Friday, 19 September 2014

'I don't wanna know if you're getting ahead of the programme...'

Review: The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall

This is my favourite book I've ever had to read for my course. This isn't saying much, because I have read some tripe for my course. However I have made my way through Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Oliver Twist and The Valley of the Dolls, all of which I enjoyed and are a form of classic literature in some way. This book follows the protagonist Stephen Gordon from birth, as she grows up on an English country estate and struggles with and becomes aware of her own identity. Stephen is a lesbian, but it is hard for her to accept and understand this in a time when it is wholly frowned upon (the early 1900s). 

The story is an epic, covering Stephen's childhood, early adulthood in London, WW1 and her later years in Paris. It covers the key relationships in her life and also the key events in developing her self understanding and self worth.

It slightly shocked me how long it took her to fully realise her identity as a lesbian; she thought she was some kind of weird abomination, not something definable or of another set identity. The way her Dad tried to protect her from what she was was quite heartbreaking, as was the ending, although strong in its message of a call for equality. The portrayal of a loving relationship in this novel is beautiful and quite realistic in its ups and downs, with the added pressure of secrecy and social dismissal. Stephen becomes a writer, and ultimately it is through her work that she thinks that she will achieve an equality with the other, heterosexual 'normal' people, however at the end of the book she has produced great work yet is still not accepted by the world. It is a novel that is quite sad and bleak in it's outlook, but very frank and honest.  

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I would encourage anyone to read it, even if you are put off by the quote about this book being 'the bible of lesbianism' on the cover (I received many odd stares when I whipped it out on the train). 

What is it about? Identity, realising who you are. 
Would I recommend? Yes, wholeheartedly. 

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