Friday 19 March 2010

A Fine Read - Radclyffe Hall's 'The Well of Loneliness'

I first read this truly ground-breaking novel in 1987 (at the suggestion of my most beautiful-ever gay friend. - The friendship lasting barely 6 months, breaking down after a disastrous trip to Paris together. Perhaps a story for another time?) But I'm now coming to the end of a re-read and it's striking me, much more than the first time, how remarkable the book is. It was the first novel dealing with lesbian relationships which I'd read and for that reason hadn't been immediately enthusiastic. (Silly me!) First published in 1928, it was soon involved in a notorious trial in the British courts which, unsurprisingly for the time, judged it to be 'obscene' and banned it - thus consigning it to Limbo for some decades. Of course one winces now at the writer's description of lesbians as having the 'mark of Cain', referring to gays generally as 'inverts' and homosexuality as a burden (as indeed it would have been then and in that society) and as a somewhat unwholesome characteristic, those having it being individuals to be understood with sympathy channeled through pity. But once one gets over where Hall was coming from in those repressed days it really is an extraordinary work, beautifully and sensitively written There is nothing in the least pornographic or even explicit in the book ("And that night they were not divided.") nor anything more graphic than the occasional kiss on the mouth. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone interested in historically significant gay lit. If you are so interested, do please read - and let us know what you think.


  1. Good stuff Ray. It's upsetting to me that any court would find a book "obscene" merely because it contains gay characters and situations. We rely to courts to rise above the petty biases of the public, not wallow in it. I'm glad modern courts have improved somewhat in this, but too often I still see evidence of courts making illogical, emotional decisions.

    I'd like to know more about your drama in Paris. It saddens me that you would lose a friend.

  2. Larry, it was pretty much par for the course to treat any work which depicted gays in any way sympathetically as being 'obscene', for fear, I suppose, of encouraging that sort of 'immoral' behaviour. Also in films where anyone was portrayed by implication, or rarely explicitly, as being gay, it was only permissible for them to be treacherous, villanous, evil etc. It was in the 1970s in this country that things started to change for the better.
    As for Paris, suffice it to say that we fought like two rival cats on heat. It was later that I found out something about myself that explained it - and why I've never been able to maintain any lasting friendship in person.