Palatable Poison: Critical Perspectives on the Well of Loneliness

By Laura Doan; Jay Prosser | Go to book overview

Introduction: Critical Perspectives Past and Present

On July 27, 1928, Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness, the first “long and very serious novel entirely upon the subject of sexual inversion,” according to its author, appeared in bookshops and lending libraries throughout Britain. 1 Within weeks, however, the largely favorable response by sober reviewers was overshadowed by the journalist James Douglas's editorial in the Sunday Express, condemning the propagandistic aims of Hall's project and demanding the novel's suppression “without delay.” 2 The home secretary, Sir William Joynson-Hicks, entirely agreed with Douglas's estimation and instructed the director of public prosecutions to initiate legal proceedings against the novel in accordance with the Obscene Publications Act of 1857 that “gave magistrates throughout the country statutory powers to order the destruction of ‘any obscene publication held for sale or distribution on information laid before a court of summary jurisdiction.’” 3 In November the presiding magistrate, Sir Chartres Biron, argued that the “literary merit” he found in The Well only rendered it more dangerous: “The more palatable the poison the more insidious.” At the appeal in December 1928 Biron's judgment was upheld and, consequently, the book was pronounced obscene and all copies seized by the police were ordered to be destroyed. Ironically, of course, the intense and sensational publicity

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