Friday, 19 October 2012

The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall

About the book
The Well of Loneliness is a fiction novel by Radclyffe Hall. The book was first published in 1928, when it was also banned. The version I have is a reprint by Virago on 3rd July 2008 and the book is 512 pages long.

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, away of some indefinable thing that sets her apart. Stephen experiences her first real taste of happiness when she meets Mary, but can their love survive in a world of prejudice?
(Taken from the back of the book)

What I thought
This is another of the books that I have had to read for my Gender and Sexuality class this year and the biggest of the bunch. As this is such a large book and knowing what it was about, it was a little daunting even looking at it, let alone beginning to read it.

The Well of Loneliness was really hard to get into for me. The book begins at Stephen’s birth, explaining the reasoning behind her name and getting to know her parents. There is so much time spent at the family’s home, Morton Hall because this is where Stephen grows up but it was just so drawn out. Instead of being a book which picks out the most important bits of Stephen’s live, it tends to be a book about her whole life. Now, I wouldn’t have minded this had some more exciting or interesting things happened but they don’t. For a good chunk of the book, especially during Stephen’s childhood, the book just plods along without much happening at all.

It isn’t until Stephen gets to be a teen that the book gets interesting. At this point, it is really clear that she is different from the other girls around so the contrast between her and others is quite vivid, with descriptions of the way that Stephen acts and dresses. Up until this point in the book, the main focus was on Stephen’s relationship with her mother and father but now, getting to see her interact with others begins to show what the book is really about. I can’t think of any one point in the book where it actually states that Stephen is a lesbian but she is. She wonders why she doesn’t fell towards men what she probably should be feeling although she is never ashamed of this.

There is a lot of stereotyping going on when it comes to lesbianism in this book but it has to be taken into account when the book was published. I can understand why it was banned during this time too and Radclyffe Hall attempts to pick up on these reasons in the book. As Stephen gets older, people around her stay away because of how she is different and it was interesting to see how people treat her because of this. After reading about Stephen’s whole life, by this point I felt quite sorry for her, knowing what she had been through. I hated the fact that people were treating her differently for only being herself.

The Well of Loneliness is very heavy going and I think this is mainly to do with the time span of the book. I did appreciate getting to know exactly why Stephen was the way she was, after reading about her whole life but I don’t think that it all needed to be there. Many things were not necessarily needed in my eyes but then I wonder whether or not I would have understood Stephen as well without them. Yes, this is a book about lesbianism but there are no graphic scenes or scenes of too much detail. Instead, this is a book about acceptance about yourself and about acceptance from other people and finding a way to be happy with exactly who you are. 

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