Tuesday, 18 October 2016

THE WELL OF LONELINESS BY RADCLYFFE HALL - REVIEW

“The world hid its head in the sands of convention, so that by seeing nothing it might avoid Truth." - Radclyffe Hall


The Well of Loneliness is perhaps one of the most famous pieces of lesbian literature, and courted a fair amount of controversy due to it's subject matter, being banned in the UK upon it's publication in 1928 and an obscenity trial in the US. It follows the life of Stephen Gordon, the daughter of an upper-class English family from youth to middle-age as she deals with her 'sexual inversion', an antiquated term for homosexuality.

The Well is said to have been a weakly disguised depiction of Hall's own life and experiences with her sexuality, while this is not truly accurate, the novel is an accurate depiction of the struggles faced by gay men and women in the pre and post-war era of Europe in the 20th century. It is this that drew me towards the novel, I am fascinated by and hold an avid interest in 19th and 20th century literature and wished to explore an avenue I had never really looked towards in my previous reading, lesbian literature; The Well fit both of these criteria and I went in to the novel wholly excited for a different perspective of Modern life.

I found the first third of the book most enjoyable, with the documentation of Stephen's young life at home in Dorset being remarkably well-written and intriguing. Young Stephen is a strong character who, though stubborn and obstinate, is gripping and I found myself in awe of her bravery and intrigue despite the judgmental glares of her peers. Her father, Sir Phillip, is perhaps every child's dream parent. While he suspects Stephen's 'inversion' and researches it, he does not perceive her negatively, rather, he pushes her towards her wanted pursuits such as hunting, sports and fencing, activities usually reserved for boys, a fact he ignores and relishes in when she is found to be excel in them. It is when Stephen reaches 18 in the novel that I began to find my interest waning, I found that her older character was harder to like in comparison to her younger self and that this continued to progress throughout the rest of the novel.

“For the sake of all the others who are like you, but less strong and less gifted perhaps, many of them, it's up to you to have the courage to make good.” 

Upon her move to Paris I found Stephen to be, well, extremely annoying. I did appreciate her struggles as a lesbian in a unaccepting and isolating climate, but I found her to be far too clingy, protective and not the strong character I expected her to be from her childhood depiction. Her behaviour in her relationships and inability to allow her lovers to be dependent of their own accord struck me as the very sort of behaviour I believed she abhorred, but alas, I was subject to far too much of Stephen's pouty tantrum's as she refused to accept other peoples attempts to cope in society. 

The novel's length is perhaps was ruined it for me, I felt that the last two-thirds of the book were not used efficiently, resulting in a, tragically beautiful, but seemingly rushed ending, as well as a fairly rushed middle section detailing Stephen's role as ambulance driver in World War I, (a part of the story I feel had much more potential). The novel is a wonderful depiction of the lesbian and gay subculture of Paris and I do implore that if you are: 1. Interested in 20th century literature 2. Wanting to get into LGBT literature or 3. Want a realistic social commentary, then I'd say pick this up. The novel ends on such a beautiful note, imploring that the sexually inverted be accepted and is overall a lovely expose on the struggles for acceptance, but it sadly is lost to poor characterisation and pacing.

Rating: ★★

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