The Well of Loneliness

The Well of Loneliness Radclyffe Hall


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The Well of Loneliness





The Well of Loneliness is a path-breaking novel. Published by Radclyffe Hall herself in 1928, it was immediately banned in Britain due to its lesbian theme and was allowed in the United States only after a long court battle. Once it was available, The Well of Loneliness sold more than 20,000 copies its first year and paved the way for other works with lesbian themes. The novel concerns a girl born into a wealthy English family at the turn of the century and named Stephen by her father who desperately wanted a boy. Practically from birth, Stephen is described as "different," yet while Radclyffe Hall delivers the powerful message that lesbianism is natural, she also asks the reader to have pity on Stephen Gordon, for, along with the popular psychoanalysts of her day, Radclyffe Hall describes lesbianism as an "inversion." The "terrible mark of Cain" compels Stephen to forsake the woman she loves to protect her from a life of ostracism. This message, along with Radclyffe Hall's portrayal of lesbians in stereotypical "butch" and "femme" roles, caused the book to be written off by feminists in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In addition, many readers today may find the language long-winded and the characters one-dimensional, with the exception of the thinly-veiled portrait of the author as Stephen Gordon. Nonetheless, The Well of Loneliness is worth reading because it shattered the silence of oppression and conveys a message about homophobia and internalized shame relevant to lesbians even today.

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