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The Well of Loneliness (Virago Modern Classics)

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Stephen Gordon (named by a father desperate for a son) is not like other girls: she hunts, she fences, she reads books, wears trousers, and longs to cut her hair. As she grows up amidst the stifling grandeur of Morton Hall, the locals begin to draw away from her, aware of some indefinable thing that sets her apart. And when Stephen Gordon reaches maturity, she falls passio Stephen Gordon (named by a father desperate for a son) is not like other girls: she hunts, she fences, she reads books, wears trousers, and longs to cut her hair. As she grows up amidst the stifling grandeur of Morton Hall, the locals begin to draw away from her, aware of some indefinable thing that sets her apart. And when Stephen Gordon reaches maturity, she falls passionately in love - with another woman.


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Stephen Gordon (named by a father desperate for a son) is not like other girls: she hunts, she fences, she reads books, wears trousers, and longs to cut her hair. As she grows up amidst the stifling grandeur of Morton Hall, the locals begin to draw away from her, aware of some indefinable thing that sets her apart. And when Stephen Gordon reaches maturity, she falls passio Stephen Gordon (named by a father desperate for a son) is not like other girls: she hunts, she fences, she reads books, wears trousers, and longs to cut her hair. As she grows up amidst the stifling grandeur of Morton Hall, the locals begin to draw away from her, aware of some indefinable thing that sets her apart. And when Stephen Gordon reaches maturity, she falls passionately in love - with another woman.

30 review for The Well of Loneliness (Virago Modern Classics)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jamie Whitt

    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 clearly alluding to, so there isn't much mystery, but instead, a whole lot of straightforward honesty about an aspect of the world most overlook without even realizing. what broke back mountain failed miserably in doing, ratcliffe did with ease. this isn't some kinky 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 clearly alluding to, so there isn't much mystery, but instead, a whole lot of straightforward honesty about an aspect of the world most overlook without even realizing. what broke back mountain failed miserably in doing, ratcliffe did with ease. this isn't some kinky, soft core porn, fantasy, lesbian sex thriller. it isn't a sob story about rights denied gays either. it's just the tragic story of someone who is. but her state of being, by no fault or choice of her own, disallows her from the honor given to even the most degenerate people of society. it's just her story-- without bias, without the evil conspiracy of the "homosexual agenda", without hope of guilting the readers into self loathing, or repentance of unfair treatment to diverse populations-- it just is. i wish my mom could/would read this book. not that she is like the extreme mother in this book- just because it would be a way for her to see aspects of my heart that she would never be able to imagine a way to understand otherwise.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    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 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 poor. It’s impossible to avoid mentioning the trial for obscenity in 1928. The impetus came from the tabloid press and the obscenity? "she kissed her full on the lips, as a lover" and "and that night, they were not divided" It 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 it." There 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 woman." The ebb and flow go on. Hannah Roche has recently reassessed The Well: “Was Hall cleverly turning to a Victorian mode in order to critique 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 more 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 quite 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 square 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 more 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.

  3. 5 out of 5

    mark monday

    what could have been a fascinating chronicle of a tough butch interloper challenging mainstream society becomes the drippy tale of a woman who just wants to be loved, and the cruel little bitch who leads her on. oh what a deep well! the writing's pretty swell though, that can't be denied. tres elegante. i was reminded of e.m. forster's equally drippy, equally beautiful (but rather more enjoyable) Maurice. plus i actually preferred the wish fulfillment of Maurice, sad to say. guess i'm not such a what could have been a fascinating chronicle of a tough butch interloper challenging mainstream society becomes the drippy tale of a woman who just wants to be loved, and the cruel little bitch who leads her on. oh what a deep well! the writing's pretty swell though, that can't be denied. tres elegante. i was reminded of e.m. forster's equally drippy, equally beautiful (but rather more enjoyable) Maurice. plus i actually preferred the wish fulfillment of Maurice, sad to say. guess i'm not such a hardcore queer polemicist after all. here's an update: got into a great argument over this book. Well of Loneliness' passionate defender insisted that the character of the so-called cruel little bitch needs to be understood in the context of the time period. the CLB had few options others than being, well, a CLB. apparently she was not the villain after all; she was a victim of fate and circumstance, just making do with the options she was given. a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do to make the rent. ain't nuthin' goin' on but the rent. okay well i suppose that's a pretty good point. but is it enough to posthumously award an extra star to the novel, to even revivify it in my memory? i think not; the Well of Loneliness and its eye-rolling histrionics still feel dead to me.

  4. 4 out of 5

    BrokenTune

    ‘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 ‘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 more 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 more 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 more 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: http://brokentune.booklikes.com/post/...

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jardley

    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 question. As she grow, Stephen begins to find love in women an 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 question. As she grow, Stephen begins to find love in women and eventually settles down with one in particular. Until the dreadful ending. I found the book up until the end to be very interesting and pleasant. However, throughout the novel one could not help feeling a sense of self-hatred in Stephen, as well as some other characters. Most of the time they would not even give themselves a name, could not see themselves as whole and thought mostly that outward achievements such as great writing that would make them famous, would make up for the fact that they were homosexuals. This book to me seems like a cautionary tale to gay women in society. The morals that Ms.Radclyffe presents is that heterosexual couples are more acceptable and comfortable then a homosexual couple and that a heterosexual relationship is one that can truly provide the safety and dignity in this world. It's a shame Radclyffe wrote such beliefs.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    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 copies. and, 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 powers that be in England judged anything even hinting at lesbianism to be immoral. in any event, it is a very fine novel, on it's own merits, and I really enjoyed it. the author 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 copies. and, 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 powers that be in England judged anything even hinting at lesbianism to be immoral. in any event, it is a very fine novel, on it's own merits, and I really enjoyed it. the author uses the word queer extremely often, every few pages it seems, but not in the context of referring to the lesbians in the book, so I was wondering if that led to the word's current usage of referring to gays and lesbians? throughout the book, the author is obviously trying to get across the point that lesbians should be treated the same as anybody else, which of course they should be. but the main character, Stephen (who is a female, despite the name) is portrayed as being very lonely and unhappy for most of the book, and the ending kind of makes you wonder whether the author thinks it's better not to be a lesbian. anyway, it's an excellent book, which was republished by Virago in 1982 and has been reprinted almost every year since, so it is obviously finding new readers even now. highly recommended!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    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 example, emphasizes Stephen’s conflicted feelings about his own sexuality and the femin 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 example, emphasizes Stephen’s conflicted feelings about his own sexuality and the feminine sex, as well as his blossoming sense of gender dysphoria, as he feels “a queer little sense of outrage.” If one regards Stephen as a woman it seems completely illogical for Stephen's hands are not, after all “white and soft.” Rather, Stephen is full of the sense of smug entitlement that goes along with being an upper class gentleman, and so while this "Well" is certainly fascinating as historical trans-fiction, the reader is likely to find himself/herself in the end feeling as though he/she has spent way too much time with an insufferable prick, and wondering why.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

    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. BUT. I 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 que 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. BUT. I 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 queer 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 unique 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 quickly turned into a notorious, frenzied censorship trial a la Oscar Wilde), and there are moments, quite 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 queer writers, with The Well of Loneliness Hall established a place amongst this illustrious group that is in its own way unique, and ultimately well deserved.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ria

    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 phial of prussic acid than this novel." ‘’If our love is a sin then heaven must be full of such tender and selfless sinning as ours’’ ‘’-Why does the world persecute us? -Because in this world there is only toleration for the so-called normal.’’ This is a 3.8 fo 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 phial of prussic acid than this novel." ‘’If our love is a sin then heaven must be full of such tender and selfless sinning as ours’’ ‘’-Why does the world persecute us? -Because in this world there is only toleration for the so-called normal.’’ This is a 3.8 for me. i mean it was kinda boring at the start and it could have been a bit shorter. Also I’m not really into romance. I’ve read like what? 3 books? Okay probably more. i don't fucking care. It has to be really good for me to get invested. Yes we are gonna pretend like the two books of Nicholas Sparks *almost typed Cage* were masterpieces (Lucky One, Last Song). For a weird reason i really like them…. Why am I talking about this? Classics are just a hit or miss with me… ugh that reminds me, I need to finish Anna Karenina. It’s too long. Anyways, the reason I bought this is that I read it’s the lesbian bible, a must have and when it came out it got banned for obscenity so I was like ‘bitch yeesss’. If it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t have picked it up. I’m glad I did. They said merry Christmas many times. See i read a xmas book during the holidays. My holiday spirit is truly amazing. Btw I read it in four days. One of them was on December 26 and somehow ended up reading the Christmas part. What the fuck is this review.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Pink

    Alternative title- The deep, deep, pitiful well of loneliness. I mean, I knew this would be sad, but I hoped it wouldn't be quite as despairing. I suppose the clue was in the name and the fact this is early 20th century lesbian fiction, which we all know didn't end well. After all, we can't be encouraging the ladies. Aside from the sexuality, this reminds me why the 1920s are my favourite period in literature. There's something so evocative about the time and although the writing style, of cours Alternative title- The deep, deep, pitiful well of loneliness. I mean, I knew this would be sad, but I hoped it wouldn't be quite as despairing. I suppose the clue was in the name and the fact this is early 20th century lesbian fiction, which we all know didn't end well. After all, we can't be encouraging the ladies. Aside from the sexuality, this reminds me why the 1920s are my favourite period in literature. There's something so evocative about the time and although the writing style, of course, differs between authors, they all have a certain quality to their work that mesmerises me. This was a fascinating story, dealing with the life of Stephen from when she's a young girl, through to her teenage years when she makes fateful friendships and love affairs. Onto her adult life where she lives on her own terms. It captures the period of English country houses, Lords that go shooting and Ladies that lunch. We also have a great big generous slice of Parisian culture and the trauma of WW1. There's so much packed in, yet it's a slow sensual read. Not in a sexy or explicit style, but in the mood of the time and the tone of how the story unfolds. It's about the joy and pain of being 'other', at a time when this was not allowed. It's wonderful and heartbreaking all at once. It really is a must read.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Stef Rozitis

    This book moves slowly and thoughtfully through many shades of tragedy. There's a sort of integrity to it. Not all readers will appreciate the Christian symbolism and theology but I did- the constant please for meaning and acceptance by a sort of outcast. A few times I sort of experienced Stephen as unrelatable because of how ridiculously wealthy she was, but then there were people like Jamie and Barbara to add counterpoint to it, there was just enough shown of the servants to undo the idea that This book moves slowly and thoughtfully through many shades of tragedy. There's a sort of integrity to it. Not all readers will appreciate the Christian symbolism and theology but I did- the constant please for meaning and acceptance by a sort of outcast. A few times I sort of experienced Stephen as unrelatable because of how ridiculously wealthy she was, but then there were people like Jamie and Barbara to add counterpoint to it, there was just enough shown of the servants to undo the idea that Stephen's class were the important people. The tragedy was many layered in that Stephen's ill-fated attempts to find a place and meaning in the world crossed over with many other dissatisfied grey figures such as Puddle. Love in the book is rich and not always sexual, but sexuality is important both for identity and as an experience of love and being. As a 2016 lesbian I find the concept of "inversion" inadequate to understand who/what we are, but I can see that in terms of society's negative and silencing attitudes to the sexually different, this was a way of trying to make sense of it. What is portrayed well in the novel is the way personal worthiness or unworthiness is not the point, it is society that excludes people from full participation. The book is quite judgemental on decadent lifestyles, but shows them as a product, not a cause of the casting out of lgbt folk. There are also the contradictions that are present in most types of prejudice (for example someone can be valued in war-time and then resume their lower status after the war). I actually wanted to yell at Anna. I was so angry with her and her stupidity. In the time of the book, I suppose her attitude made more sense but she caused pain to herself as well as others. Ditto some other characters. I didn;t always like the way the gender binary was portrayed in the book (especially "women" as weak and helpless) but I could enjoy the small gaps in the text where it verged on questioning or undermining its own authority in these things. I am nowhere near as strong-minded and courageous let alone as fit and physically strong as Stephen but I related to her and her emotional pain and needs as I relate to few literary characters. For a book so slow-paced and relatively long it held me in its thrall uncommonly well and charmed both joy and tears from me (especially ultimately tears). It seemed a true account of the humanity of lgbt people and a more deep and complex illustration of the idea that "love is love".

  12. 5 out of 5

    El

    I love reading books that have at some point been a source of controversy, the books that have been banned and censored, questioned and attacked. The Well of Loneliness is one of those books, and by looking at the cover of the edition I read there's a clue right there as to the reasoning for the controversy: "A 1920s Classic of Lesbian Fiction". Steven Gordon is a wealthy English woman who is clearly not like other women, even from a young age. Her father had hoped for a boy and pinned those hope I love reading books that have at some point been a source of controversy, the books that have been banned and censored, questioned and attacked. The Well of Loneliness is one of those books, and by looking at the cover of the edition I read there's a clue right there as to the reasoning for the controversy: "A 1920s Classic of Lesbian Fiction". Steven Gordon is a wealthy English woman who is clearly not like other women, even from a young age. Her father had hoped for a boy and pinned those hopes on her name, Steven, while her mother was horrified and disgusted by Steven's less-than-feminine behavior in her early years. It's a long story, starting with Steven's youngest days and her earliest infatuation with someone of the same gender, and follows her into her late adolescence as she discovers just what exactly does make her different from other women. It is this self-discovery and outward behavior to fulfill this epiphany that causes strife between her and her mother. Eventually she leaves home and has a series of affairs with other women, each relationship different, each relationship special to Steven in some way. What makes this story important is not just because it's a positive portrayal of women in love with one another, but because of the time in which it was written. Published in 1928 it is one of the earliest books of lesbianism, preceding and paving the way for Virginia Woolf and others. This is not a cautionary tale - it is not a story meant to deter women from having relations with other women. Instead it embraces it as in it's an autobiographical story based on Hall's own experiences. She brought her experiences into a public light; despite it's publication falling at the end of the Jazz Age which is popularly considered to be a time of failing moral and social systems, to read about lesbians at the time was still shocking. Would Woolf have written Orlando had Hall not written The Well of Loneliness? It's hard to say, but it's almost guaranteed that Woolf would have had a harder time getting Orlando published if Hall hadn't paved the literary (and feminist) way.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Marina (Sonnenbarke)

    Reading this book proved incredibly difficult. I was unsure how to rate it, but decided for 2 stars in the end: the story is a very good one, extremely interesting, but the writing is so dull you can't begin to understand if you haven't read it. I'm sorry to have to say this, but it's what I felt about this book. I understand why it is such an important book in literary history, but I really, really disliked it. First of all, I don't really know why this should be considered as a story of lesbian Reading this book proved incredibly difficult. I was unsure how to rate it, but decided for 2 stars in the end: the story is a very good one, extremely interesting, but the writing is so dull you can't begin to understand if you haven't read it. I'm sorry to have to say this, but it's what I felt about this book. I understand why it is such an important book in literary history, but I really, really disliked it. First of all, I don't really know why this should be considered as a story of lesbian love, since it is quite clearly the story of a transgender person. Stephen Gordon is a woman who has always perceived herself as a man, and consequently dresses like a man and acts like a man. She consequently likes women, but that's just a consequence of her perceiving herself as a man. I wouldn't say she is lesbian, on the contrary she is quite simply a transgender man. That makes the story very interesting, since it's not often that we find stories about the lives of transgender people in the beginning of the 20th century. They must have had an extremely difficult life, and this book is a great document on this issue. The writing, however... It is so incredibly boring and repetitive, the unfolding of the story is so slow, that I thought all the time that the novel might have easily been half the length or even shorter. The writing style is important in a novel, and also in a non-fiction book. So that's what made me dislike this book so much. I simply can't judge a book on just the storyline, it also has to be well-written. And this novel was a real pain to read.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Natasha Holme

    I read this the first time around in 1988, during my first term at university, hiding it from my room mate, under the covers. I enjoyed it then as the third lesbian book I'd ever read (after Patience & Sarah and Annie on My Mind), but found it harsh. Slogging through it a second time now, for the Lesbian Book Club book of the month, it felt interminable. No detail is left unmentioned. Oh wait ... "and that night they were not divided." Just the odd detail lacking. That one sentence caused the boo I read this the first time around in 1988, during my first term at university, hiding it from my room mate, under the covers. I enjoyed it then as the third lesbian book I'd ever read (after Patience & Sarah and Annie on My Mind), but found it harsh. Slogging through it a second time now, for the Lesbian Book Club book of the month, it felt interminable. No detail is left unmentioned. Oh wait ... "and that night they were not divided." Just the odd detail lacking. That one sentence caused the book to be judged "obscene" and banned. I did enjoy the cry out to the future from 1928. The author knows that being gay is natural and that one day gay people will be equal: "They must just bide their time--recognition was coming. But meanwhile they should all cultivate more pride" There are pleas to God, too: "If our love is a sin, then heaven must be full of such tender and selfless sinning as ours." It tickled me that Angela Crossby's telephone number was 25.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    I remember checking this book out of the public library near my house and hiding it from my parents, so I must have been about 12 the first time I read it. It lived under my mattress for about three days while I read it. I think I checked out "One in Ten" along with it, heh. The first time I read this book, I thought it was amazing. A queer love story from what seemed like forever ago! Wow! At the time, I felt alone and isolated, and it spoke to me. My second reading in college was not nearly as I remember checking this book out of the public library near my house and hiding it from my parents, so I must have been about 12 the first time I read it. It lived under my mattress for about three days while I read it. I think I checked out "One in Ten" along with it, heh. The first time I read this book, I thought it was amazing. A queer love story from what seemed like forever ago! Wow! At the time, I felt alone and isolated, and it spoke to me. My second reading in college was not nearly as magical. I walked away from it disliking Radclyffe Hall (at least, her vision of herself and how she saw women) immensely. That being said, this book has its place in the queer lit. canon AND in my memories. It's a must-read for anyone interested in queer history.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Nickie

    Yerk. This is/was obviously a very important book, so it feels a shame to give it such a low grade but jaysus it was a bit painful after the novelty of the first 200 pages had worn off. The fact that it deals with lesbianism/gender issues in such a forthright way, especially for the time in which it was written ('20s)is v impressive. Orlando came out in the same year, but it doesn't deal with it as explicitly. No more than something like Twelfth Night did. Anyway, in the case of The Well... - im Yerk. This is/was obviously a very important book, so it feels a shame to give it such a low grade but jaysus it was a bit painful after the novelty of the first 200 pages had worn off. The fact that it deals with lesbianism/gender issues in such a forthright way, especially for the time in which it was written ('20s)is v impressive. Orlando came out in the same year, but it doesn't deal with it as explicitly. No more than something like Twelfth Night did. Anyway, in the case of The Well... - important, yes, but well-written no. Here's a sample: "David wagged a bald but ingratiating tail. Then he thrust out his nose and sniffed at the pigeons. Oh, hang it all, why should the coming of spring be just one colossal smell of temptation! And why was there nothing really exciting that a spaniel might do and yet remain lawful? Sighing, he turned amber eyes of entreaty first on Stephen, and then on his goddess, Mary. She forgave him the crocus and patted his head. 'Darling you get more than a pound of raw meat for your dinner; you mustn't be so untruthful. Of course you're not hungry - it was just pure mischief.' He barked trying desperately hard to explain. 'It's the sring; it's got into my blood, oh Goddess! Oh Gentle Purveyor of all Good Things, let me dig till I've rooted up every damn crocus; just this once let me sin for the joy of life, for the ancient and exquisite joy of sinning!" ... and on and on it goes...

  17. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Roper

    well that was overwrought

  18. 4 out of 5

    Morgan

    I read this book as a teenager and was so riveted by the story I still have my copy, yellowed pages and all. Reading ‘The Well of Loneliness’ gave me an insight into something that people, in those days (1950’s) spoke of only in horrified whispers. It spoke of people who were misunderstood and denigrated because of how they felt, which seemed wrong to me even at an early age. I re-read it a couple years ago and got the very same feeling as I did the very first time. I would never call this book d I read this book as a teenager and was so riveted by the story I still have my copy, yellowed pages and all. Reading ‘The Well of Loneliness’ gave me an insight into something that people, in those days (1950’s) spoke of only in horrified whispers. It spoke of people who were misunderstood and denigrated because of how they felt, which seemed wrong to me even at an early age. I re-read it a couple years ago and got the very same feeling as I did the very first time. I would never call this book depressing, but I would call it sad. To me, it is a sad love story. I believe it is as topical today as it was when it was written. It is a poignant beautifully written story of Stephen Gordon’s struggle for a self image that was honest and true. I absolutely LOVE this book!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jenny Cooke (Bookish Shenanigans)

    This was such a fascinating look at gender and lesbian love in the 20th century.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    I really like this book, but found it very, very depressing. Not depressing in a 'Im gonna slit my wrist with the sharp edges of the pages' depressed, more like a 'why is the word so cruel, where is my God now?' kind of depressed. I really don't think the main protagonist Stephen needed to suffer so much; if Hall was trying to empower the 'inverted' and educate the mass about the 'inverted' I think she was smoking too many pipes, because if I had been 'inverted' in those days I would have weighe I really like this book, but found it very, very depressing. Not depressing in a 'Im gonna slit my wrist with the sharp edges of the pages' depressed, more like a 'why is the word so cruel, where is my God now?' kind of depressed. I really don't think the main protagonist Stephen needed to suffer so much; if Hall was trying to empower the 'inverted' and educate the mass about the 'inverted' I think she was smoking too many pipes, because if I had been 'inverted' in those days I would have weighed my pockets down with as many rocks as I could find and take a stroll into the nearest river. This book invoked a lot of mixed emotions & thoughts; and to me, any book that produces such a reaction is a good book in my opinion. Books should always make you feel something. And at the end of this book after I went looking for some rocks, I was overcome with a sense of empowerment; screw the establishment, screw what people think and above all screw being the martyr! After reading this book I now understand why lesbians have no sense of humour and take things very seriously, because they constantly fighting against the status quo. Technically speaking, I really enjoyed her style of writing, it was good old fashioned 19th century stuff, in theme and tone; the tragedy alone in this book would have made Thomas Hardy proud. It was melodramatic, but no more than any other book of its ilk or time, I mean just because she was inverted doesn't mean that she had to be sensible and logical, lesbians can be senselessly dramatic too. You have to admire Hall for writing this book in the era she did. Most writers of her persuasion were writing books loaded up with so many similes, metaphors and double meanings that it is impossible to the average person to even question what is going on...'wait so the cat in the book that sits at the end of her bed was actually a metaphor for her drunken female lover that would creep into her room when he husband was out and cry at her feet about the hopelessness of their situation.....right' No, Hall just put it all out on the table for the world to see, kudos to her, she was a pioneer and should get way more credit than what she gets.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    This is possibly the most beautiful book I have ever read. The prose is simply exquisite. Hall proves that imagery does not have to be tedious and overwraught. I felt a hundred times while reading this novel that I had never heard such a sentiment expressed so perfectly. In fact, sometimes the prose was so beautiful that the context almost faded away entirely, and I was simply left with a breath-taking sentence, paragraph or more... Sadly, this book is still relevant 90 years after it was penned. This is possibly the most beautiful book I have ever read. The prose is simply exquisite. Hall proves that imagery does not have to be tedious and overwraught. I felt a hundred times while reading this novel that I had never heard such a sentiment expressed so perfectly. In fact, sometimes the prose was so beautiful that the context almost faded away entirely, and I was simply left with a breath-taking sentence, paragraph or more... Sadly, this book is still relevant 90 years after it was penned. I thought I would burst when Stephen rehearsed the speech she planned to give Mary about what would happen if they became lovers. So little has changed since then. Though I was warned that the ending was disastrous, I have to disagree entirely. The book is a tragedy, but not one that is contrived or forced. There is no oracle, no announcement that our lovers are star-crossed, just a very sad reality of the time and an inevitable conlcusion. I think that Stephen's sacrifice is greater than any most of us selfish mortals could make. She felt she must save Mary, that her salvation would come too late to preserve her, and so she did the only thing she felt she could... she let Mary go. This book is both exquisitely written and extremely relevant. It should be required reading in high schools and colleges. Everyone should experience the life and writings of Hall.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nicky

    I don't know what to think of The Well of Loneliness. I read it because it's a lesbian classic, and someone said that it was one of the first novels where horrible things don't have to happen to its lesbian protagonists. I can't actually imagine anything more agonising than what the protagonist, Stephen, does -- voluntarily giving up her lover to a male close friend to give her safety and security, acting as a martyr for her... And Barbara and Jamie: both of them die because of the life they lea I don't know what to think of The Well of Loneliness. I read it because it's a lesbian classic, and someone said that it was one of the first novels where horrible things don't have to happen to its lesbian protagonists. I can't actually imagine anything more agonising than what the protagonist, Stephen, does -- voluntarily giving up her lover to a male close friend to give her safety and security, acting as a martyr for her... And Barbara and Jamie: both of them die because of the life they lead, the way they have to live to be together. No, I can't say it's true that terrible things don't happen to the protagonists because of their sexualities. On the other hand, their sexualities are presented as a part of them: not a choice, but something irrevocably stamped into them from birth. The last lines are a plea to God to allow 'inverts' their existence. So there is that hope in it. It's sentimental, overwritten, melodramatic. It's stereotypical. But yet I'm glad I read it, and yes, it made me feel -- feel for the lives of those such as Radclyffe Hall and her characters, who couldn't imagine the kind of life I and others lead today. Yes, it's worth a read, and yes, I'm going to keep my copy.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ellie

    3.5* First book for my Banned Books module By far one of my favourite books that I've read during my degree, and I wouldn't have picked it up if it wasn't for uni. It felt refreshing to see an LGBT+ character in a classic setting and I'd be open to reading another similar text. For the first half of the novel The Well of Loneliness was definitely a 4* book - I love reading about the childhood, education, and upbringing of a character, and this was no different. I raced through the first half of t 3.5* First book for my Banned Books module By far one of my favourite books that I've read during my degree, and I wouldn't have picked it up if it wasn't for uni. It felt refreshing to see an LGBT+ character in a classic setting and I'd be open to reading another similar text. For the first half of the novel The Well of Loneliness was definitely a 4* book - I love reading about the childhood, education, and upbringing of a character, and this was no different. I raced through the first half of the book, but as I became busier towards going back to uni my reading became more choppy and sporadic. I also found that I cared less about the events of the novel as it went on, I wanted to hear about Stephen, and I wasn't fond of the long stretches when we were drawn away from her. I also began to find it progressively grating that Hall would often repeat little phrases within close proximity of one another - for example she would tell us something about a character, and then would repeat the exact same phrasing in their speech a few lines later.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Cendaquenta

    This book is pretty Problematic™ (being a product of its time - content warnings for racism [inc. use of the N-word], sexism, homophobia, and some very outdated theories). But it's still a valuable read in terms of LGBTQ+ lit. If nothing else, it reminds us that there is history. Gay people didn't just appear out of nowhere a few decades ago. Having an identity is not some "trend", as is sometimes accused. That's important to remember. 🌈 Maybe I'll have more to write about it another time. Don't This book is pretty Problematic™ (being a product of its time - content warnings for racism [inc. use of the N-word], sexism, homophobia, and some very outdated theories). But it's still a valuable read in terms of LGBTQ+ lit. If nothing else, it reminds us that there is history. Gay people didn't just appear out of nowhere a few decades ago. Having an identity is not some "trend", as is sometimes accused. That's important to remember. 🌈 Maybe I'll have more to write about it another time. Don't hold your breath though.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Laurie

    It is difficult for me to say that reading this novel was a struggle because it is culturally important. Radclyffe Hall did a fantastic job showing the agonizing reality of being a lesbian in the early 20th century. They had to hide their love if they ever found anyone who returned their affection. If they didn't, they lived much as the governess in this novel as the unloved and lonely spinster. But Stephen, the main character, was too masculine in her physical appearance and clothing preference It is difficult for me to say that reading this novel was a struggle because it is culturally important. Radclyffe Hall did a fantastic job showing the agonizing reality of being a lesbian in the early 20th century. They had to hide their love if they ever found anyone who returned their affection. If they didn't, they lived much as the governess in this novel as the unloved and lonely spinster. But Stephen, the main character, was too masculine in her physical appearance and clothing preference to hide well. Stephen was apparently based partially on Radclyffe Hall's life, therefore accuracy can't be doubted. The story in places was fascinating because it was newish territory for me as a reader as I've not read much lesbian fiction by writers from this time period. If only the writing was to my taste. Too often, it meandered off into philosophical ideas about the nature of humans and their relationships to each other or to nature or other more esoteric ideas regarding people who are outside the norm of society's expectations. I don't mind exploring those ideas, but they popped up too often for my taste. In the end, the story was largely what I expected in many ways but the way it was written was not a favorite style for me. I wish I could say this novel and the struggles of the characters are so antiquated that no one alive in the world today can relate. Unfortunately that is not the case. We are living almost a century after this was published and still having to address the issues of homophobia in society, of lack of representation of LGBTQIA characters in fiction, and of women writers being published less than male writers. Therefore I recommend reading this as a novel of lesbian fiction and as a work of a female writer of the early 20th century because it's themes are still topical.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    So I read this for a Lesbian Literatures course, and I have to state from the outset that I am well aware of the *significance* of the novel in such a course, and such a subset of lesbian history. Certainly it was landmark, insofar as the book was one of the (perhaps THE?) first to openly deal with homosexual or inverted desire. Moreover, the trial that banned the book brought the novel, Radclyffe Hall, and the 'lesbian identity' into the public eye in a rather big way. All very well and good. Ho So I read this for a Lesbian Literatures course, and I have to state from the outset that I am well aware of the *significance* of the novel in such a course, and such a subset of lesbian history. Certainly it was landmark, insofar as the book was one of the (perhaps THE?) first to openly deal with homosexual or inverted desire. Moreover, the trial that banned the book brought the novel, Radclyffe Hall, and the 'lesbian identity' into the public eye in a rather big way. All very well and good. However, judging on its literary merit (whatever that means) alone, I really didn't want to digest this book. Though people in my class called it 'gripping', the writing itself was clumsy at best. The agenda--that of the 'invert' in sexological and Freudian terms--was heavy-handed. It beat the dead horse and just kept thrashing--perhaps not unlike Raftery in the novel, who happened to be my favorite character. I'm not into the politics, because I think the narrative of being 'trapped in the wrong body' panders to normative ideologies and reeks of assimilationist diatribe; further, it just reads in a very tedious, maudlin way. Every other line is "if only Stephen were a boy," or "This creature, which was born maimed, might have been happy if only..." and so on and so forth. Again, clumsy. Melodramatic. Tedious. Irritating. Stephen herself is a ludicrously static character and completely uninteresting to read about. I give the book two stars because it's not ALL bad. I liked Raftery, the dog David, Puddle, Mlle. Duphot--the minor characters who didn't torture themselves and the reader with their martyr complexes. And the animals, yay! In any case, I noticed that the actual lesbians in my class seemed to like it, so maybe it's a case of vantage point. I'm a gay male if that says anything to my own situational perspective--and on that note, I have to confess Stephen's nasty descriptions of Brockett were infuriating. So maybe you'll like it, maybe not. I'm just glad to have it over and done with.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Meg

    Funny enough I find the character of Stephen quite similar to the character of Jo in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. Both would have preferred to be men and both find the demeanor, dress and lifestyle expectations of women in their day to be dreary. Stephen is simply the sisterless, unloved, rich version of Jo. Something about the choices Hall makes with the character of Stephen highlight her gender and sexual differences in a way that Alcott does not. They have many of the same thoughts, eeril Funny enough I find the character of Stephen quite similar to the character of Jo in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. Both would have preferred to be men and both find the demeanor, dress and lifestyle expectations of women in their day to be dreary. Stephen is simply the sisterless, unloved, rich version of Jo. Something about the choices Hall makes with the character of Stephen highlight her gender and sexual differences in a way that Alcott does not. They have many of the same thoughts, eerily similar in many passages, but due to Stephen's detachment from everyone but a male role model the masculine undertones that both display are in Hall's work quite pronounced. After reading Hall in a Queer Literature class then later re-reading Alcott for pleasure I'm surprised not more use Alcott's work to highlight the literary choices Hall makes to introduce and strike home her point. I enjoyed reading Well, but probably wouldn't read it again with it's current ending. Another difference in literary choice that differs from Alcott's greatly.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lydia

    Watch my YouTube review right here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0jwY... I’ve taken more notes for this review than a lot of other reviews I’ve written. Writing this feels bitter-sweet. I feel like I’ve come to know her, come to love her. Stephen Gordon, the young red-haired, strapping lass who learnt to fence, learnt to box and was willing to fight a boy from Eton because girls are better than boys. She has a temper as fiery as her hair, is initially seriously socially awkward, forever tryi Watch my YouTube review right here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0jwY... I’ve taken more notes for this review than a lot of other reviews I’ve written. Writing this feels bitter-sweet. I feel like I’ve come to know her, come to love her. Stephen Gordon, the young red-haired, strapping lass who learnt to fence, learnt to box and was willing to fight a boy from Eton because girls are better than boys. She has a temper as fiery as her hair, is initially seriously socially awkward, forever trying to prove herself against a world that wasn’t made for her. I loved baby butch Stephen, who had no idea she was unusual, until she did know. “She felt shy, yet unusually daring.” This book begins, as most books do, with the main character’s birth. There’s much description of the environment, much like Thomas Hardy. The seasons, hills and valleys and trees all become a part of the novel. Women are described as ivy, clinging and beautiful and men are described as oak trees — and there’s no need to tell you which Stephen would prefer to be. Morton, the country house where Stephen grows up, becomes a character in and of itself. Reading this book is like listening to an orchestra, there are lulls, highs, dips, crescendos. There are parts you do and don’t like, because of how long it is. If you don’t like horses or animals, I thought I should forewarn you and say there are two fairly prominent horse characters in this book and a dog, much later. These animals have thoughts and interact with Stephen a lot, especially in her childhood. The dynamics of her family are probably the most interesting part of her growing up — Stephen is friendless, lonely, apart from her father, who vows to protect her. He knows she’s queer and keeps it from her, while her mother grows more and more distant from her, to the point of cruelty. Her parents begin to argue, to fight, as they’ve never done before, and Stephen believes it to be all her fault. "It is bad for the soul to know itself a coward. It is apt to take refuge in mere wordy violence.” “I won’t let her face your hatred alone.” No matter the quality of the writing in this book, because of its trial for obscenity and subsequent infamy, it formed bridges for queer women that they could safely cross. In second World War, libraries lent books on army bases to people who signed their name in a ledger. If you looked in the Well of Loneliness, you could see all the people who’d borrowed the book, and approach women who’d signed their name to it. A conversation might’ve taken place, and it might’ve sounded something like this. “I saw you borrowed Well of Loneliness from the library.” “Oh, yes I did. Such a queer book it was, too.” “Yes, indeed. Did you enjoy it?” “On the whole, yes.” “Would you like to go for a drink?” “Absolutely.” … and there you have it. Hall, with her novel, created a way for queer women to talk to other queer women without ever endangering them or creating suspicion. Many times, cheap lesbian pulp, written and produced mostly by men, for men, said on their blurbs that their books were “like something of the Well of Loneliness.” Radclyffe Hall carved her own path. The story is remarkably autobiographical in parts, and, at times, obsessed with martyrdom. The latter half of the book, especially the last 100 pages are almost a moral monologue of what to do and what not to do as a queer person. How to survive in a place that does not make space for you. And yet the author runs into the same roadblocks as always: marriage, the right to own property together, the right to have their relationship recognised as legitimate. The right to be called anything but a ‘friend’ by the side of a dying spouse. Any passages that discussed this really affected me. I immigrated to Canada to be with my wife. At the time of our application, same-sex marriage was only available in Canada, not Australia. Legally, on the Australian census, I was single. Recently, we received a call from the Canadian tax office and had to clarify again and again that I didn’t live with Valerie for 2 years of our relationship. I still get people asking me “Why’d you move?” when they look outside and see slush, snow, cold biting wind. Why did I move from a sub-tropical climate, from the bluest skies in the world and the best beaches I’ve ever been on. Because the slush, the snow, the cold biting wind offered my wife and I more security than Australia could at the time. Usually people would shrug and say “ok” because they’d never considered not having the right to be with the person they loved. And even when it does have more rights than Australia, the Canadian immigration process is still relentlessly gruelling. After the federal decision to allow same-sex marriage, the Prime Minister at the time, Stephen Harper, created a law so that any couples immigrating here had to have their relationships evaluated for their legitimacy. Because, y’know, now the queers could get married, anyone could apply for the process. Now, of course, since November of last year, Australia has same-sex marriage at the federal level. It was a pleasure to vote, to say yes and to see it succeed. I’m so happy for all my queer friends at home but also now that my wife and I have another option, and perhaps one day, our children will too. But any time Stephen Gordon despaired at being unable to marry, to provide security for her beloved, I felt for her. I have been to the those crossroads. And yet, through it all, we have the character of Valerie Seymour, a French socialite, who stood “like a lighthouse in a storm-swept ocean. The waves had lashed round her feet in vain; winds had howled; clouds had spewed forth their hail and their lightning; torrents had deluged but had not destroyed her. The storms, gathering force, broke and drifted away, leaving behind them the shipwrecked, the drowning. But when they looked up, the poor spluttering victims, why what should they see but Valerie Seymour! Then a few would strike boldly out for the shore, at the sight of this indestructible creature.” I loved Stephen Gordon. I cherished her. She felt like a friend to me. I never loved her more than when Hall painstakingly described her evening routine. Combing her hair back with a wet comb, the clink of cufflinks, the stiff starch of a collar, meticulously buttoned shirts, cuffs, men’s silk underwear. But, Hall also uses slurs and sometimes antiquated language to describe black people, or Jewish people. I rolled my eyes. If Hall were born now, she’d be a racist TERF of the worst degree. Her writing, at times, smacks of privilege and I realised, if she existed now, I’d make every effort to kick her out of the community. And in regards to her writing: most of the other characters, for their part, do not come to life as Stephen does. Mary comes close, but for the majority of the novel, many characters are merely soundboards for Gordon, and somehow I didn’t mind. I didn’t mind any of the novel’s flaws at all, because I loved Stephen so much. I felt like she was real. There were so many times where I wanted to pull her aside and ask her questions. I took to flagging the book with a mess of pink post-it notes instead. In terms of the overall plot, it moved slowly, sometimes it barely crawled. I feel that the queer people Stephen associates with were introduced too late in the book and it would’ve done better to introduce them earlier, then introduce them again once Stephen had overcome her internalised homophobia, but that’s just me. There’s no telling why it was flagged for indecency. The word queer, in relation to Stephen, is used a total of 16 times. The word queer is used a total of 21 times and the word invert, which, at the time, was the medical term for a queer person, to describe someone as ‘sexually inverted’, was used 15 times. This last one, perhaps, apart from the scenes where people of the same sex are described in bed, is the most damning of all. Queer has more than one connotation, but invert was used specifically to describe LGBTIQA people. Hall’s bold use of the words themselves, never mind the characters, is incredible. And yet the only time she ever used the word ‘invert’ was in warning. To say: this is what you shall become. If you’re queer, and you come out, you can never come back from that. You will be cast out. You will be isolated. You will be alone. Despite all your efforts, the world is not built for us. Even Stephen, who is described as having “above all, a grateful nature” is later described as “having a hardened heart.” Whether this book has a happy ending or a sad ending, there will be an element of bitter-sweetness. Either in the fact that the author risked it all to publish it, or refused to publish it until they could be punished no longer (in the case of E.M. Forster’s Maurice.) I might not care very much for many of the author’s attitudes, but I loved Stephen Gordon. I still do. Hall warned us, warned us all what stepping out into the world would do. Then, she did the gayest thing she could possibly think of: she wrote and published this book. This book was a lifeline in its time, and I would argue, at times, a lifeline now. It reaffirms what I know down to my bones: that queer women and femmes have always existed, that we will always exist, no matter how any society attempts to cast us out. Hall was angry, bitter and sometimes full of hate. And in the midst of that, she created Stephen Gordon, who became a lighthouse for us all.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Smitha Murthy

    I picked up this book entirely by chance because the cover was staring at me in a second-hand bookstore. Once I read that the book had been banned, my interest was immediately piqued. And that’s where my problem started. Instead of reading the book first, I researched a lot about the book! It’s one of the lingering effects of a degree in Literature - you somehow can’t switch your mind off sometimes. That is both good and bad when it comes to reading a book. The result of all my research was that I picked up this book entirely by chance because the cover was staring at me in a second-hand bookstore. Once I read that the book had been banned, my interest was immediately piqued. And that’s where my problem started. Instead of reading the book first, I researched a lot about the book! It’s one of the lingering effects of a degree in Literature - you somehow can’t switch your mind off sometimes. That is both good and bad when it comes to reading a book. The result of all my research was that I came back with a faint dislike of the author - yes, yes, I judge. That colored my reading of Stephen, the protagonist in ‘The Well Of Loneliness.’ Sigh. However, the book itself deserves to be a classic. But. Should it be a classic on its own? Does the book have that kind of literary merit? Or is it a classic because is it one of the seminal books in lesbian literature? These are the questions that I came back with. Probably, the best part of the book was Part I where the relationship between Stephen and her Dad is beautifully portrayed. The middle ends up a bit muddled, and the last Part 3 kind of leads you to the ending that you were expecting. Would I recommend this? Yes. But don’t research the book before!

  30. 4 out of 5

    m.

    Conclusions, casually presented and in no particular order because I don't feel like putting together a well-written review. • Bless, this book is so very of its time. This is wonderful when it is waxing poetic about the English countryside or pre-war Paris; it is less so anytime black people are present or even alluded to. Also the pervasive (and I don't think entirely conscious) disdain for femme gender presentation -- god, the bits where the narration is picking on poor Jonathan Brockett and h Conclusions, casually presented and in no particular order because I don't feel like putting together a well-written review. • Bless, this book is so very of its time. This is wonderful when it is waxing poetic about the English countryside or pre-war Paris; it is less so anytime black people are present or even alluded to. Also the pervasive (and I don't think entirely conscious) disdain for femme gender presentation -- god, the bits where the narration is picking on poor Jonathan Brockett and his "woman hands" made me want to smack Stephen in the face a little bit. • I think I preferred the earliest sections of the book to the rest. I loved the parts where Stephen was growing up as a sad little confused trans boy uh apparently people are still calling Stephen a lesbian somehow? -- but the description of the experience of childhood gender dysphoria was poignant and accurate, and the relationship with the dad was kind of sweet. • There was definitely a point somewhere around the death of Stephen's father where I was like "oh for god's sake, of course there is a well of loneliness, Stephen, YOU NEVER LEAVE YOUR FUCKING HOUSE." Until our hero's hand was forced I was pretty sure we were never going to leave Morton ever. Is being a homebody an English thing? • As the book went on it became clearer that this was a pro-queer-rights tract first and a novel second -- which I knew going in and it was abundantly clear from the start, but by the end it got a little insufferable for me. Stephen is GOOD AT ALL SPORTS and SUCH A BRILLIANT WRITER and KIND TO EVERYONE and don't you feel bad for being a bigot now? And of course the conception of what "causes" queerness and how it manifests is based on an outdated framework designed almost entirely by old straight white dudes. • That part where Stephen and Martin are vying for Mary's affections and both of them are being manipulative dickbags instead of leveling with her about the situation, because she is a femme lady and therefore a receptacle for the affection of masculine-of-center people, was super sketchy in a way I found kind of fascinating. Possibly because I read it directly after Dracula, which is all about men using their collective affection for particular women as a vector for male bonding without it being gay -- the situation in this book felt like a weird, almost equally misogynistic cousin to that trope. All of this may make it sound like I didn't like the book. I did! I just didn't love it as much as I thought I would after the first 100 pages, that's all. Earlier in-progress notes: So far I have no idea how people are still referring to this as a "lesbian book" when it is (to my admittedly biased eyes) clearly about a trans man. I'm reading it for my thesis but am also rather enjoying it as literature -- we'll see if I still feel that way after 200 more pages of Stephen getting kicked around by the universe, though.

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