The Well of Loneliness: Female Masculinity and Inversion

The Well of Loneliness: Female Masculinity and Inversion

In “Female Masculinity,” Halberstam asserts that “female masculinity is a specific gender with its own cultural history rather than simply a derivative of male masculinity.” In other words, she believes that “female masculinity” is its own marker in the gender spectrum, and those who have female masculinity are not simply “mannish lesbians” trying to impersonate heterosexual males but rather cultivate and develop their own unique gender identity and presentation. This assertion challenges the Sexologists’ theories of the time when Well of Loneliness was written such as Ellis and the idea of the “invert.” According to Ellis, an invert is someone who is born one sex but behaves and feels like the other sex. For example, a female invert is a biological woman who feels like a man trapped in a woman’s body, and is attracted to women.

In the Well of Loneliness, Hall actually supports Halberstam’s notion of “female masculinity” to some extent despite being heavily influenced by Sexology. One particular example is during Stephen’s childhood, in which she spends time with Violet and Roger.

Hall utilizes Violet and Roger to represent the two extremes of the gender binary. The two children are essentially caricatures of femininity and masculinity. For example, she describes Violet as “intolerably silly” and at one point Violet says, “Can’t you knit? she would say, looking scornfully at Stephen, ‘I can–Mother called me a dear little housewife!” She also describes Roger as a caricature of masculinity when she writes, “Roger, who was ten years old, and already full to the neck of male arrogance…” and “…Roger strutting about in his Etons, and bragging, always bragging because he was a boy.” These exaggerated depictions highlight Stephen’s feelings of loneliness–she does not identify with Roger or Violet but rather feels stranded somewhere in-between.

While Stephen acknowledges that she envies Roger, Hall makes it clear that Stephen certainly doesn’t want to “be” Roger. For example, when Hall writes, “…She envied young Roger with his thick, clumping boots, his cropped hair and his Etons; envied his school and his masculine companions of whom he would speak grandly as ‘all the other fellows!’; envied his right to climb trees and play cricket and football–his right to be perfectly natural…” she emphasizes that Stephen does not envy to “be” Roger but rather envies his behavior and presentation as a man. However, Stephen does not want to completely invert and mimic or adopt all of Roger’s characteristics because she also “loathes” him and despises his “male arrogance.” Thus, Stephen’s repulsion to both Roger and Violet illustrates that her gender identity doesn’t quite invert perfectly across a gender binary. Rather, Stephen’s gender seems to be more complicated than simply explained by “inversion” and is actually, while influenced by the gender binary, something new and distinct.




Filed under Week 5: Kuzmin, Radclyffe Hall

2 responses to “The Well of Loneliness: Female Masculinity and Inversion

  1. Thank you for writing this! It’s really interesting to think more about how Hall creates Stephen as a character who defies the gender binary. -LGT

  2. Undiscovered_country

    I know how Stephen feels *sigh*.

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