Palatable Poison: Critical Perspectives on the Well of Loneliness

By Laura Doan; Jay Prosser | Go to book overview

18
Once More unto the Breach:
The Well of Loneliness and the Spaces of Inversion

The problem with prefaces is that they come first but inevitably are written last, so that only at the end of the writing process does the writer decide how to bring the reader into the beginning of the work. Radclyffe Hall must have experienced this problem to a prodigious degree as she considered how to preface The Well of Loneliness, the first English novel to present a fully realized depiction of what had recently been termed “sexual inversion.”As she warned Una Troubridge, publishing “such a book might mean the shipwreck of her whole career.” 1 Hall believed that in presenting the reading public with sexual inversion “as a fact of nature,” her novel was attempting something truly new; as she wrote to one prospective publisher, “Nothing of the kind has ever been attempted before in fiction.” 2 How to introduce such a work to her readers?

The Well opens with two pieces of front matter, as well as a dedication. 3 The first, entitled “Commentary,” tries to ward off critics with the endorsement of a respected authority. Hall had invited psychologist Havelock Ellis's comments in the hope of preventing the novel from being read, as she wrote to Ellis, as a “salacious diversion.” 4 In his remarks Ellis briefly attests to the truthfulness and tact with which the author set forth her primary subject matter: “one particular aspect of sexual life as it exists among us to-

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