by Radclyffe Hall

Reviewer Rating:


Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness first appeared in the 1920s, pushing against a wall of “normalcy” that continues to exist nearly one hundred years later.  The protagonist, a girl born into English wealth and given the name Stephen, as her parents believed for nine months in a boy, does not want to behave as those around her believe a woman should.  She wants to wear trousers instead of skirts, to straddle both legs on a horse instead of perching on one side as women ought, to practice fencing and weight lifting instead of embroidery; and, when the time comes, she wants to love and have sex with women instead of men.  Hall’s novel is a fascinating look at what gay culture was like before “gay culture” meant anything to society.  Indeed, the progression of how what is “different” about Stephen from the other girls is understood, and how the marginalization of this difference affects its victims, acts as a predictive mirror for what has been happening to the understanding of homosexuality in western society for the last hundred years.  The novel is in some ways a microcosm of the gay movement, or at least of how questions about and the understanding of homosexuality have changed; we can only hope that the novel’s ending is not equally prophetic.  

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