Posted by: beansai | September 23, 2007

The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall

In this amazingly honest novel of the life of a lesbian woman in England at the turn of the 19th to 20th century, Radclyffe Hall bombards the reader in a moving portrait set in period of excessive prejudice to anything outside the “normal” expectations of society. Hall unabashedly presents the struggles that the homosexual culture encountered during the early 1900s through tasteful prose that flows easily, despite the weight of the subject matter. In a story that resembles Hall’s own life experiences, she opens the social and psychological impacts of the time that gays and lesbians had to endure.

The life of Stephen Gordon, the girl whose parents had expected to be a boy (hence her masculine name), is one of constant struggle to understand her own sexual identity and gender role in a time period that has strict definitions of what is suitable for men and women, and what their social roles to fulfill are. Stephen is the only daughter of an upper class family, and from a very young age develops tendencies that would have been considered contrary to a feminine nature. Her insightful father indulges and even encourages her masculine tendencies, understanding that she is what she is, and he loves her no matter what. Hall presents a thorough account of Stephen’s life from childhood into adulthood, not leaving out a single conflict that she encounters, from being disowned by a parent, to being shunned by “polite” society, because she is a lesbian.

Hall bravely pushes the envelope by questioning the right people have to judge homosexuals and isolate them from living socially fulfilling lives. The menagerie of characters in this novel are true to life and range in variety of “easy to like” to “easy to hate”. Hall’s forwardness of the personal relationships between same sex couples and her marked criticism of the social norms landed this book in the immediately banned and condemned stock of literature.

This novel questions not only the clash between social customs and the lives of homosexuals, but the spiritual confrontation of souls that are denounced by every Christian religion (primarily Protestantism and Catholicism for the time periods and settings in this book). Hall presents the emotional, physical, and spiritual struggles that a gay or lesbian person must endure, plus the loneliness that comes hand in hand with their circumstances.

This unique and touchingly open story of the injustice forced on people by social expectations can easily be applied to modern times, because we are still battling our narrow-mindedness and there are still places where homosexuals are being persecuted for their lifestyle, whether it is by choice or not. This novel is an eye-opener to our own ideas of what is normal, and it makes you take a look inside yourself and question your past and present self, and whether or not you have played a role (small or great) in the hurting and oppressing of your fellow beings.

This book encompasses the well of loneliness experienced by so many and it did not fail to reach my compassion. Stephen is a wonderfully thoughtful character, that easily cleaves herself to your heart and as you read on, you can’t help but root for her and feel the burden she carries oft times in silence. I was moved to tears a few times throughout this book, because when it comes down to it, Stephen is another person that endures the losses life often throws at us, and Hall has an amazing ability to inform you of Stephen’s circumstances without stripping her of her humanity.

Radclyffe Hall wrote The Well of Loneliness in an amazingly sensitive and tactful way. The prose runs smoothly and it is not at all offensive (especially by today’s standards). I challenge anyone to read this and see if afterwards, you aren’t left wondering about the condition of humanity and your own role in the direction it will take in the future.

Originally Published: 1928
Language: English
Publisher: Anchor Books (my copy anyway)
Banned: 1928 in England, several court battles over it in the States
Reason: “The characters in the novel did not apologize for their vices, but were portrayed with
sympathy.” (Takne from the note on the Author at the end of the novel)

*I was originally going to save this review for the Banned Books Week (September 29th to October 6th), but I finished it this morning and I’m impatient. So this is one of those books that I thought was super fitting for BBW and I just wanted to make a note of that here. I might bring a review later on the contents of a review on this novel that helped get it banned when it was originally published. I really hope you enjoy this review and I REALLY hope you take the time and give this book a read.

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Responses

  1. Hey thanks for the review. I just put up a book list of books people have told me to read and this was on it. I shall link up this review to it. 🙂

  2. No problem. Hope you get a chance to read it. 🙂


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