Finally read this “classic” tho’ I protest that label. Written by Radclyffe Hall (whoa, that’s not a pseudonym!) and published in 1928 in that glorious ‘tween period between the wars, a supposedly groundbreaking work simply known because the first successful novel to openly write about lesbians. Leonard Woolf agrees with me, and I’ll leave it to his astute pen to tear apart the exceedingly boring work over 400 pages. Parts were good, anything where her father was still alive, but the last 300 pages were a real bore. I stuck with it because it’s one of those books one must read.
Leonard Woolf, on The Well of Loneliness, Nation & Athenaeum, August 4, 1928
“And yet the book fails completely as a work of art. There are many reasons for this, but one of the chief reasons is that Miss Hall loses the whole in its parts, and is so intent on the stars that she forgets the heavens. Her book is formless and therefore chaotic. Its shape should have been given to it by the psychology of Stephen and by her tragic relation to society—that is clearly Miss Hall’s intention. But the leaven of this central idea does not remain a creative principle for long in Miss Hall’s mind or in the novel. The first 150 pages are good, for there the yeast is still working; but after the death of Sir Phillips the novel becomes a catalogue, almost a ragbag. Incident is added to incident, and character to character, and one sees the relevance which Miss Hall intended each to have to the theme of the book. But their relevance is intellectual, not emotional, and therefore not artistic… Miss Hall labors heavily in that terrible trough which is the middle of every long book.”