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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 220

The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall was considered a groundbreaking book in gay and lesbian literature for its sensitive treatment of lesbians and female masculinity. It was published in 1928, and it sparked a storm of criticism and engendered ambivalent feelings about gender identity. Hall tells the story of Stephen, a lesbian woman in the 1920s, who struggles to understand her feelings at a time when lesbian feelings were shunned by the public and rarely discussed, even in private. Hall wrote the novel with the intention of sparking a discussion about what she believed to be a misunderstood group of people—one that was misunderstood largely because they were never discussed.

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As Stephen goes through life, she feels more comfortable in male roles than she does in female roles, but because she is expected to live life as a woman, she feels like she can never live a fulfilling life as either a man or a woman. Stephen sinks into a well of loneliness both because she fails to be understood by others and because she fails to understand herself. Her father understood her, but after he died, she was shunned by her mother and by society. She experiences happiness with a few women in her life, but her feelings of confusion and self-doubt lead her to sabotage the relationships.

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 519

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 of Stephen’s passionate letters. Angela’s attempt to end the relationship with Stephen results in her husband’s exposing Stephen to her mother. Lady Anna condemns her daughter, banishing her from Morton, the family estate.

Stephen and Puddle move to London, where Stephen becomes a successful novelist. At the urging of a homosexual acquaintance, Jonathan Brockett, they move to Paris, where Stephen has her first glimpse of lesbian culture. With the outbreak of World War I, Stephen becomes an ambulance driver, receiving both a medal and a scar of honor and becoming acquainted with Mary Llewellyn. Although the relationship proceeds rather slowly, Mary’s love for Stephen overcomes Stephen’s reservations, and they finally set up housekeeping back in Paris.

Yet their relationship is not an easy one. Stephen is forbidden to bring Mary to Morton. The only acquaintances they make in respectable society cancel invitations and refuse to associate with...

(The entire section contains 1956 words.)

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