The Well of Loneliness The Well of Loneliness question

Empowering or just depressing?
Liz Liz Aug 18, 2012 11:53PM
A lot of people who have read this book say they found it way too depressing and melodramatic and that Hall was a self-loathing lesbian. However, I found that although it can be depressing and very dramatic I walked away from the book feeling empowered. It made me want to fight harder and live prouder due to the injustice that plagued Stephen's life.

What did other people think?

It is so beautifully written -- pure poetry in my opinion. Her ability to describe the beauties of nature and the agonies of unrequited love is breathtaking. But this book isn't only about identity politics; it's bigger than that, a real work of art. The drive to become the person you want to be, in the face of the world's counter-expectations, is a universal story.

I read this as a teenager and at the time it seemed empowering...although yes, depressing. It was a different time. Might be interesting to read again and see if it was just the ability to read something about the topic. Today there is so much available.

It's interesting you should say that. I read somewhere that one of Hall's lesbian friends said that she thought that Hall portrayed the attitudes of society at the time towards 'inverts' as worse than it actually was. Hall was reported to have responded to this criticism by stating that, if she did, it was only to engage the reader more strongly and act as a 'call to arms' - a way to incite the reader to fight for acceptance and the power to hope and dream of a world where LGBT people are accepted. So, I for one, completely agree that the depressive nature of the book just makes me want to fight harder for equality and acceptance.

I have been musing about The Well... for a while now and can't decide if I think it is too depressing to read again or if I may find it a different experience from when I first read it as a teenager. I have been reading a lot about Hall, her life and times and I think her intentions were clear from the start. She strongly believed only an "invert" such as herself could and should write such a novel. But golly is this book dated or what! As self assured as many of us are these days it may be hard to imagine being filled with self pity as the main character seemed to be but such was life for past generations of our community.

Megan (last edited Feb 03, 2014 04:22PM ) Feb 03, 2014 04:21PM   0 votes
Obviously the book is representation of society's attitudes at the time, which in some parts of the world isn't much different today. To say that it is "outdated" in a general sense, I believe is far from the truth (sadly).

Hall has created a book, that caused uproar, was banned from publication and taken from the shelves. Fortunately once these bans were overturned, found its way across the world.

I really enjoyed the book, it showed loneliness in love and the lengths and sacrifices those in love can go to. The ending was empowering whilst at the same time tugging at the heart strings. It made me angry. It made me sad. I put the book down, unhappy with how things turned out, that love lost out to society's pressures.

The Well of Loneliness is one book, I wont forget.

I won't deny that it's somewhat melodramatic, but Hall is writing in a certain BritLit tradition and she's pretty damn good with prose so I cut her a little slack for that.

As for depressing vs. empowering, I think it's both. Hall isn't going to be emotionally dishonest and try to say that being a lesbian doesn't come with its woes, but at the same time she makes it a point several times to stress that there's nothing wrong with it either, and that "inverts" have a right to their existence just as much as anyone else does. If she spent the book saying "It's awful being trapped in the body of a sinner" that would be one thing, but what she's more accurately saying is "It's awful that life is made so hard for inverts because people perceive them as sinners, and people should really stop that".

I don’t think Hall was self-loading, as a matter of fact I think in some ways she was too full of herself or she held herself in high regards. I´ve been reading about her in this biography by Diana Souhami and in that book Hall is portrayed like that, maybe she got it wrong, but taking into account what she says there, I can definitely see Hall exaggerating things for people to react to the book and fight.

Sure the book is long, slow and depressing at times, but it definitely shows us in stark contrast what we have achieved in almost a century since it was written and what we have not, which is the acceptance of the world (as Puddle declared in the book to Stephen, that it might be achieved some day). I also think Hall nailed the portrayal of how lonely we feel from been different. I know there is a huge community now, but at some point or another we have felt that loneliness and Hall drew a huge picture of that for the world to see and understand. I think she felt she needed to do that in order to drew pity and achieve acceptance, because even if she was completely outlandish in her life style, I think she wanted more than she could get away with all the money she had (she was a “butch” lesbian and I´m pretty sure that if she had lived in this times she would have been a transsexual), I think she wanted marriage for the “inverts”, the open gates of paradise (she was Catholic) and for society to accept that “invert” were decent, valuable members.

deleted member Aug 12, 2014 10:06AM   0 votes
The Well of Loneliness

To the question posed above I cannot say this book was either empowering or depressing.

I read this book as a teenager and was so riveted by the story I still have my copy, yellowed pages and all. I had a friend, a bit older than me, who I idolized and wanted to be just like her.

Suddenly there were whispers about her being a ‘lesbian’ – I had to look up the word in the dictionary. It didn’t seem like such a terrible thing to me, I couldn’t understand why her family was so upset. After all, it wasn’t like she was dying of cancer or something!

Reading ‘The Well of Loneliness’ gave me an insight into something that people, in those days, spoke of only in horrified whispers. It spoke of people who were misunderstood and denigrated because of how they felt, which seemed wrong to me.

I re-read it about a year ago and got the very same feeling as I did the very first time. I would never call this book depressing, but I would call it sad. To me, it is a sad love story.

I believe it is as topical today as it was when it was written, the only difference is that, today, it wouldn’t be banned. It is a poignant beautifully written story of Stephen Gordon’s struggle for a self image that was honest and true.

I write this in homage to that dear friend whom I idolized as a teenager and continued to do so throughout her life until her death in 2013. She taught me that people are different in many ways and the best of life is to respect people for those differences.

I found it a pretty good depiction of the time it represented. Vastly different from now, in some ways; in other ways, not so much.

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