Great Cities: Radclyffe Hall at the Chicago School
Neither the criminal, the defective, nor the genius has the same opportunity to develop his innate disposition in a small town that he invariably finds in a great city.
—Robert Park, “The City: Suggestions for the Investigation of Human Behavior in the Urban Environment”
So now they were launched up the stream that flows silent and deep through all great cities.
—Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness
No one goes to Chicago in The Well of Loneliness. New York, London, and particularly Paris all make their contributions to Radclyffe Hall's story of lesbian life. Nevertheless, as a young Chicago woman explains in Floyd Dell's 1921 novel, The Briary-Bush, “We're all a little …queer”here. Moreover, she continues, Chicago “is beginning to realize that it needs us. Chicago wants to be a metropolis. And all the stock-yards in the world won't make a metropolis. Enough of us, given a free-hand—can. And Chicago knows it.” 1
That queers are to be found in cities is a lesson that predates both The Well of Loneliness and Chicago's metropolitan aspirations—a lesson that has been being invoked by sexologists and gay advocates as well as commentators on urban life since the first discussions of modern homosexualities. It is moreover a lesson that embraces many cities. Paris was already being denounced by journalists as a haven for sodomites in the mid-nineteenth century. 2 In the 1890s Havelock Ellis was quoting “a well-informed American correspondent” on “The great prevalence of sexual inversion in American cities.” 3 At that same moment John Addington Symonds was insisting that “the pulse” of “this passion” could be felt in “London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna,…Constantinople, Naples, Teheran, and Moscow.” 4