19 May 2009

The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall

Life's not all beer and skittles.

As we all know, The Well of Loneliness is the grandmother of Lesbian literature. It tells the story of sexual invert (lesbian) Stephen Gordon whose sexual leanings are ruddy obvious from a very tender age. She falls in love first with a maid and then later with a neighbor, but that relationship goes badly and she is forced to leave her home. Eventually, Stephen goes to France where she serves as an ambulance driver in World War I and falls in love with Mary Llewellyn. Alas, their love is complicated by social inhibitions and comes to no good end.

If The Well of Loneliness sounds depressing, that is because it is. It is also rather beautiful and enraging. Yes, after I finished reading this novel, I admit I wanted to go tip some cars over and set them on fire. And then re-read the novel.

Irritatingly, many of the issues raised in The Well of Loneliness are still issues we face today. Whether it is safe to have a public relationship. Whether one may marry and have children. Whether one may manage the death of a loved one. Issues from 1928, still on the table today.

That said, The Well of Loneliness isn't just a "message" novel. It is also a beautifully written romantic tragedy full of enough determined characters and purple-y prose to entertain any lover of chunky historic novels.

RYOB Challenge 2009: Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness (Avon Books, 1981)