Radclyffe Hall – A Woman of Courage

The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall is a story that foretells the struggle of Stephen, a girl that is somewhat neglected by society for her ‘boyish’ tendencies and additionally her sexual inversion (homosexuality). The title itself seems to convey Stephens’s life quite accurately as it encapsulates the feelings of loneliness and longing that Stephen regularly demonstrates within the book. Hall provided a great account of the struggles and discrimination that the inverted experienced within the early 1900s and with this, used her fame to promote and inform the public of how biology can overrule choice amongst those that are homosexual.  

It is interesting, as I feel that once you are aware of Radclyffe Halls intentions for the story, The Well of Loneliness, you become aware of why the story itself is transcribed the way it is. Because the main issue in the book, inversion, was one that was highly controversial and disregarded within society at the time, the caution Hall had for writing such a novel was understandable. The uneasiness held towards inversion is even evident within the first three pages of the book under the heading ‘Commentary’. The commentary conveys a note from Havelock Ellis expressing his thoughts on Halls work. Although this note in majority is positive, conveying opinions like “… it possesses a notable psychological and sociological significance”, there is still the overshadow of discretion within his statements, “The relation of certain people- who, while different from their fellow human beings, are sometimes of the highest character and the finest aptitudes..”. This vigilance that Havelock Ellis asserts is also carried through within his other piece of work, “Studies in the Psychology of Sex” which seems to signify how delicate authors had to be when addressing their thoughts and opinions to a seemingly homophobic society. Hall is quoted to have said, “I have put my pen at the service of some of the most persecuted and misunderstood people in the world… So far as I know nothing of the kind has ever been attempted before in fiction”. Thus the importance of The Well of Loneliness and its influence on the inverted was foreseen by Hall, foreseen as a voice for those that had little choice but to be mute within a society of discrimination and judgment. Therefore when you read this book, and view it from such a perspective of ‘informing’ rather than just a story with a plot, then the underlying ‘tactics’ of Halls writing seem exceedingly prominent. An example of this can be depicted by the amount of emphasis Hall placed toward the main character of the story, Stephen, and her childhood. Stephens childhood embodies confusion and distress, not just because of the anguish she feels for her own gender identity but Hall additionally pinpoints the adversity she faces from those that are closest around her for being ‘different’, “At seventeen Stephen was taller than Anna, who had used to be considered quite tall for a woman, but Stephen was nearly as tall as her father—not a beauty this, in the eyes of the neighbors” (P.72) . This notion of formulating an immense amount of concentration on Stephen’s childhood seems to convey Halls attempts at ‘humanizing’ inversion and informing readers that inversion is something that comes from a biological framework rather than something that is a choice. This Lady Gaga ‘I Was Born This Way’ attitude is additionally paralleled with a near non-existent focus on the physical intimacy of inversion and instead, highlights the issues of longing for a sense of acceptance and belonging. It is as if Hall is attempting to extract calculated emotions like empathy from the reader, and enable the reader to ‘experience’ the emotional roller coaster or have an understanding of the emotions that Stephen (and those within the ‘inverted’ society) have to deal with within themselves and their identity. 

As part of this ‘tactical’ plot outline it seems that Hall has pondered all of the ‘reasons’ and misconceptions society has cemented on inverted individuals as to why they are the way they are and slowly denounced each one within the succession of the plot. An illustration of this is depicted in how Stephen was born into a ‘normal’ family that was not from broken roots, and additionally how there was no one individual that swayed or convinced Stephen to be such a way, it was just how she was ‘made’. Although, The Well of Loneliness was considered obscene at the time of its release one can imagine how powerful it was to those who were inverted and had experienced the isolation and confusion that Stephen had within the story. Hall publicized a message that had not been broadcast before and if anything, provided inverts with a means of oneness that had probably rarely been experienced or offered to them.

 

–DA

 

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Filed under Week 5: Kuzmin, Radclyffe Hall

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