Lover" (pp. 5-256) is redacted from view for 5 years and is subject to a future review decision in July 2027

Date of AwardJul 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsUK AHRC Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership
SupervisorGlenn Patterson (Supervisor) & Alex Murray (Supervisor)


  • Historical fiction
  • lesbian fiction
  • Radclyffe Hall
  • The Well of Loneliness
  • censorship
  • intersectionality
  • LGBTQ+
  • realism
  • allegorical realism
  • gender restrictions
  • Emma Donoghue
  • Life Mask
  • cross-dressed heroine
  • sexual subjectivity
  • Orlando

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