Book Review: The Well of Loneliness
I am reviewing the “Well of Loneliness” for a second time because I just felt the urge to revisit this wonderful book. The first time I read the “Well of Loneliness”, was in the late 1990s. I decided to purchase a copy of the book for myself. When I went to the bookstore the clerk bluntly said ” you do know this book is a dyke classic right?” I answered “of course.” I was insulted. So because I am a man it means I am not supposed to know about this excellent book? Give me a break! I knew about “The Well of Loneliness” since I was in high school.
I think this novel has some autobiographical context in relation to Hall’s own life. In Hall’s real life,she also dressed very butch and masculine often seen wearing suits and ties just like Stephen Gordon. Hall also had a very masculine appearance.
The first time I remember learning about ”The Well of Loneliness” ,was when I read Maya Angelou’s first autobiography “I know why the Caged Bird Sings”. Maya talked about this book and that got me curious about learning more about the “The Well of Loneliness.”
”The Well of Loneliness” is often called the “lesbian bible” because it was the first novel that was published in the 20th century to deal honestly with lesbian love and lesbian passion. The “Well of Loneliness” is about a girl named Stephen Gordon her parents Sir Phillip and Anna wanted a son. Sir Phillip insists on naming the girl Stephen. Stephen looks just like her father and he adores her. Yet Stephen has a tense relationship with her mother Anna, her mother hates Stephen she has a strong disgust and a quiet hatred for her daughter.
Stephen first discovers she has same sex feelings for the servant Collins when she is a young girl around the age of seven. Stephen grows up to become a famous writer she falls in love with an American actress Angela Crossby but she actress betrays Stephen. The actress husband finds out about the affair and writes a letter to Stephen’s mother Anna. Anna of course is disgusted and Stephen and her no longer have contact. Stephen then meets a woman named Mary. Mary and Stephen fall in love but Stephen feels like she is unworthy of her love. Stephen sets Mary up with a male friend of her’s Martin Hallam. In the end Stephen kills herself. I know the book is kind of depressing but its so well written.
The novel is very tame by 21st century standards, there are no scenes of lesbian sex in the book. However, when “The Well of Loneliness” was first published in 1928 the book was banned in England and there was a famous trial. British writers such as EM Forester and Virginia Woolf defended Hall. Hall wrote several over books such as “The Unlit Lamp” but she’s best known for the Well of Loneliness.
Now some lesbian critics bash the novel because the main character Stephen Gordon is a negative stereotype of lesbianism. However, some lesbian critics are forgetting the time and place the book was written in 1929 England. I can kind of see what they are saying because even I was sort of confused about the Stephen character. Was Stephen a butch lesbian or was she a transsexual? It seemed to me the character Stephen was trying so hard to deny her femininity. Now just because a lesbian wears suits and is butch doesn’t mean she wants to be a man. But even now I do wonder why do some lesbians wear suits or dress in a more masculine style kind of clothing? Is it because some lesbians think by dressing in a more masculine manner they are more comfortable?
I do think modern critics have to remember the time period Hall wrote the book. The world was a very different place in 1928 and although Hall refers to the character Stephen Gordon’s sexuality as an affliction we have to remember the social and cultural period of 1928 in England.
Does anyone know any other good novels about black lesbians or other lesbians of colour? Please let me know? I’ve been looking around various book stores and its hard to find good black lesbian fiction. The black lesbian writers I had recently are Dionne Brand and Makeda Silvera. If you know any new novels about black lesbians or lesbians of colour let me know?