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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 415

The Well of Loneliness, published in 1928, was a very brave and forthright book for its time. Its author, Radclyffe Hall, sought to communicate her own plight to those in society who could not understand it. Her reward for this attempt was, for the most part, further ostracism, but there were those who saw themselves in the gender-nonconforming Stephen and the difficulties she had in navigating the world.

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The major theme of the book is homosexuality, and more broadly, the difficulties of not fitting into society's expectations and gender norms. As a young woman, Stephen already has a difficult start in life because she has been given a traditionally male name. The book questions the potential connection between nurture (as opposed to nature) and homosexuality. Stephen's father, who adores her, expected and longed for a boy, and he sees Stephen an ideal child. At first, however, Stephen is unsure as to whether she is behaving in the way she does only in order to please him. She questions her feelings for a male friend before ultimately recognizing that she feels for him only as one would for an intimate platonic companion, while his feelings are quite different.

Another major theme in this book is that of familial strife and the pain of bereavement and rejection. Stephen is very much torn between pleasing her father and pleasing her mother. Stephen has always been a source of pain, confusion, and disappointment to her mother. When Stephen's father dies, she feels the bereavement especially hard because this marks the end of a family in which...

(The entire section contains 415 words.)

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Critical Essays