The Well of Loneliness as War Novel
Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness, the “classic story of Lesbian love,” as the blurb on my 1974 Pocket Book edition describes it, first appeared in 1928. 1 Its publication occurred just as a flood of war novels and memoirs began to inundate the British public, some ten years after the conclusion of the Great War. The tale of “invert” Stephen Gordon excited comment from many quarters of Western society, but apart from its use of the war as an arena in which inverted women might find scope—and societies find use— for their hitherto wasted talents, 2 neither its author nor critics placed it alongside those myriad works that told of the agonies experienced by the war generation. Yet in its structure, conventions, motifs, and above all portrayal of a particular rendition of masculinity and male subjectivity, The Well of Loneliness deserves to be classified as one of the first manifestations of that genre.
Hall depicts Stephen Gordon, the tortured protagonist, in terms that we would describe as transgendered, giving her the qualities of a man trapped in a woman's body. Other inverts, such as Stephen's friend Valérie Seymour, demonstrate decidedly feminine qualities, so that inversion per se does not automatically carry with it the characteristics of maleness. Although at times Hall presents Stephen as a member of a third, or intermediate sex,