"Passionate Fictions": Portraits of Female Masculinity in the Well of Loneliness and Stone Butch Blues

By Noble, Jean | Resources for Feminist Research, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

"Passionate Fictions": Portraits of Female Masculinity in the Well of Loneliness and Stone Butch Blues


Noble, Jean, Resources for Feminist Research


Department of English

York University

North York, Ontario

The author explores Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness (1928) and Leslie Feinberg's Stone Butch Blues (1993) to show how lesbian subjectivity is a particular historical effect of discursive and representational practices, and to disturb the heteronormative classifications of sexuality which have historically been used to criminalize and pathologize the lesbian subject.

L'auteure etudie The Well of Loneliness par Radclyffe Hall (1928) et Stone Butch Blues par Leslie Feinberg (1993) afin de demontrer comment la subjectivite lesbienne est rattachee a des discours et a des representations etroitement lies a un effet historique bien specifique, et afin de deranger les classifications heteronormatives de sexualite, historiquement employees afin de rendre criminelle et pathologique la lesbienne en tant que sujet.

... we have a story that by definition cannot be self-present to us, a story that, in other words, is not a story, but must become a story. And it cannot become a story except through the bond of reading.--Shoshana Felman, What Does A Woman Want?

Thank you for reading this journal entry in class - it puts you into a complex history of reading and re-reading this text and suggests what is at stake for you in elaborating your history of reading it...[C]an you be more discursive...be prolix? verbose?--Kathleen Martindale, notes on a journal entry.

This paper tells stories about reading. (1) The first occurs in the mid 1970s, in an otherwise unremarkable, although primarily white and middle-class high school in southern Ontario, where I read my first "lesbian" book, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon's Lesbian/Woman (1972). (2) I had searched the school library for books that might help me come to terms with, or find a name for, that elusive "difference" that seemed so obvious but escaped definition. (3) What I might call this difference continued to escape me, until I found Martin and Lyon.

I don't remember how I found the book, but I am quite certain I did not find it in my high school library. Published in 1972, two years after the appearance of the Radicalesbians' manifesto "The Woman-Identified Woman," and ten years before Adrienne Rich's "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence," Lesbian/Woman was marketed as "the most complete and revealing book ever written about women who love other women" (from the front cover). Part conduct manual, part autobiography, part apologia and certainly an exciting read at the time, Lesbian/Woman gave me not only the term "lesbian" but also a Foucauldian game of truth, an ensemble of rules and procedures with which I came to recognize myself as subject of a sexual practice (Foucault, 1985, p. 26). But I am getting ahead of the story.

What I thought Lesbian/Woman and other texts, including Sappho Was a Right-On Woman (Abbott and Love, 1972) gave me then was an identity and the language to name what seemed to be the core truth of who "I" was. (4) These texts could be read as Lesbian autobiography, colocating an identity dispersed throughout psychoanalytic, medical, heterosexual feminist and gay liberatory discourses, reversing that dispersion so that any lesbian could speak using that "I" as it was represented. The "I's" of these numerous discourses were now one entity, one identity, and spoke of what, empowered by a form of nationalism, or so the story goes, came to be known as the "lesbian nation." In finding Lesbian/Woman I found that "I," that identity, and took it to heart. "Lesbians really did exist," the text told me, "and this book, written by Lesbians, proves it." In case there were any lingering doubts, the back cover assured me of its "truth."

The authors of this book are lesbians. They have been "married" for over twenty years. They will tell you what it's like to grow up gay, to "come out," to share a life with another woman, and to be a lesbian mother. …

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