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Res during the First World War and beyond the novel provoked a furore on first publication in 1928 for its lesbian heroine and led to a notorious legal trial for obscenity Hall herself however saw the book as a pioneer wo. God she gasped we believe we have told You we believe We have not denied You then rise up and defend us Acknowledge us oh God before the whole world Give us also the right to our existence First things first the cover on this edition is absurdly unrepresentative of the book Second I liked the book I would even recommend the book it s just that it should come with a few notes 1 It is endlessly long And detailed For no purpose Whatsoever If the length of the book was sustained by beautifully formed expressions it might not feel so long but 2 I should not have read this so soon after reading the works of some master wordsmiths Halls famous work is not as clunky as and slightly less preachy than The Unlit Lamp but it just isn t one of the books that would have been remembered for its evocative or imaginative writing 3 The book was written with a purpose a plea if you like that is expressed very openly in the closing chapters As an example of cultural history or changes in society and attitudes it is a fantastic read because it contains a lot of information about and detailed description of British upper middle class society of the early 20th century So if you read the book with a purpose of finding out about these attitudes this is a great read 4 The character of Stephen seems to be based at least to some extent on Radclyffe Hall herself As a result the perspective taken by the main character and the book as a whole is limited to the experience of only one individual which I guess is the point but it doesn t make for a complex reading experience In short there does not seem to be an attempt to investigate other points of view or experiment with angles of perception or layers There are other characters but few of them are given a real voice 5 I could not help but smirk at the hint of hypocrisy in the books attempt to strive for acceptance of a minority when at the same time there is underlying attitude of snobbishness and chauvinism towards other minorities And yet for all I criticise there is an also an honesty to the story and Radclyffe Hall s forthright writing style that impresses me and this is worth the hard work of reading it The Well of Loneliness was published at the same time as Woolf s Orlando touching on similar themes of identity but where Orlando shrouded the issue in mysticism Radclyffe Hall dared to write openly about sexual identity The book was banned under the Obscene Publications Act of 1857 The ban was not lifted until 1959 when the Act was amended Originally the test for obscenity was whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity is to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall In 1959 the Act was amended to differentiate controversial works of art and literature with social merit The Well of Loneliness was not only book with a lesbian theme to be published in Britain in 1928 but it was the only one banned because of its forthrightness and its explicitness though hardly what would pass as such in today s terms Arguably it is the book s fate the notoriety it gained by being banned that helped The Well of Loneliness to remain in print today You will see unfaithfulness lies and deceit among those whom the world views with approbation You will find that many have grown hard of heart have grown greedy selfish cruel and lustful and then you will turn to me and will say You and I are worthy of respect than these people Why does the world persecute us Stephen And I shall answer Because in this world there is only toleration for the so called normal And when you come to me for protection I shall say I cannot protect you Mary the world has deprived me of my right to protect I am utterly helpless I can only love you This review was first posted on BookLikes

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The Well of Loneliness

Rk and today it is recognized as a landmark work of gay fictionThis edition contains extra information and archival material that tells the fascinating story behind The Well's controversial publication trial and ban in 19. Recently in these parts I declared that this novel was so dull that today it is essentially unreadable and that its lasting importance has everything to do with history and not a thing to do with art And I still generally stand behind these sentiments BUTI read it And I kind of enjoyed it at least in parts I had based the above judgements on reading the first 60 pages or so in retrospect the weakest section of the entire novel and upon my decision to incorporate it in a paper on the ueer writing of Djuna Barnes and Charles Henri Ford I felt it was my duty to give it a fair assessment As expected it was about twice as long as necessary and there are whole chapters that serve no purpose than to reinforce the inherent moral virtue of the main character Stephen Gordon a British writer with an aristocratic background clearly modeled on Hall s own life Hall s prose has its own uniue sense of lyricism but it s about as delicate as a bulldozer which also accurately describes Hall s approach to the self proclaimed purpose of the novel to justify the existence of the congenital invert This means that we get a number of polemical proclamations that are as jarring narratively as they often are in regards to content with the terrible bonds of her true nature she could bind Mary fast and the pain would be sweetness so that the girl would cry out for that sweetness hugging her chains always closer to her The world would condemn but they would rejoice glorious outcasts unashamed triumphant Oy As usual Virginia Woolf gives a crystalline beautifully backhanded summation that expresses the situation better than I possibly could the dullness of the book is such that any indecency may lurk there one simply can t keep one s eyes on the page And yet and yet I can t help but find some merit in it as well and even feel something for it almost bordering on affection This novel has undoubtedly meant a good deal to countless gay people since its first publication in 1928 that uickly turned into a notorious frenzied censorship trial a la Oscar Wilde and there are moments uite a few moments even that are genuinely moving in their characterizations of the plight non heterosexuals experience within a often hostile society and the internal turmoil this inevitably creates And if it s not exactly art there is something to be said in Hall s defense that she made the conscious decision to boldly render if sometimes inelegantly the love that dare not speak its name in no uncertain terms And while I might vastly prefer the labyrinthine high modernist obfuscations of Barnes Ford Stein and other contemporaneous ueer writers with The Well of Loneliness Hall established a place amongst this illustrious group that is in its own way uniue and ultimately well deserved

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The Well of Loneliness tells the story of tomboyish Stephen who hunts wears trousers and cuts her hair short and who gradually comes to realize that she is attracted to women Charting her romantic and professional adventu. If you are looking for cheerful and uplifting don t start here the title gives it away The main protagonist is Stephen Gordon named Stephen because her father wanted a boy and stuck with the chosen name when a girl arrived This is a very English novel Not very far from Upton on Severn between it in fact and the Malvern Hills stands the country seat of the Gordons of Bramberly well timbered well cottaged well fenced and well watered having in this latter respect a stream that forks in exactly the right position to feed two large lakes in the grounds Stephen is upper class and whatever else she suffers in the novel she is never poorIt s impossible to avoid mentioning the trial for obscenity in 1928 The impetus came from the tabloid press and the obscenityshe kissed her full on the lips as a lover and and that night they were not dividedIt was really about the depiction of a lifestyle especially the sections set in Paris after the First World War However battle lines were drawn and writers like Shaw Eliot the Woolfs Forster Smyth Jameson and Wells amongst others Although only a limited number such as Woolf and Forster were prepared to testify The outcome was a foregone conclusion and the novel was not published in the UK until 1949 after Hall s death Inevitably there has been a great deal of debate about this book over the years with views and opinions changing and ebbing to and fro One ongoing discussion is whether Stephen as she is described was transgender As she says to her mother All my life I ve never felt like a woman and you know itThere is a particular use of language as well The use of the term invert stems from the work of Havelock Ellis It is not thankfully a term that has survived Hall covers a good deal of ground in the 450 pages and the depiction of the bars and sub culture of Paris in the 1920s are well drawn France did not have the laws against homosexuality that some other countries had One particular aside some of the minor characters are very strong Puddle one of Stephen s later governesses who is clearly lesbian is well portrayed The animals in particular play an important role and are well written Reactions to this novel have been strong in both directions for many it was the only lesbian novel they had heard of Mary Renault who read it in 1938 recalls it as being earnest and humourless However one Holocaust survivor noted Remembering that book I wanted to live long enough to kiss another womanThe ebb and flow go on Hannah Roche has recently reassessed The Well Was Hall cleverly turning to a Victorian mode in order to critiue the politics of modernism challenging the value of aesthetic experiment and obscurity I argue not only that The Well was stylistically as impressive as the most celebrated of difficult 1920s novels but also that by boldly appropriating an accepted and heteronormative genre Hall makes a statement about the rightful position of lesbian writing that dares to strike its readers in ways direct and profound than the audaciously avant garde For me I understand its importance and I wasn t expecting a happy ending I wasn t disappointed in that Puddle s advice to Stephen is powerful You re neither unnatural nor abominable nor mad you re as much a part of what people call nature as anyone else only you re unexplained as yet you ve not got your niche in creation But some day that will come and meanwhile don t shrink from yourself but face yourself calmly and bravely Have courage do the best you can with your burden But above all be honourable Cling to your honour for the sake of those others who share the same burden For their sakes show the world that people like you and they can be uite as selfless and fine as the rest of mankind Let your life go to prove this it would be a really great life work Stephen There s still an element of apologizing for who you are and carrying a burden but then even today the struggle continues Many problems in the novel arise from a lack of communication but nothing has changed there You can see the ending coming from a long way off although the means is not obvious until late in the book It s not that well written and doesn t stand up well to Orlando which was published in the same year Another point is that pity is not the best way of trying to get people on your side The interesting contrast between Stephen and Valerie Seymour is also illustrative Seymour hosts a salon and is a pagan no religion and has no problems with ethical dilemmas as a result of her lesbianism Stephen holds onto the structures of Catholicism on and off and can t manage to suare her sexuality with her faith Stephen s relationship with her mother who rejects her also runs through the novel I can understand the importance of this novel at the time but that time has gone and it feels like a historical document but I am glad I read it The story is unbearably sad but you can t always have happy ever after


10 thoughts on “The Well of Loneliness

  1. says:

    it should be MANDATORY that everyone reads this book everyone there isn't anything too astounding about her writing style and nothing too deep about it either anyone could pick up this book and see clearly everything she's very clea

  2. says:

    If you are looking for cheerful and uplifting don’t start here the title gives it away The main protagonist is Stephen Gordon named Stephen because her father wanted a boy and stuck with the chosen name when a g

  3. says:

    what could have been a fascinating chronicle of a tough butch interloper challenging mainstream society becomes the drippy tale of a

  4. says:

    ‘God’ she gasped we believe; we have told You we believe We have not denied You then rise up and defend us Acknowledge us oh God before the whole world Give us also the right to our existence’ First things first the cover on this edition is absurdly unrepresentative of the book Second I liked the book I would even recommend the book it's just that it should come with a few notes 1 It is endlessly long And detailed For no pur

  5. says:

    I read The Well of Loneliness because of was very interested in reading novels on homosexuality I needed something to relate to The book centers around a girl whose father desperately wanted a boy and so named her Stephen Throughout her childhood Stephen is shown as a girl unlike others The way she carries herself the way she acts and the fantasies she has about seeing herself as Nelson stress the fact Stephen sexuality is in uestion As sh

  6. says:

    this book was banned in England on publication in 1928 which of course made it a huge bestseller and as it was published in France and the USA it was easy to obtain copiesand of course it is so tame by today's standards the most explicit line in the book is she kissed her full on the lips like a lover but the

  7. says:

    If one thinks of The Well of Loneliness as having been written by a homophobic sexist straight man then it begins to make sense The central character and stand in for author Radclyffe Hall is not a self loathing lesbian at all he's a transgendered man and he's not exactly gay friendly The identification of Jonathan Brockett as gay by describing his hands as being “as white and soft as a woman’s” for ex

  8. says:

    Recently in these parts I declared that this novel was so dull that today it is essentially unreadable and that its lasting

  9. says:

    James Douglas editor of the Sunday Express wrote Am well aware that sexual inversion and perversion are horrors which exist among us today They flaunt themselves in public places I would rather give a healthy boy or a healthy girl a

  10. says:

    Alternative title The deep deep pitiful well of loneliness I mean I knew this would be sad but I hoped it wouldn't be uite as despairing I suppose the clue was in the name and the fact this is early 20th century lesbian fiction which