Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 225
The main character in The Well of Loneliness, published in 1928, is Stephen Gordon (so named because her parents had expected a boy). Stephen is a lesbian but, growing up, doesn’t know what she is or what that might be called. She spends her life searching for understanding and acceptance.
Stephen’s father, Sir Phillip, understands that his daughter is a lesbian after reading books on the matter but dies before he can explain it to his daughter or his wife.
Stephen’s mother, Lady Anna, tries to mold Stephen into a more typical young woman of the time and never accepts that her daughter is different. She remains distant to Stephen throughout her life.
Angela Crossby is Stephen’s married next-door neighbor. When Stephen writes a letter revealing her feelings for Angela, it ultimately leads to Stephen having to leave her hometown and head to London.
Mary Llewellyn is an ambulance driver during World War I whom Stephen meets while she also works as a driver. Stephen and Mary fall in love and are happy until Stephen drives her away so that Mary can live an easier life.
Other characters in The Well of Loneliness include Jonathan Brockett, a playwright and Stephen’s friend in London; Valérie Seymour, who hosts a salon in Paris; and Martin Hallam, with whom Mary eventually ends up.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 752
Stephen Gordon, the protagonist. The only daughter of English gentry, Stephen is baptized Stephen Mary Olivia Gertrude but is called Stephen because her father desperately wanted a son. As a child, she loathes dresses, preferring to wear pants and play as a war hero. She develops her muscles through fencing and riding and is more comfortable with her horses than at social gatherings, where she often suspects people of laughing at her. After a failed relationship with Angela Crossby, she leaves her estate, Morton, for London, where she becomes a successful novelist. During World War I, she serves as a driver with the London Ambulance Column and meets Mary Llewellyn. They fall in love and settle in Paris.
Sir Philip Gordon
Sir Philip Gordon, Stephen’s father. Aristocratic, sporting, and scholarly, Sir Philip waited ten years for a son, only to have a daughter instead. He rears Stephen much as a boy would be reared in that Victorian period. Although he is devoted to his daughter, taking her hunting and riding and reading with her in his study, his feelings are often more like pity than love. Early on, he recognizes that his daughter is not like other children, confirming his intuition by reading an influential theory of “inversion” from Richard von Krafft-Ebing. Both Stephen and Lady Anna, his wife, frequently ask him about Stephen’s apparent “oddness.” Sir Philip, hoping to protect his daughter, dismisses their concerns. He dies before he can tell either one about “what” Stephen is.
Lady Anna Gordon
Lady Anna Gordon, Stephen’s mother. The “archetype of the very perfect woman,” Lady Anna is beautiful, graceful, simple, and uneducated. She and her husband love each other passionately. Her aversion to her daughter begins soon after the girl’s birth. She is often critical, cold, and distant, unable to love or understand her masculine daughter. Lady Anna finds it difficult to show affection to Stephen, as a big-boned and tempestuous child, and often quarrels with the teenaged Stephen over clothes and social proprieties. When confronted with Stephen’s love for Angela Crossby, she instructs her daughter to leave Morton.
Miss Puddleton, Stephen’s schoolmistress at Morton and later her companion. Affectionately known as Puddle, this small, round, educated woman arrives at Morton when Stephen is fourteen years old, to see after her education. The author suggests that Puddle’s capacity to understand and guide Stephen stems from Puddle’s own personal experience. Following the Angela Crossby incident, Puddle inspires Stephen to persevere with courage and honor, working and writing for the sake of those like her. Puddle remains by Stephen’s side as a confidant and friend until World War I.
Martin Hallam, who is at first a friend of Stephen but later is a rival. A landowner from British Columbia, Martin meets Stephen at a New Year’s dance when Stephen is eighteen years old. Enjoying each other’s company, they spend much of their time together until Martin declares his love. Stephen is terrified and repulsed. Martin leaves. After the war, Martin contacts Stephen, visiting her and Mary in Paris. He falls in love with Mary and competes with Stephen for her affection.
Angela Crossby, the neighbor with whom Stephen falls in love. The American wife of an English businessman, Angela is lonely, discontented, bored, and “not overburdened with virtue.” Although she does not love Stephen, she finds herself drawn to Stephen’s affection and passion, as much out of loneliness as out of curiosity and fascination. She encourages their meetings, with all their kisses and embraces, but she appeals to her honor and to the fact that she is married to keep the relationship from becoming more intimate. Faced with the growing intensity of Stephen’s feelings and having found a new, male lover, Angela ends up betraying Stephen.
Mary Llewellyn, the woman Stephen meets during the war and with whom she falls in love. Mary is a young, uneducated, innocent, Welsh orphan when she meets Stephen in the London Ambulance Column at the front. Following the war, she moves to Paris with Stephen. Because Stephen is reluctant to express her feelings, Mary declares her love first, and they settle into a domestic routine. Their life as a couple is difficult. Mary is often lonely while Stephen is writing. They are not accepted in respectable society. As they begin to socialize with more lesbians, Mary starts to coarsen. Martin offers her the possibility of respect.