Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Well of Loneliness examines the lonely life of Stephen Gordon. The only child of English country gentry, she is reared as the son her parents never had. Boyish and awkward, Stephen is close to her father, sharing his interests in riding, hunting, and learning. Yet her mother never finds a way to love this odd and ungraceful child. Stephen’s isolation is rather acute: She is educated at home by governesses.

In one of her first attempts at finding love, the young Stephen forms an intense crush on a family maid, becoming enraged upon discovering the woman embracing the footman. After he learns of his daughter’s heartache, Sir Philip involves himself even more in Stephen’s upbringing, although he never tells Stephen or his wife of his suspicions. Neither does the schoolmistress, Puddle, although the author heavily implies that this woman’s own oddness gives her special insight into her young charge.

Once Martin Hallam enters the picture, it appears that Stephen may not be as strange or different as her father has suspected. Yet, after Stephen is insulted and enraged by Martin’s proposal, it is clear that she will never marry. Soon after, Stephen’s father dies, and Stephen turns to Angela Crossby for emotional consolation. Angela uses Stephen, however, returning the girl’s love with betrayal: Although she had spent much time in Stephen’s arms, talking of love and accepting expensive gifts, Angela shows her husband one...

(The entire section is 519 words.)