Places: The Well of Loneliness

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1928

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: Early twentieth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedMorton Hall

Morton Well of Loneliness, TheHall. Located between Upton-on-Severn and the Malvern Hills in the British Midlands, Morton Hall is Stephen Gordon’s home until her early twenties. This is where she has her first crush on a housemaid, Collins, at the age of seven, and where she falls in love at twenty-one with Angela Crossby, the duplicitous American wife of an English businessman. Both of these loves go unrequited.

Morton Hall also has symbolic significance for Stephen–the very feel of the soil, the old Georgian, redbrick house with circular windows, the stables and especially the horses, the schoolroom where she receives private tutoring in preparation for Oxford University, the two large lakes on the grounds, and the flora and fauna on the estate and around it. Even the love between her parents adds up to a definition of home for Stephen.

Battlefield

Battlefield. French battlefield on which Stephen ferries wounded French soldiers to the hospital as a volunteer ambulance driver during World War I, She thus proves that “sexual inverts” also can lead useful lives and contribute to society. This is the setting in which Stephen meets Mary Llewellyn, an innocent Welsh orphan and another volunteer, with whom Stephen is to have a long affair.

*Paris

*Paris. Capital of France, where Stephen tries to jump-start her and Mary’s social life to relieve Mary’s boredom and loneliness. Now that Stephen has become a famous author, her demanding writing schedule has left Mary feeling neglected (in reality, Radclyffe Hall did not become famous until she was in her forties). Through Valerie Seymour, a wealthy American writer engaged in multiple lesbian affairs, Stephen and Mary are introduced to Paris’s homosexual society. In due course, they visit the seamy Parisian lesbian bars populated by unhappy misfits leading tortured lives–women drowning in alcohol, poverty, and self-loathing. Stephen contributes their lack of self-respect to social disapproval. In fact, it is to make this point forcefully that Hall omits mentioning the lively salons and cafés, equally familiar to her, where lesbians were less mortified and apologetic.

Paris is also the place where the youthful Canadian Martin Hallam, who, through neighbors in England, has met Stephen Gordon and innocently proposed marriage, now resurfaces. At that time, Stephen herself had not yet understood the underlying reason for her rejection of Martin, with whom she had shared a love of nature.

Martin Hallam now becomes romantically involved with Mary Llewellyn. Stephen decides to sacrifice herself for Mary’s happiness after a bitter contest with Martin and after Stephen’s deeply religious experience in a Montmartre church, in which she identifies with the crucified Christ (Hall was a voluntary convert to Catholicism). Thus, feigning an affair with Valerie Seymour, Stephen drives Mary into Hallam’s arms and a conventional heterosexual future on his farm in British Columbia. This is the last of her renunciations, which had started with her giving up Morton Hall, her cherished family home.

35, rue Jacob

35, rue Jacob. Paris apartment in which Stephen sets up a household with Mary, and they vow to weather the world’s harsh judgment of their same-sex “marriage.”

BibliographyBaker, Michael. Our Three Selves: The Life of Radclyffe Hall. New York: William Morrow, 1985. A comprehensive biography of Radclyffe Hall which examines the publication and reception of The Well of Loneliness. Several chapters deal with the trial and publicity surrounding the banning of the book in England. Includes photographs of Radclyffe Hall, her family, and lovers. The discussion connecting The Well of Loneliness to Hall’s other novels is also helpful.Brittain, Vera. Radclyffe Hall: A Case of Obscenity? London: A. S. Barnes, 1969. A detailed account of the obscenity trial. Conveys valuable information regarding attitudes toward lesbianism in England in the 1920’s.Faderman, Lillian. Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers. New York: Penguin Books, 1991. This history of lesbianism in twentieth century America provides a historical framework for understanding the experiences of women who love women and includes a discussion of the role of The Well of Loneliness in providing women with knowledge of lesbianism.Franks, Claudia Stillman. Beyond “The Well of Loneliness.” Aldershot, Hampshire, England: Avebury, 1984. One of the most thorough critical treatments of the novel.Jay, Karla, and Joanne Glasgow, eds. Lesbian Texts and Contexts: Radical Revisions. New York: New York University Press, 1990. A collection of critical essays on lesbian fiction and literature, a number of which discuss Radclyffe Hall and her work. A selective bibliography lists numerous fiction, nonfiction, and critical works by and about lesbians.McPike, Loralee. “A Geography of Radclyffe Hall’s Lesbian Country.” Historical Reflections/ Reflexions Historiques 20, no. 2 (1994): 217-242. Argues that lesbianism is only one focus of the novel. The novel also concerns the human condition.Newton, Esther. “The ‘Mythic Mannish Lesbian’: Radclyffe Hall and the New Woman.” Signs 9 (1984): 557-575. Argues that Stephen Gordon’s masculinity was intended to offer an alternative to contemporary ideas of the new woman.O’Rourke, Rebecca. Reflecting on “The Well of Loneliness.” London: Routledge, 1989. A critical examination of The Well of Loneliness with a selected bibliography of books and articles by and about Radclyffe Hall. Especially interesting is the author’s discussion of the reactions of lesbian and heterosexual readers of the book.Ruehl, Sonja. “Inverts and Experts: Radclyffe Hall and the Lesbian Identity.” In Feminism, Culture and Politics, edited by Rosalind Brunt and Caroline Rowan. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1982. Discusses the influence of sexology of Hall’s times on her attempt to define the lesbian.Troubridge, Una Vincenzo, Lady. The Life and Death of Radclyffe Hall. London: Hammond & Hammond, 1961. A biography of Hall by her longtime companion.
Categories: Places