Palatable Poison: Critical Perspectives on the Well of Loneliness

By Laura Doan; Jay Prosser | Go to book overview

16
“I Want to Cross Over into Camp Ground”:
Race and Inversion in The Well of Loneliness

White Patrons and Black Bottoms

The Well of Loneliness is not just a novel with a lesbian protagonist, it is a political manifesto, fashioned explicitly as a literary attempt to give a collective voice to a hitherto voiceless social constituency. It is seen as emerging from an important historical moment, the interwar decade of the 1920s, when campaigns for sexual freedom meant not only challenges to women's oppression but also the destigmatization of same-sex desire. But what if we were to recontextualize The Well by recalling that the twenties was also known for widespread white patronage of African American literary, artistic, and musical expression on both sides of the Atlantic? What if we were to remember that modernism relied for its understanding of “modernity” in part on an often racialized distinction between the “primitive” and the “civilized,” a distinction elaborated in one form or another in the multiple discourses that intersected with and informed literary production of the decade: from anthropology and psychoanalysis to sexology and eugenics? What if we were to recognize that by the time Radclyffe Hall's novel emerged on the scene, it had become almost routine for white writers of the twenties to include some strategically located fantasy of racial blackness in

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