sometimes witty book reviews
Radclyffe Hall’s semi-autobiographical protagonist is a girl born to wealthy English parents who wanted a boy. So they call her Stephen. Ironically, her parents choose to ignore the fact that their daughter believes herself more of a son.
She fences, horse rides and generally romps through adolescence with astounding physical and mental agility until a freak accident kills her favourite parent. Steven is left without consolation and utterly lost as to who or what she is. Her governess-come-teacher convinces her to start using the immense intellect at her disposal and to write. She eventually moves to Paris after being banished from her family home when an affair with a married woman is discovered.
Before the first world war she becomes a moderately successful author. During the war (The Great War) Steven drives an ambulance, afterwards she traverses the gay bars of Bohemian Paris and rides her favourite horse. During all this, she finds love and a dog with a curly tail. All appears to be a happy ending. And then there’s a dreaded plot twist…
Hall’s The Well of Loneliness is a desperate yet truly eye-opening exposé of the covert and risky lives gay and lesbian individuals endured during one of history’s most volatile and violent eras. Upon publication in 1928, The Well was immediately banned, classed as obscene and branded ‘literary dirt’ (though it has only one very heavily veiled and euphemistic line alluding to sex).
Easy to read and still full of material that even today raises heteronomarlised eyebrows, The Well is, put simply, a very good book.