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The Well of Loneliness

  The book follows the life of Stephen Gordon, an Englishwoman from an upper-class family whose 'sexual inversion' (that is, homosexuality) is apparent from an early age. She finds love with Mary Llewellyn, whom she meets while serving as an ambulance driver in World War I, but their happiness together is marred by social isolation and rejection, which Hall depicts as having a debilitating effect on inverts. The novel portrays inversion as a natural, God-given state and makes an explicit plea: 'Give us also the right to our existence'. The Well became the target of a campaign by the editor of the Sunday Express newspaper, who wrote 'I would rather give a healthy boy or a healthy girl a phial of prussic acid than this novel.' Although its only sex scene consists of the words 'and that night, they were not divided', a British court judged it obscene because it defended 'unnatural practices between women'. In the United States the book survived legal challenges in New York state and in Customs Court. Publicity over The Well's legal battles increased the visibility of lesbians in British and American culture. For decades it was the best-known lesbian novel in English, and often the first source of information about lesbianism that young lesbians could find. Some lesbian readers have valued it, while others have criticized it for Stephen's expressions of self-hatred and seen it as inspiring shame. Its role in promoting images of lesbians as 'mannish' or cross-dressed women has also been controversial. Some critics now argue that Stephen should be seen as transsexual. Although few critics rate The Well highly as a work of literature, its treatment of sexuality and gender continues to inspire study and debate. In 1926, Radclyffe Hall was at the height of her career. Her novel Adam's Breed, about the spiritual awakening of an Italian headwaiter, had become a bestseller; it would soon win the Prix Femina and the James Tait Black Prize. She had long thought of writing a novel about sexual inversion; now, she believed, her literary reputation would allow such a work to be given a hearing. Since she knew she was risking scandal and 'the shipwreck of her whole career', she sought and received the blessing of her partner, Una Troubridge, before she began work. Her goals were social and political; she wanted to end public silence about homosexuality and bring about 'a more tolerant understanding' — as well as to 'spur all classes of inverts to make good through hard work... and sober and useful living'. In April 1928 she told her editor that her new book would require complete commitment from its publisher and that she would not allow even one word to be altered. 'I have put my pen at the service of some of the most persecuted and misunderstood people in the world.... So far as I know nothing of the kind has ever been attempted before in fiction.' source: Wikipedia

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