The Well of Loneliness (1928)

[image source]

Radclyffe Hall
The Well of Loneliness (1928)


Men - they were selfish, arrogant, possessive. What could they do for Mary LIewellyn? What could a man give that she could not? A child? But she would give Mary such a love as would be complete in itself without children. Mary would have no room in her heart, in her life, for a child, if she came to Stephen. An things they would be the one to the other, should they stand in that limitless relationship; father, mother, friend, and lover, an things-the amazing complete­ness of it; and Mary, the child, the friend, the beloved. With the terrible bonds of her dual nature, she could bind Mary fast, and the pain would be sweetness, so that the girl would cry out for that sweetness, hugging her chains always closer to her. The world would condemn but they would rejoice; glorious outcasts, unashamed, triumphant!

She began to pace restlessly up and down the room, as had ever been her wont in moments of emotion. Her face grew ominous, heavy and brooding; the fine line of her mouth was a little marred; her eyes were less clear, less the servants of her spirit than the slaves of her anxious and passionate body; the red scar on her cheek stood out like a wound. Then quite suddenly she had opened the door, and was staring at the dimly lighted staircase. She took a step forward and then stopped; appalled, dumbfounded at herself, at this thing she was doing. And as she stood there as though turned to stone, she remembered another and spacious study, she remembered a lanky colt of a girl whose glance had kept straying towards the windows; she remembered a man who had held out his hand: 'Stephen, come here .... What is honour, my daughter?'

Honour, good God! Was this her honour? Mary, whose nerves had been strained to breaking I A dastardly thing it would be to drag her through the maze of passion, with no word of warning. Was she to know nothing of what lay before her, of the price she would have to pay for such love? She was young and completely ignorant of life; she knew only that she loved, and the young were ardent. She would give an that Stephen might ask of her and more, for the young were not only ardent but generous. And through giving all she would be left defenceless, neither forewarned nor forearmed against a world that would turn like a merciless beast and rend her. It was horrible. No, Mary must not give until she had counted the cost of that gift, until she was restored in body and mind, and was able to form a considered judgment.

Then Stephen must tell her the cruel truth, she must say: 'I am one of those whom God marked on the forehead: Like Cain, I am marked and blemished. If you come to me, Mary, the world will abhor you, will persecute you, will call you unclean. Our love may be faithful even unto death and be­yond-yet the world will call it unclean. We may harm no living creature by our love; we may grow more perfect in understanding and in charity because of our loving; but all this will not save you from the scourge of a world that will turn away its eyes from your noblest actions, finding only corruption and vileness in you. You will see men and women defiling each other, laying the burden of their sins upon their children. You will see unfaithfulness, lies and deceit among those whom the world views with approbation. You will find that many have grown hard of heart, have grown greedy, selfish, cruel and lustful; and then you will turn to me and will say: "You and I are more worthy of respect than these people. Why does the world persecute us, Stephen?" And I shall an­swer: "Because in this world there is only toleration for the so-caned normal." And when you come to me for protection, I shall say: "I cannot protect you, Mary, the world has deprived me of my right to protect; I am utterly helpless, I can only love you."


And now Stephen was trembling. In spite of her strength and her splendid physique she must stand there and tremble. She felt deathly cold, her teeth chattered with cold, and when she moved her steps were unsteady. She must climb the wide stairs with infinite care, in case she should inadvertently stumble; must lift her feet slowly, and with infinite care, because if she stumbled she might wake Mary.

– Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness, 1928. With a Commetnary by Havelock Eliis (New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1993): 300-01.

Critical Responses:

"I would rather give a healthy boy or a healthy girl a phial of prussic acid than this novel. Poison kills the body, but moral poison kills the soul." - James Douglas, editor of The Sunday Express.

"I have put my pen at the service of some of the most persecuted and misunderstood people in the world.... So far as I know nothing of the kind has ever been attempted before in fiction." - Radclyffe Hall.

[Diana Souhami: The Trials of Radclyffe Hall (1998)]

[Radclyffe Hall: ms page of Defence of The Well of Loneliness (1929)]

No comments: