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Literature / The Well of Loneliness

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English author Radclyffe Hall's groundbreaking 1928 novel, the first piece of lesbian literature in the English language. Widely condemned on its release, and banned for decades in Britain on the grounds of "obscenity", the book is now recognised as a classic.

The story follows the Coming of Age of Stephen Mary Olivia Gertrude Gordon, who from an early age fails to conform to society's expectations of an upper-class Englishwoman, and gradually comes to realise that she is in fact an "invert". From the rolling hills of her countryside home to the literary society of London, from the salons of Gay Paree to the trenches of the First World War, Stephen struggles to find love and purpose in a world cruelly hostile to her "unnatural" desires.

This work contains examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Wanda.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: A variation. Stephen's anguished declaration is not addressed to the object of her romantic affections, but to her mother, when she passionately claims that her love for Angela is as good and true and real as the love any man could have for a woman.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: When Stephen is musing on the life she would like to live with Angela, the latter interrupts her by simply asking;
    "Could you marry me, Stephen?"
  • Calling The Old Woman Out: Stephen gives Anna Gordon a glorious epistolary calling out just before she moves to Paris.
  • Cast Full of Gay: More so in the latter half of the novel.
  • Crisis of Faith: Adolphe Blanc lost his Jewish faith for a time, unable to understand why any loving God would have created him homosexual.
  • Driven to Suicide: Jamie shoots herself after Barbara succumbs to her illness.
  • Gay Paree: The setting of most of the latter half of the book.
  • Gayngst: Even more Justified than usual, given the time period.
  • Gender-Blender Name: The female protagonist, Stephen Gordon, as well as Jamie, Pat, Dickie....
  • Gentle Giant: Stephen is a Rare Female Example. She's described as very tall, broad-shouldered, and muscular, but is also painfully self-conscious, and despite her prowess in hunting, her compassion for animals drives her to give it up.
  • I Have No Daughter: Anna Gordon coldly banishes Stephen from Morton when she discovers she is gay.
  • Incompatible Orientation: Quite a few cases of straight men falling for lesbians. Martin Hallam falls for Stephen, Pedro develops a massive crush on Mary Llewellyn, and Barbara was wooed by a young man in her hometown in Bonnie Scotland.
  • Lady Looks Like a Dude: Stephen essentially goes through male puberty (minus the extra facial/body hair) despite being female; on top of being literally as tall, broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped, and barrel-chested with muscle as her father (who himself is a big man), she also has his heavy, masculine facial features (particularly his brow ridge and cleft chin) which only get more pronounced as she reaches adulthood.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Stephen considers her relationship with Martin to be like that of "two brothers". Unfortunately for both of them, he comes to disagree.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Barbara and Mary, though the latter turns out to be bisexual.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: Butch Lesbian Stephen and Camp Gay Jonathan Brockett occasionally have this dynamic, though in Jonathan's case it's difficult to tell if his mannerisms are an affectation, and if so, to what extent.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Reflected by Stephen's chosen career.
  • Nice Jewish Boy: Adolphe is described as "gentle and learned", and is easily the nicest person in Valérie's set.
  • Open-Minded Parent: Phillip Gordon, phenomenally so for a Victorian. He realises that his daughter is gay long before she herself does, and his only reaction is dread of the persecution he knows she will suffer because of it. He resolves to protect her as best he can by arming her with an excellent education, ensuring she will be able to forge her own path in life.
  • Pretty Little Headshots: Jamie's suicide.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The patrons of lesbian salon hostess Valérie Seymour, with whom Stephen falls in while living in Gay Paree (no pun intended).
  • Trans Equals Gay: Stephen and other characters are not labelled as gay or transgender because the book predates the distinction. They're "inverts" and the book is based on the Fair for Its Day theory of psychosexual inversion, where people experience same-sex attraction because they're mentally the opposite gender. Stephen may seem more transgender than lesbian to modern audiences, all invert women are masculine women with quasi-straight feminine partners and all homosexual men are feminine.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Several, with Roger Antrim being a particularly bad offender.