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The Well of Loneliness

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  11,503 ratings  ·  701 reviews
New to Penguin Modern Classics, the seminal work of gay literature that sparked an infamous legal trial for obscenity and went on to become a bestseller. The Well of Loneliness tells the story of tomboyish Stephen, who hunts, wears trousers and cuts her hair short - and who gradually comes to realise that she is attracted to women. Charting her romantic and professional ...more
Paperback, 496 pages
Published February 5th 2015 by Penguin Modern Classics (first published 1928)
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Average rating 3.66  · 
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 ·  11,503 ratings  ·  701 reviews

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Jamie Whitt
Nov 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Nov 09, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
‘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
Joseph Spuckler
Nov 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: british, fiction
A surprisingly good book that is not widely read. The Well of Loneliness has been known as the Lesbian Bible and was written in 1928. It was quite an edgy book for its time. The book itself is more about gender than orientation. The female lead, Stephen, leads a tom-boyish childhood. She hunts, fences, rides her horse but not side saddle fashion. She is also a collage of several people unintentionally. She is built like Vita Sackville-West and will become a writer. Like Sackville-West and her ...more
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
Apr 19, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
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.


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
Sep 03, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
If one thinks of "The Well of Loneliness" as having been written by a homophobic, sexist straight man then it begins to make sense. The central character (and stand-in for author Radclyffe Hall) is not a self-loathing lesbian at all, he's a transgendered man, and he's not exactly gay-friendly. The identification of Jonathan Brockett as gay by describing his hands as being “as white and soft as a woman’s,” for example, emphasizes Stephen’s conflicted feelings about his own sexuality and the ...more
Jan 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
James Douglas, editor of the Sunday Express, wrote, " Am well aware that sexual inversion and perversion are horrors which exist among us today. They flaunt themselves in public places … I would rather give a healthy boy or a healthy girl a phial of prussic acid than this novel."

‘’If our love is a sin then heaven must be full of such tender and selfless sinning as ours’’

‘’-Why does the world persecute us?
-Because in this world there is only toleration for the so-called normal.’’

This is a 3.8
Stef Rozitis
This book moves slowly and thoughtfully through many shades of tragedy. There's a sort of integrity to it. Not all readers will appreciate the Christian symbolism and theology but I did- the constant please for meaning and acceptance by a sort of outcast. A few times I sort of experienced Stephen as unrelatable because of how ridiculously wealthy she was, but then there were people like Jamie and Barbara to add counterpoint to it, there was just enough shown of the servants to undo the idea that ...more
Mar 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Alternative title- The deep, deep, pitiful well of loneliness.

I mean, I knew this would be sad, but I hoped it wouldn't be quite as despairing. I suppose the clue was in the name and the fact this is early 20th century lesbian fiction, which we all know didn't end well. After all, we can't be encouraging the ladies.

Aside from the sexuality, this reminds me why the 1920s are my favourite period in literature. There's something so evocative about the time and although the writing style, of
Marina (Sonnenbarke)
Reading this book proved incredibly difficult. I was unsure how to rate it, but decided for 2 stars in the end: the story is a very good one, extremely interesting, but the writing is so dull you can't begin to understand if you haven't read it. I'm sorry to have to say this, but it's what I felt about this book.

I understand why it is such an important book in literary history, but I really, really disliked it.

First of all, I don't really know why this should be considered as a story of lesbian
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
Sep 29, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: childhood
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
Jul 15, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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... - ...more
May 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
May 13, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, queer
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 ...more
This book is pretty Problematic (being a product of its time - content warnings for racism [inc. use of the N-word], sexism, homophobia, and some very outdated theories). But it's still a valuable read in terms of LGBTQ+ lit. If nothing else, it reminds us that there is history. Gay people didn't just appear out of nowhere a few decades ago. Having an identity is not some "trend", as is sometimes accused. That's important to remember.

Maybe I'll have more to write about it another time. Don't
Amanda Roper
well that was overwrought
Dec 10, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: masochists
So I read this for a Lesbian Literatures course, and I have to state from the outset that I am well aware of the *significance* of the novel in such a course, and such a subset of lesbian history. Certainly it was landmark, insofar as the book was one of the (perhaps THE?) first to openly deal with homosexual or inverted desire. Moreover, the trial that banned the book brought the novel, Radclyffe Hall, and the 'lesbian identity' into the public eye in a rather big way. All very well and good.

Jul 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aug 19, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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,
May 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Watch my YouTube review right here:

I’ve taken more notes for this review than a lot of other reviews I’ve written.

Writing this feels bitter-sweet. I feel like I’ve come to know her, come to love her. Stephen Gordon, the young red-haired, strapping lass who learnt to fence, learnt to box and was willing to fight a boy from Eton because girls are better than boys. She has a temper as fiery as her hair, is initially seriously socially awkward, forever
Smitha Murthy
I picked up this book entirely by chance because the cover was staring at me in a second-hand bookstore. Once I read that the book had been banned, my interest was immediately piqued. And that’s where my problem started.

Instead of reading the book first, I researched a lot about the book! It’s one of the lingering effects of a degree in Literature - you somehow can’t switch your mind off sometimes. That is both good and bad when it comes to reading a book. The result of all my research was that
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
May 28, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: EVERY LGBT person...seriously
Recommended to Jasmine by: Liz
Shelves: lez-lit, favorites
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,
This was quite good. Yes, the story was silly at times, yes, the style was overdramatized, but it did have a lot of power and passion. I didn’t know much about Hall before I read this, but she also struck me as unusually religiously-minded. Only after I learned that she converted to Catholicism; it must all have been very important to her.

Points up for compassion & sympathy towards animals, points down for racism and misogyny. The latter brings to mind Mary Renault, just a bit: Renault is
Feb 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ba-reading-list, 2017
4.5 stars
Jul 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I went into this thinking that it was the first lesbian romance novel, but it turns out that it's neither a romance, nor (technically) about a lesbian.

While Stephan has a couple of romantic partners, that's far from the focus of the book. Instead, it's more about Stephan's feelings of inadequacy and alienation due to her sexual orientation. While it's clear that Stephan is in love with Mary, the writing about those emotions feels a great deal more restrained than the scenes where she's wishing
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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. ...more
“The world hid its head in the sands of convention, so that by seeing nothing it might avoid Truth. ” 37 likes
“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.” 31 likes
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