Palatable Poison: Critical Perspectives on the Well of Loneliness

By Laura Doan; Jay Prosser | Go to book overview

21
Writing by the Light of The Well:
Radclyffe Hall and the Lesbian Modernists

It is the lesbian in us who drives us to feel imaginatively, render in language, grasp, the full connection between woman and woman. It is the lesbian in us who is creative, for the dutiful daughter of the fathers in us is only a hack.

—Adrienne Rich, “It is the lesbian in us …”1

Whatever brks="brks" support Virginia Woolf might publicly have lent the cause célèbre of The Well of Loneliness in 1928, it is clear that in private, had she had the opportunity (through some strange Orlandian leap of time …) to consider the division Adrienne Rich draws above between lesbians who create and daughters who hack, she would have committed Radclyffe Hall firmly to the latter category. In a letter to Ottoline Morrell at the time of the obscenity trial, Woolf writes: “The dulness of the book is such that any indecency may lurk there—one simply can't keep one's eyes on the page.” 2 As one of the thirty-nine witnesses committed to defending the literary merit of the book in court, Woolf was not alone in her private derision of its style. There is palpable unease among these eminent witnesses about how good a novel it might, or might not, actually be. Of course, in 1928, at the height of literary modernism, questions about the value of a literary text inevitably center around divisions between traditional literary forms and the revisionist, experimental forms of modernist writing. It is clear that in her criticisms of The Well, Woolf attempts to draw a line between this “meritorious, dull book” and other, more innovative literature being produced around it. 3 Ultimately, Woolf's criticism is not of Hall's decision to represent lesbian sexuality and its genesis so much as the textual manner in which she

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