Maybe you’ve read the lesbian classic The Well of Loneliness by Marguerite Radclyffe Hall. But did you know about her partner, Una Vincenzo, Lady Troubridge?
Una Troubridge was born in London 130 years ago. Her real name was Margot Elena Gertrude Taylor, but her family nicknamed her Una, and she apparently chose the middle name Vincenzo for herself, in honor of her Italian relatives (yay for genderqueering!). She studied at the Royal College of Art, and set up a sculpture studio after graduation. Unfortunately, when her father died in 1907, she was left with limited financial resources, and so married Captain Ernest Troubridge in 1908, with whom she had one daughter, Andrea. Ernest became was knighted in 1919 for his involvement in WW1; this is how Una gained her ladyship title (although she and Ernest were already legally separated at that point). Throughout her life, Una was a renowned sculptor – Nijinsky sat for her many times – and translator – she’s the one who first translated Colette in English.
Una Troubridge, via Find a Grave, photo added by Elisa Rolle
1915 is when Troubridge & Hall first met, through Una’s cousin, singer Mabel Battan, who was Radclyffe’s lover at the time. Mabel died in 1916, and Radclyffe and Una decided to move in together the following year (taking the U-Haul stereotype to the next level) – they did kinda feel guilty about the whole situation, so they’d often hold séances to ask Mabel’s ghost for advice.
Una & Radclyffe had an intense lifelong partnership – Una wrote about Radclyffe: “I could not, having come to know her, imagine life without her.” We know. Intense. They also apparently identified as “inverts,” the word used at the time by sexologists to refer to homosexuals (who were thought to be inverts of their gender). Una’s own gender presentation varied throughout her life, mimicking at times Hall’s more masculine style, and preferring a more femme appearance at others.
Una Troubridge at her desk, with Ninjinsky’s bust, c.1930. Hulton Archive, embedded from Getty Images
Later in life, the couple became a ménage-à-trois, with the arrival of Evgenia Souline, with whom Radclyffe become obsessed. Una wasn’t too happy about the whole set-up, but she tolerated it (as well as other affairs Radclyffe conducted). Una’s real feeling about the situation came to light after Hall’s death in 1943: Hall’s last will allowed her to only provide a minimal allowance to Souline. Una also burned Souline’s letters and in the biography she wrote in 1945 about Radclyffe, she minimized as much as she could Souline’s role in Radclyffe’s life.
Una died in 1963 in Rome, where she is buried; she wanted to be buried alongside Radclyffe and Mabel but her instructions weren’t found until it was too late. The inscription on her coffin supposedly says “
Una Vincenzo Troubridge, the friend of Radclyffe Hall,” which, if understandable considering the vocabulary of the time, is still kind of sad since it doesn’t do justice to Una and Radclyffe’s relationship. You can find Una’s archives here.