Inventors of Gay: 'The Well of Loneliness'

By: Christopher Harrity
11.15.2011

The Well of Loneliness
1928

This explosively controversial book by Radclyffe Hall became a lighting rod for antigay sentiments in Europe and abroad.

The book follows the life of Stephen Gordon, a well-bred, upper-class young woman who displays gender variance and a decided attraction to other women at a very early age. The book is steeped in the Victorian terms of the time (inverts, Uranians) and was met with disdain by pro-homosexual factions as well for its stereotypes and depressing tone.

Radclyffe Hall (below, right) knew that she faced an uphill battle in getting the book published, and then the furor she would face once it reached the public. She knew it was the end of her reputation in “polite society.” She insisted with her publisher that not one word be changed from the original manuscript. She also sought the support and commitment from her partner Una Troubridge, as she knew they would both feel the firestorm.

The book was revolutionary and groundbreaking. But it was also not very well written. Both Leonard Woolf (husband of Virginia) and E.M. Forster wrote letters defending the book publicly, but privately they both expressed the wish that the writing be less florid and more modern.

Why we care:
Aside from the controversy and the legal battles in British and American courts, it was one of the few novels of its kind that people could go to learn something about same-sex relationships.

Image below:
Lady Una Troubridge and Miss Radclyffe Hall at the French Bulldog show at Marylebone Hall (their home), 28th March 1928.

"Inventors of Gay" is our series on important people and cultural influences in LGBT history that helped create the culture we enjoy today.

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