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The Well of Loneliness

3.57 of 5 stars 3.57  ·  rating details  ·  6,850 ratings  ·  343 reviews
First published in 1928, this timeless portrayal of lesbian love is now a classic. The thinly disguised story of Hall's own life, it was banned outright upon publication and almost ruined her literary career.
Paperback, 414 pages
Published January 7th 2014 by Wordsworth Editions (first published January 1st 1928)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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mark monday
what could have been a fascinating chronicle of a tough butch interloper challenging mainstream society becomes the drippy tale of a woman who just wants to be loved, and the cruel little bitch who leads her on. oh what a deep well! the writing's pretty swell though, that can't be denied. tres elegante. i was reminded of e.m. forster's equally drippy, equally beautiful (but rather more enjoyable) Maurice. plus i actually preferred the wish fulfillment of Maurice, sad to say. guess i'm not such a ...more
Jamie Whitt
it should be MANDATORY that everyone reads this book. everyone. there isn't anything too astounding about her writing style, and nothing too "deep" about it either. anyone could pick up this book and see clearly everything she's very clearly alluding to, so there isn't much mystery, but instead, a whole lot of straightforward honesty about an aspect of the world most overlook without even realizing.

what broke back mountain failed miserably in doing, ratcliffe did with ease. this isn't some kinky
...more
BrokenTune
‘God,’ she gasped, we believe; we have told You we believe . . . We have not denied You, then rise up and defend us. Acknowledge us, oh God, before the whole world. Give us also the right to our existence!’

First things first, the cover on this edition is absurdly unrepresentative of the book.

Second, I liked the book. I would even recommend the book - it's just that it should come with a few notes:

1. It is endlessly long. And detailed. For no purpose. Whatsoever. If the length of the book was su
...more
Bill
this book was banned in England on publication in 1928, which of course made it a huge bestseller. and as it was published in France and the USA, it was easy to obtain copies.

and, of course, it is so tame by today's standards. the most explicit line in the book is "she kissed her full on the lips, like a lover". but the powers that be in England judged anything even hinting at lesbianism to be immoral.

in any event, it is a very fine novel, on it's own merits, and I really enjoyed it. the author
...more
Jardley
Apr 19, 2008 Jardley rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Internalized homophobic homosexuals
I read The Well of Loneliness because of was very interested in reading novels on homosexuality. I needed something to relate to. The book centers around a girl whose father desperately wanted a boy and so named her Stephen. Throughout her childhood Stephen is shown as a girl unlike others. The way she carries herself, the way she acts and the fantasies she has about seeing herself as "Nelson", stress the fact Stephen sexuality is in question. As she grow, Stephen begins to find love in women an ...more
Jesse
Recently in these parts I declared that this novel was so dull that today it is essentially unreadable, and that its lasting importance has everything to do with history and not a thing to do with art. And I still generally stand behind these sentiments.

BUT.

I read it. And I kind of enjoyed it, at least in parts. I had based the above judgements on reading the first 60 pages or so (in retrospect the weakest section of the entire novel) and upon my decision to incorporate it in a paper on the que
...more
Natasha (Diarist) Holme
I read this the first time around in 1988, during my first term at university, hiding it from my room mate, under the covers. I enjoyed it then as the third lesbian book I'd ever read (after Patience & Sarah and Annie on My Mind), but found it harsh.

Slogging through it a second time now, for the Lesbian Book Club book of the month, it felt interminable. No detail is left unmentioned. Oh wait ... "and that night they were not divided." Just the odd detail lacking. That one sentence caused the
...more
El
I love reading books that have at some point been a source of controversy, the books that have been banned and censored, questioned and attacked. The Well of Loneliness is one of those books, and by looking at the cover of the edition I read there's a clue right there as to the reasoning for the controversy: "A 1920s Classic of Lesbian Fiction".

Steven Gordon is a wealthy English woman who is clearly not like other women, even from a young age. Her father had hoped for a boy and pinned those hope
...more
Nickie
Yerk. This is/was obviously a very important book, so it feels a shame to give it such a low grade but jaysus it was a bit painful after the novelty of the first 200 pages had worn off. The fact that it deals with lesbianism/gender issues in such a forthright way, especially for the time in which it was written ('20s)is v impressive. Orlando came out in the same year, but it doesn't deal with it as explicitly. No more than something like Twelfth Night did. Anyway, in the case of The Well... - im ...more
Lori
I remember checking this book out of the public library near my house and hiding it from my parents, so I must have been about 12 the first time I read it. It lived under my mattress for about three days while I read it. I think I checked out "One in Ten" along with it, heh.

The first time I read this book, I thought it was amazing. A queer love story from what seemed like forever ago! Wow! At the time, I felt alone and isolated, and it spoke to me. My second reading in college was not nearly as
...more
Nikki
I don't know what to think of The Well of Loneliness. I read it because it's a lesbian classic, and someone said that it was one of the first novels where horrible things don't have to happen to its lesbian protagonists. I can't actually imagine anything more agonising than what the protagonist, Stephen, does -- voluntarily giving up her lover to a male close friend to give her safety and security, acting as a martyr for her... And Barbara and Jamie: both of them die because of the life they lea ...more
Meg
Funny enough I find the character of Stephen quite similar to the character of Jo in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. Both would have preferred to be men and both find the demeanor, dress and lifestyle expectations of women in their day to be dreary. Stephen is simply the sisterless, unloved, rich version of Jo.

Something about the choices Hall makes with the character of Stephen highlight her gender and sexual differences in a way that Alcott does not. They have many of the same thoughts, eeril
...more
Liz
I really like this book, but found it very, very depressing. Not depressing in a 'Im gonna slit my wrist with the sharp edges of the pages' depressed, more like a 'why is the word so cruel, where is my God now?' kind of depressed.

I really don't think the main protagonist Stephen needed to suffer so much; if Hall was trying to empower the 'inverted' and educate the mass about the 'inverted' I think she was smoking too many pipes, because if I had been 'inverted' in those days I would have weighe
...more
Jasmine
Aug 15, 2012 Jasmine rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: EVERY LGBT person...seriously
Recommended to Jasmine by: Liz
Shelves: favorites, lez-lit
WOW...where do I even start? This is honestly one of the most thought provoking and emotionally charged books that I have ever read.

Why thought provoking? Because it made me think about so many aspects of my own life that had been challenged by the mostly bigoted and homophobic society that I live in. Through Stephen, Hall touches upon the many challenges and struggles that LGBT people had to put up with (and still have to put up with) today. Yes - that's right - if we are honest with ourselves,
...more
Sath
So, Stephen.. She's born sometime in the late 18-somethings to well off parents, they call her Stephen because her parents have wanted and somewhat expected a boy child for about 10 years, and her father wants to stick with the name they chose. As it turns out, they did pretty much get a boy. As a child stephen likes to pretend she's Nelson, fancies herself in love with the housemaid, throws her dolls away, wears trousers and rides astride her horse like a boy.
Her father is very supportive, and
...more
Jason
In a vacuum this is fairly overplayed, melodramatic, and clichéd. A story ab ovo that traces a woman’s life in which she painfully discovers that she is a lesbian (a word not used once in the novel though emblazoned on its cover—"A 1920s Classic of Lesbian Fiction"). But once the dust of that self-revelation settles, rather than repent her plight , the protagonist actually embraces her renegade status, although she doesn’t go too far. In fact, she is somewhat conservative in her views, repeated ...more
Laura
This is possibly the most beautiful book I have ever read. The prose is simply exquisite. Hall proves that imagery does not have to be tedious and overwraught. I felt a hundred times while reading this novel that I had never heard such a sentiment expressed so perfectly. In fact, sometimes the prose was so beautiful that the context almost faded away entirely, and I was simply left with a breath-taking sentence, paragraph or more...

Sadly, this book is still relevant 90 years after it was penned.
...more
Alun Williams
I've known of this book for many years, but, as a vaguely heterosexual male, had avoided reading it. What a treat I had been missing. This is a marvellously complex and disturbing book, which will provoke strong reactions in almost anyone who reads it today - it will be an equally uncomfortable read whatever your attitude towards homosexual relationships. This book is far more than a significant milestone in gay and lesbian literature. It is a milestone in the literature of love - love for home, ...more
Beth
This novel formed part of my Undergraduate dissertation, exploring the links between identity and gender.
Hall writes the novel from the perspective of Stephen Gordon. Stephen is a complicated character. Although biologically female, Stephen is raised essentially as a male. The novel is based in the early to mid 1900s,and is well placed to deal with the emerging field of psychology. I found it difficult initially not to project my own understanding of transgendered identities onto the character,
...more
Priti
The Well of Loneliness
Radclyffe Hall
In spite of its radical-for-its-time subject matter, it is in essence a story of a woman's struggle to find love and acceptance. After I read it, I realized what loneliness of soul means, the utter stark misery of it and the after effects remain for some time.
Megan
the determined personification of pets here is particularly charming. we love our pets!
Lisa
The Well of Loneliness was first published in 1928, and because it was the first book of its kind to deal with the subject of same-sex relationships, Radclyffe Hall had to invent a new type of narrative.

I found this book full of insight into human motivations and how easily people's actions can be misunderstood. Radclyffe Hall was very perceptive.

It was a very sad story and showed what life was like for those who had to hide who they were and who they loved, and how they suffered because of it.

T
...more
Micah
Conclusions, casually presented and in no particular order because I don't feel like putting together a well-written review.

• Bless, this book is so very of its time. This is wonderful when it is waxing poetic about the English countryside or pre-war Paris; it is less so anytime black people are present or even alluded to. Also the pervasive (and I don't think entirely conscious) disdain for femme gender presentation -- god, the bits where the narration is picking on poor Jonathan Brockett and h
...more
Nic Echo
Dec 21, 2012 Nic Echo rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Nic by: Tesk
About the Book:
Stephen Gordon was never what you would consider a normal girl. Even at a young age, she dressed up as a man and took up hobbies such as fencing. In this tale, we follow her on an emotional journey as Stephen takes on the hardships of being an outcast.

Review:
I was originally recommended this novel by my room mate, and I have to say I am glad she did. I, honestly, would have not picked this up by blurb alone, allowing myself to miss out on a wonderful read. Accredited as being a le
...more
Reetta Saine
1920-luvun lopulla koeteltiin yhteiskunnan sietokykyä Radclyffe Hallin "ensimmäisen lesboromaanin" julkaisemisella. Lainausmerkit siksi, että lesbisiä elementtejä sisältäviä mitä-tahansa-kirjallisuuksia oli ollut olemassa vuosikymmeniä jos ei -satoja, mutta tässä "inversio" otettiin romaanin keskusaiheeksi ja siitä puhuttiin suorasanaisesti. Kirjasota syntyi, roviot paloivat ainakin kuvainnollisesti.

Hallin romaani on julkaistu modernismin aikakaudella, mutta se pitäytyy realismissa niin muodon,
...more
Emma
The Well of Loneliness brought me to tears on the train, which I think makes it pretty special.
I guess people have critiqued and analysed the hell out of this book, particularly for the main character being so self-punishing that the book ultimately becomes homophobic. But actually I think I agree with Heather Love's interpretation of this book (detailed in 'Feeling Backward: Loss & the politics of queer history'). She basically argues that, for queers looking to past eras to construct and c
...more
Shawn
I would have given this book four stars had Hall ended the book after part 3. The first half of the book was a great story, the author thoroughly connecting the characters to the reader. Unfortunately, Hall continued Stephan's story, allowing the rest of the book to become tiresome to read. An important note about reading the book: The reader must put his/herself in the time period, otherwise one might consider Hall and her characters to seem rather pathetic in the way they respond to the situat ...more
Claire
An insightful novel that really gets to the heart of gender identity/homosexuality issues, particularly in the time it was set. Some of her prose is beautifully written and is a really astute look at someone who feels like they just don't fit in with the world around them.

That doesn't mean it's a particularly good book - in many places it's meandering and drags. The plot is fairly weak and, due to the nature of the main character, its scope is very narrow (only shown from the pov of a very privi
...more
Mel
I remember trying to read this book a few years ago and finding it boring. Well this time I decided to take this book for what it was and I enjoyed it. This book was published in 1928 and I think was pretty ballsy for the time period. I had to deduct a star because of the ending.Oh Stephen, you were so ballsy and interesting til the end. This book is beautifully written yet filled with such repression and self-loathing in parts that it can be painful to read. Stephen is the worst kind of martyr ...more
Frankie Reeves
An emotional, sensitive, turbulent and fragile account of the trials and tribulations faced by a gender non-conforming lesbian at the dawn of the twentieth century. The book seems to read in waves of brilliance - we all know it's not the most elegant prose, but this is tertiary to the honesty and emotional angst of Stephen as she struggles against every societal prejudice to find her space as a lover of women. That the book ends so tragically where love is concerned says so much more about inter ...more
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Marguerite Radclyffe-Hall was born on the south coast of England. Her mother may have battered her, while her father, a playboy known as 'Rat', ignored her. In the drawing rooms of Edwardian society, Marguerite made a small name for herself as a poet and librettist. In 1907 she met a middle-aged fashionable singer, Mrs Mabel Batten, known as 'Ladye", who introduced her to influential people. Batte ...more
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“What a terrible thing could be freedom. Trees were free when they were uprooted by the wind; ships were free when they were torn from their moorings; men were free when they were cast out of their homes—free to starve, free to perish of cold and hunger.” 16 likes
“The world hid its head in the sands of convention, so that by seeing nothing it might avoid Truth. ” 15 likes
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