New to Penguin Modern Classics, the seminal work of gay literature that sparked an infamous legal trial for obscenity and went on to become a bestseller. The Well of Loneliness tells the story of tomboyish Stephen, who hunts, wears trousers and cuts her hair short - and who gradually comes to realise that she is attracted to women. Charting her romantic and professional adventures during the First World War and beyond, the novel provoked a furore on first publication in for its lesbian heroine and led to a notorious legal trial for obscenity. Hall herself, however, saw the book as a pioneer work and today it is recognised as a landmark work of gay fiction. Radclyffe Hall was born in
Namespaces Article Talk. The Pegasus Press edition of the book remained available in France, and some copies made their way into the UK. Halberstam, Judith It's about the joy and pain of being 'other', at a time when this was not allowed. On the contrary, they often point out that stylistically, the work is marred by inflated language and stilted dialogue" View all. Arguably, it is the book's fate, the notoriety it gained by being banned, that helped The Well Crossdressing in the well of loneliness Loneliness to remain in print today. I really don't think the main protagonist Stephen needed to suffer so much; if Hall was trying to empower the 'inverted' and educate the Strawberry blode teen about the 'inverted' I think she was smoking too many pipes, because if I had been 'inverted' in those days I would have weighe I really like this book, but found it very, very depressing.
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Themes Style Quotes. Covici-Friede then imported a copy of the Pegasus Press edition from France as a further test case and to solidify the book's US copyright. Stephen Crossdressing in the well of loneliness class distinctions as she aged, and even though her ignorance towards Puddle was Crosscressing on purpose, it was because of the societal importance of class. Hennegan, Alison Although critics differ as to the value of The Well of Loneliness as loheliness work of literature, its treatment of sexuality and gender continues to inspire study and debate. Book 3: Chapters The book opened my eyes to the heart-rendering journey that some people have to take to become themselves — whether that is in sexual orientation or escaping horrible childhoods. The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall is a controversial novel that was banned at the time of its publication in Sign Up. Notify me of new comments via email.
Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West were lovers.
- I finally finished reading The Well of Loneliness.
- The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall is a controversial novel that was banned at the time of its publication in
- These notes were contributed by members of the GradeSaver community.
- I married early and I thought, with some relief, that my dressing was now a kid thing from the past.
They are passing away, but their homesteads remain, and such an homestead is Morton. The unborn baby, whom both parents presume to be a son, is named Stephen.
When the baby is born female on Christmas Eve, her father insists on keeping the name he has chosen, that of the first Christian saint. Stephen loved Raftery and Raftery loved Stephen.
Stephen also shows an instinct for service and self-sacrifice to those she loves, which is presented as both feudal and Christian. As a seven-year-old, Stephen develops a crush on the housemaid, Collins, who complains of pain in the knees. The God to whom Stephen prays is notably nondenominational, perhaps a response to being raised by an English father and an Irish mother.
As a young adult, she is betrayed by each of her earthly parents as she feels she has been betrayed from birth by her heavenly Father. Stephen feels abandoned by the loving father who modeled gentlemanly honor in her life, as well as by the mother who drives her into exile for surrendering to erotic temptation.
Like Delilah, however, she is wily and incapable of loyalty. Stephen chooses to leave Morton, taking the loyal Puddle with her, and enters the purgatory of a world in which she feels homeless. Although she has inherited wealth, Stephen wants to distinguish herself in a respectable profession to justify her existence to a hostile world.
She becomes a novelist with the intention of eventually writing the story of her life: a novel such as The Well of Loneliness. Brockett introduces her to Valerie Seymour, a noted hostess of the Paris demimonde. By all accounts, Valerie Seymour is based on an actual person, the bilingual American heiress and writer Natalie Barney, whose Friday salons were legendary in early 20th-century Paris.
She attempts to explain this phenomenon to herself:. Stephen began to understand better the charm that many had found in this woman; a charm that lay less in physical attraction than in a great courtesy and understanding, a will to please, a great impulse toward beauty in all its forms. She is pagan in that she resembles a Lesbian in the ancient sense, a follower of the poet Sappho on the island of Lesbos, where Natalie Barney seriously proposed to establish an all-female colony as early as Valerie appears to be both behind and ahead of her time, a forerunner of the lesbian-separatists of the s and a devotee of the pagan goddesses of old.
In the farthest corner of the garden some hand had erected a semi-circular temple. Earlier in the novel, the outbreak of war caused Stephen to feel morally compelled to serve her country. As her name suggests, Mary is pure-hearted and brave enough to accept a hard fate. Mary languishes in isolation while Stephen is hard at work writing a novel. Stephen unburdens herself to Valerie, whom Mary begins to resent as a rival.
To her consternation, Valerie proves most useful to Stephen as a means of driving Mary away. It succeeds. You, God, in Whom we, the outcast, believe; you, world, into which we are pitilessly born; you, Stephen, who have drained our cup to the dregs—we have asked for bread; will you give us a stone?
Acknowledge us, oh God, before the whole world. Give us also the right to our existence! Log In My Account. Home Articles. She attempts to explain this phenomenon to herself: Stephen began to understand better the charm that many had found in this woman; a charm that lay less in physical attraction than in a great courtesy and understanding, a will to please, a great impulse toward beauty in all its forms. Jean Roberta is a widely published writer and scholar based in Regina, Saskatchewan.
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On the trans side of things, Stephen dresses up as a boy constantly, taking on the persona of Nelson. I found it to be a life changing book. To Stephen Puddle is a servant, and being that, she is not able to have feelings for Puddle, or ever put her on the same level of other women that Stephen deems important. Is there an inside space for lesbian writing, or must it always seek refuge elsewhere? Retrieved 3 December
Crossdressing in the well of loneliness. Blog Archive
Stephen begins writing novels and has great success with the first, but finds that something is missing from the second. A friend and fellow writer suggests that Stephen needs to experience more life to improve her writing. Stephen sets out for Paris with the intention of meeting a few of her friend's acquaintances. Instead, Stephen finds herself buying a house and remaining in Paris.
After reconnecting with an old teacher and settling into her new home, Stephen turns her attention to writing her third novel. However, World War I breaks out before she is finished. Stephen immediately returns to London to help however she can in the war effort. Stephen joins the French Army Ambulance Corp and begins transporting soldiers from the front lines to hospitals throughout the countryside.
During this time, Stephen becomes close to her fellow drivers, especially a young Welch girl named Mary Llewellyn. After the war, Stephen takes Mary away on a vacation to help her heal from the stress of the war.
Stephen has no intention of becoming involved with Mary, afraid of the stigma a relationship with Stephen would place on Mary in society. However, Mary convinces Stephen she understands and is strong enough to handle it.
The first few months they are together are the happiest Stephen has ever known. As time passes, Stephen returns to her writing, leaving Mary without an occupation to fill her days.
When Stephen notices Mary's unhappiness, she begins taking her to parties at the home of Valerie Seymour, a lesbian living in Paris. Through Valerie, Mary and Stephen meet a great many more people like themselves. Mary befriends one couple in particular, two women from a small village in the Highlands. Over time, Mary and Stephen become close to Jamie and Barbara, often inviting them over for meals and helping to pay their bills.
Jamie is proud, however, and refuses the offer of money even when Barbara becomes sick. One night Barbara becomes quite ill, suffering from double pneumonia. When Barbara dies, Jamie is devastated. Jamie kills herself. Mary does not handle the deaths of Barbara and Jamie well. This, on top of the social ostracization of a friend Mary had thought admired them greatly, causes Mary to struggle with her acceptance of the prejudice against people like herself and Stephen.
At this time, Martin Hallam returns to Stephen's life, becoming friendly with both she and Mary. Eventually, Martin falls in love with Mary and tries to leave in order to protect Stephen from the pain of such a union. When Mary does choose Stephen, Stephen begins to see that this might not be the right choice for her. Stephen lies to Mary, convincing her that their love affair is over and sending her into the arms of Martin. Read more from the Study Guide.
Browse all BookRags Study Guides. All rights reserved. Toggle navigation. Sign Up. Sign In. Get The Well of Loneliness from Amazon. View the Study Pack. View the Lesson Plans. Plot Summary. Book 1: Chapters Book 2: Chapters Book 3: Chapters Book 4: Chapters Book 5: Chapters In the US, as in the UK, the Hicklin test of obscenity applied, but New York case law had established that books should be judged by their effects on adults rather than on children and that literary merit was relevant.
Scott Fitzgerald , Edna St. To make sure these supporters did not go unheard, he incorporated their opinions into his brief.
New York. Mademoiselle de Maupin described a lesbian relationship in more explicit terms than The Well did. According to Ernst, The Well had greater social value because it was more serious in tone and made a case against misunderstanding and intolerance. In an opinion issued on 19 February , Magistrate Hyman Bushel declined to take the book's literary qualities into account and said The Well was "calculated to deprave and corrupt minds open to its immoral influences".
After "a careful reading of the entire book", they cleared it of all charges. Covici-Friede then imported a copy of the Pegasus Press edition from France as a further test case and to solidify the book's US copyright. The Pegasus Press edition of the book remained available in France, and some copies made their way into the UK. Peter Davies of the Windmill Press wrote to the Home Office 's legal adviser to ask whether the post-war Labour administration would allow the book to be republished.
Unknown to Troubridge, he added a postscript saying "I am not really anxious to do The Well of Loneliness and am rather relieved than otherwise by any lack of enthusiasm I may encounter in official circles.
None were banned. A fourth novel, Ladies Almanack by the American writer Djuna Barnes , not only contains a character based on Radclyffe Hall but includes passages that may be a response to The Well. Much as Sir Phillip paces his study worrying about Stephen, Dame Musset's father "pac[es] his library in the most normal of Night-Shirts".
When, unlike Sir Phillip, he confronts his daughter, she replies confidently: "Thou, good Governor, wast expecting a Son when you lay atop of your Choosing Am I not doing after your very Desire, and is it not the more commendable, seeing that I do it without the Tools for the Trade, and yet nothing complain? It did not become widely available until Willette Kershaw , an American actress who was staging banned plays in Paris, proposed a dramatisation of The Well of Loneliness.
Hall tried to void the contract on a technicality, but Kershaw refused to change her plans. The play opened on 2 September No playwright was credited, implying that Hall had written the adaptation herself; it was actually written by one of Kershaw's ex-husbands, who reworked the story to make it more upbeat. Then she changed into a white dress for a final speech in which she "begged humanity, 'already used to earthquakes and murderers', to try to put up with a minor calamity like the play's and the book's Lesbian protagonist, Stephen Gordon".
The public skirmish between Hall and Kershaw increased sales of the novel. A French film set in a girls' boarding school was released in the United States as The Pit of Loneliness to capitalise on the notoriety of The Well ,  but was actually adapted from the novel Olivia ,  now known to have been written by Dorothy Bussy.
He was arrested for selling obscene literature. In , American performance artist Holly Hughes wrote a satirical play, The Well of Horniness , whose title is inspired by that of Hall's novel. The play is described as "a high-camp, low-brow Sapphic murder mystery" presented "in the cliff-hanging style of an old-time radio show.
In the novel, a young Stephen disparages the lack of "really adequate pockets" in the feminine dresses and sashes she is forced to wear. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For the experimental device, see Pit of despair. It is a seductive and insidious piece of special pleading designed to display perverted decadence as a martyrdom inflicted upon these outcasts by a cruel society. It flings a veil of sentiment over their depravity. It even suggests that their self-made debasement is unavoidable, because they cannot save themselves.
A novelist may not wish to treat any of the subjects mentioned above but the sense that they are prohibited or prohibitable, that there is a taboo-list, will work on him and will make him alert and cautious instead of surrendering himself to his creative impulses. And he will tend to cling to subjects that are officially acceptable, such as murder and adultery, and to shun anything original lest it bring him into forbidden areas.
Natural and sacred! Then I am asked to say that this book is in no sense a defence of unnatural practices between women, or a glorification, or a praise of them, to put it perhaps not quite so strongly. See also: Lesbian literature. For accounts of the British trial and the events leading up to it, see Souhami, —, and Cline, — For a detailed examination of controversies over The Well of Loneliness in the s, see chapter 1 of Doan, Fashioning Sapphism.
See also Love, "Hard Times and Heartaches". Columbia University Press. Baker, Our Three Selves , , connects these aspects of the novel with sexology. Cook, The word "joyless" is Cook's. Walker, 21, notes the influence of The Well on butch and femme. In Doan, Laura; Prosser, Jay eds. New York: Columbia University Press. Twentieth Century Literature. Journal of Bisexuality. The Well of Loneliness. Great Britain: Penguin Classics. Claudia Stillman Franks said in that "very few critics have ever given the novel itself high praise.
On the contrary, they often point out that stylistically, the work is marred by inflated language and stilted dialogue" Terry Castle, summing up a collection of essays on The Well , notes that "[t]heir authors are all in varying degree Generations of feminists Something in the very pathos of Stephen Gordon's torment Whoever we are, we tend to see ourselves in her.
Diana Souhami 's comments on the subject are particularly sharp; she says Hall "might have acknowledged the privilege, seductions, freedom, and fun that graced her daily life" and, in response to Hall's claim to be writing on behalf of some of the most persecuted and misunderstood people in the world, remarks "It is doubtful whether Radclyffe Hall and Una, Natalie Barney Interpretation from Cline, Interpretation from Medd, —, and Kent, — Biron, For more on the practice of setting a high price for books with "dangerous" subject matter, see Cohler.
The New York Times. Copyright, Designs and Patents Act The National Archives UK. Retrieved 10 May Kershaw's wardrobe change for the curtain speech is noted in Baker, Our Three Selves , Retrieved on 18 January Myers, Picking the New Woman's Pockets". Retrieved 24 October Baker, Michael Baker, Simon 4 October The Sydney Morning Herald.
Retrieved 19 January Fuss, Diana ed. New York: Routledge. CS1 maint: extra text: authors list link Barrios, Richard Barnes, Djuna; with an introduction by Susan Sniader Lanser Ladies Almanack. Bullough, Vern; Bullough, Bonnie Castle, Terry Cline, Sally Cohler, Deborah Price, Distribution, and Lesbian Representation in ". Retrieved 28 November Cook, Blanche Wiesen Doan, Laura Doan, Laura and Jay Prosser, eds.
CS1 maint: uses editors parameter link Biron, Sir Chartres Douglas, James Halberstam, Judith Hemmings, Clare Kent, Susan Kingsley Medd, Jodie Munt, Sally R. Newton, Esther Prosser, Jay Rosner, Victoria Rule, Jane Winning, Joanne Feminist Review 46 : — Elliott, Bridget. Deepwell, Katy Women Artists and Modernism. Faderman, Lillian New York: Quill.
Flanner, Janet Paris was Yesterday: — New York: Penguin. Foster, Jeanette H. New York: Vantage Press. Franks, Claudia Stillman Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature.
Green, Laura Hall, Radclyffe New York: Avon. Hennegan, Alison Introduction to Radclyffe Hall's Well of Loneliness. London: Virago Modern Classics. Hopkins, Annis H. Archived from the original on 10 September Retrieved 27 December Kennedy, Hubert Archived from the original on 19 October Retrieved 5 December Kennedy, Elizabeth Lapovsky; Madeline D. Davis Kitch, Tasmin 11 September Times Online. Retrieved 3 December Woman's Art Journal. Love, Heather Journal of Lesbian Studies.
Marshik, Celia Journal of Modern Literature. Miller, Neil New York, Vintage Books. Henry and June. New York: Harcourt, Inc. O'Rourke, Rebecca Reflecting on The Well of Loneliness.
London and New York: Routledge. Parkes, Adam Renault, Mary The Friendly Young Ladies. New York: Pantheon Books. Rodriguez, Suzanne New York: HarperCollins. Russo, Vito The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies. Schaff, Barbara Third International Congress on Sex and Gender.
Archived from the original on 11 March Retrieved 18 January Souhami, Diana The Trials of Radclyffe Hall. New York: Doubleday. Stevens, Lillian L. Gay Community News.
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It follows the life of Stephen Gordon, an Englishwoman from an upper-class family whose " sexual inversion " homosexuality is apparent from an early age. She finds love with Mary Llewellyn, whom she meets while serving as an ambulance driver in World War I , but their happiness together is marred by social isolation and rejection, which Hall depicts as typically suffered by "inverts", with predictably debilitating effects. The novel portrays "inversion" as a natural, God-given state and makes an explicit plea: "Give us also the right to our existence".
The novel became the target of a campaign by James Douglas , editor of the Sunday Express , who wrote, "I would rather give a healthy boy or a healthy girl a phial of prussic acid than this novel. Publicity over The Well of Loneliness ' s legal battles increased the visibility of lesbians in British and American culture.
Although critics differ as to the value of The Well of Loneliness as a work of literature, its treatment of sexuality and gender continues to inspire study and debate. In , Radclyffe Hall was at the height of her career. Her novel Adam's Breed , about the spiritual awakening of an Italian headwaiter, had become a best-seller; it would soon win the Prix Femina and the James Tait Black Prize. Since she knew she was risking scandal and "the shipwreck of her whole career", she sought and received the blessing of her partner, Una Troubridge , before she began work.
In April she told her editor that her new book would require complete commitment from its publisher and that she would not allow even one word to be altered. So far as I know nothing of the kind has ever been attempted before in fiction.
The book's protagonist, Stephen Gordon, is born in the late Victorian era  to upper-class parents in Worcestershire who are expecting a boy and who christen her with the name they had already chosen.
Even at birth she is physically unusual, a "narrow-hipped, wide-shouldered little tadpole of a baby". At seven, she develops a crush on a housemaid named Collins, and is devastated when she sees Collins kissing a footman.
Stephen's father, Sir Phillip, dotes on her; he seeks to understand her through the writings of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs , the first modern writer to propose a theory of homosexuality,  but does not share his findings with Stephen.
Her mother, Lady Anna, is distant, seeing Stephen as a "blemished, unworthy, maimed reproduction" of Sir Phillip. The following winter, Sir Phillip is crushed by a falling tree; at the last moment he tries to explain to Lady Anna that Stephen is an invert , but dies without managing to do so.
Stephen begins to dress in masculine clothes made by a tailor rather than a dressmaker. At twenty-one she falls in love with Angela Crossby, the American wife of a new neighbour. Angela uses Stephen as an " anodyne against boredom", allowing her "a few rather schoolgirlish kisses".
Then Stephen discovers that Angela is having an affair with a man. Fearing exposure, Angela shows a letter from Stephen to her husband, who sends a copy to Stephen's mother.
Lady Anna denounces Stephen for "presum[ing] to use the word love in connection with Stephen moves to London and writes a well-received first novel. Her second novel is less successful, and her friend the playwright Jonathan Brockett, himself an invert, urges her to travel to Paris to improve her writing through a fuller experience of life.
During World War I she joins an ambulance unit, eventually serving at the front and earning the Croix de Guerre. She falls in love with a younger fellow driver, Mary Llewellyn, who comes to live with her after the war ends. They are happy at first, but Mary becomes lonely when Stephen returns to writing. Rejected by polite society , Mary throws herself into Parisian nightlife. Stephen believes Mary is becoming hardened and embittered and feels powerless to provide her with "a more normal and complete existence".
Martin Hallam, now living in Paris, rekindles his old friendship with Stephen. In time, he falls in love with Mary. The novel ends with Stephen's plea to God: "Give us also the right to our existence! Hall describes The Well of Loneliness as "The first long and very serious novel entirely upon the subject of sexual inversion"  She wrote The Well of Loneliness in part to popularise the ideas of sexologists such as Richard von Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis , who regarded homosexuality as an inborn and unalterable trait: congenital sexual inversion.
In Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis , the first book Stephen finds in her father's study, inversion is described as a degenerative disorder common in families with histories of mental illness. By Krafft-Ebing had adopted a similar view. So far as I know, it is the first English novel which presents, in a completely faithful and uncompromising form, one particular aspect of sexual life as it exists among us today.
The relation of certain people, who, while different from their fellow human beings, are sometimes of the highest character and the finest aptitudes— to the often hostile society in which they move, presents difficult and still unresolved problems" . The term sexual inversion implied gender role reversal.
Female inverts were, to a greater or lesser degree, inclined to traditionally male pursuits and dress;  according to Krafft-Ebing, they had a "masculine soul". Krafft-Ebing believed that the most extreme inverts also exhibited reversal of secondary sex characteristics ; Ellis's research had not demonstrated any such physical differences, but he devoted a great deal of study to the search for them.
In , Lord Birkenhead , the Lord Chancellor of Great Britain , had opposed a bill that would have criminalised lesbianism on the grounds that "of every thousand women In , after a complaint about a health book entitled The Single Woman and Her Emotional Problems , a Home Office memo noted: "It is notorious that the prosecution of the Well Of Loneliness resulted in infinitely greater publicity about lesbianism than if there had been no prosecution.
In a study of a working-class lesbian community in Buffalo, New York , in the s and s, The Well of Loneliness was the only work of lesbian literature anyone had read or heard of. One woman was so angry at the thought of how The Well would affect an "isolated emerging lesbian" that she "wrote a note in the library book, to tell other readers that women loving women can be beautiful".
James Douglas illustrated his denunciation of The Well with a photograph of Radclyffe Hall in a silk smoking jacket and bow tie, holding a cigarette and monocle. She was also wearing a straight knee-length skirt, but later Sunday Express articles cropped the photo so tightly that it became difficult to tell she was not wearing trousers.
In the s and early '80s, when lesbian feminists rejected the butch and femme identities that Hall's novel had helped to define, writers like Jane Rule and Blanche Wiesen Cook criticised The Well for defining lesbianism in terms of masculinity, as well as for presenting lesbian life as "joyless".
Furthermore, The Well arguably embodies what modern readers may regard as misogynistic and biphobic ideas in its presentation of the femme women who experience attraction towards Stephen but eventually end up in heterosexual relationships.
Mary's femininity, in particular, is belittled by Hall's presentation of her: She is not Stephen's equal in age, education, family, or wealth, and so is constantly infantilised by her lover. This, coupled with Mary's dependence on Stephen, seems to emphasise the supposed inferiority of the feminine to the masculine.
The understanding of sexuality represented in the novel is considered strictly in binary terms and exists within misogynistic stereotypes that were prevalent when the novel was published. This contributes to the undertones of biphobia that are present in the treatment of the femme characters that exhibit female-female sexual attraction, especially so in the treatment of Mary. These choices could be partly explained by the understanding of the term bisexuality at the time.
During the interwar period the definition was most often understood as a scientific term describing a psychological gender duality, rather than referencing a sexual preference. In other words, the term was used as a scientific neologism for androgyny, and related to understandings of gender and sex, but not to sexual preferences. This also means that the femme characters, such as Mary, are represented as inferior to the masculine.
It invalidates their sexuality as bisexual, because bisexuality did not fit within the binary definitions of sexual inversion. Some critics assert that The Well ' s queer significance extends beyond lesbianism, arguing that the novel provides important bisexual representation in literature. Other criticism focuses on the potential confusion of sexuality with gender in the novel.
Esther Newton, writing in , provides a different perspective of Hall's seemingly confusing depiction of Stephen's lesbianism and its conflation with her gender, hinging her discussion on understanding The Well in its historical and social context. Newton argues that "Hall and many other feminists like her embraced [ Sex was seen as something that "could only occur in the presence of an imperial and imperious penis",  such that sex between women was simply not recognised to exist.
Newton shows how sexologists of the time, like Ellis , echoes this sentiment, where his "antifeminism and reluctance to see active lust in women committed him to fusing inversion and masculinity". Hence, for Stephen's lesbianism to be recognised by the readers in that time, Hall had to deliberately show Stephen "enter ing the male world, [ The novel has had its defenders among feminists in the academy, such as Alison Hennegan , pointing out that the novel did raise awareness of homosexuality among the British public and cleared the way for later work that tackled gay and lesbian issues.
In more recent criticism, critics have tended to focus on the novel's historical context,  but The Well' s reputation as " the most depressing lesbian novel ever written"  persists and is still controversial. Some critics see the book as reinforcing homophobic beliefs, while others argue that the book's tragedy and its depiction of shame are its most compelling aspects.
The Well ' s ideas and attitudes now strike many readers as dated, and few critics praise its literary quality.
Brockett, acting as tour guide, hints at a secret history of inversion in the city by referring to Marie Antoinette 's rumoured relationship with the Princesse de Lamballe. Immediately after this meeting Stephen announces she has decided to settle in Paris at 35 Rue Jacob purchased at Seymour's recommendation , with its temple in a corner of an overgrown garden.
Barney lived and held her salon at 20 Rue Jacob. Many of those familiar with the subculture she described, including her own friends, disagreed with her portrayal of it; Romaine Brooks called her "a digger-up of worms with the pretension of a distinguished archaeologist". Although Hall's author's note disclaims any real-world basis for the ambulance unit that Stephen joins, she drew heavily on the wartime experiences of her friend Toupie Lowther , co-commander of the only women's unit to serve on the front in France.
Lowther, like Stephen, came from an aristocratic family, adopted a masculine style of dress, and was an accomplished fencer, tennis player, motorist and jujitsu enthusiast.
In The Well of Loneliness , war work provides a publicly acceptable role for inverted women. The narrative voice asks that their contributions not be forgotten and predicts that they will not go back into hiding: "a battalion was formed in those terrible years that would never again be completely disbanded". Hall, who had converted to the Roman Catholic Church in , was devoutly religious.
Stephen, born on Christmas Eve and named for the first martyr of Christianity , dreams as a child that "in some queer way she [is] Jesus". They call on her to intercede with God for them, and finally possess her. It is with their collective voice that she demands of God, "Give us also the right to our existence".
After Stephen reads Krafft-Ebing in her father's library, she opens the Bible at random, seeking a sign, and reads Genesis , "And the Lord set a mark upon Cain Three publishers praised The Well but turned it down. Hall's agent then sent the manuscript to Jonathan Cape who, though cautious about publishing a controversial book, saw the potential for a commercial success. Though the two books proved to have little in common, Hall and Cape saw Extraordinary Women as a competitor and wanted to beat it to market.
The Well appeared on 27 July, in a black cover with a plain jacket. Cape sent review copies only to newspapers and magazines he thought would handle the subject matter non-sensationally. Early reviews were mixed. Some critics found the novel too preachy;  others, including Leonard Woolf , thought it was poorly structured, or complained of sloppiness in style. There was praise for its sincerity and artistry, and some expressed sympathy with Hall's moral argument.
Havelock Ellis in the preface, that 'the poignant situations are set forth with a complete absence of offence. Papers from the author's archive, which are set to be digitised by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas alongside those of her partner, the artist Una Vincenzo, Lady Troubridge, show that the novel was supported by thousands of readers, who wrote to Hall in outrage at the ban.
Although some writers in the s and s treated The Well of Loneliness as a thinly veiled autobiography,  Hall's childhood bore little resemblance to Stephen's. James Douglas, editor of the Sunday Express , did not agree.
Douglas was a dedicated moralist, an exponent of muscular Christianity , which sought to reinvigorate the Church of England by promoting physical health and manliness. His colourfully worded editorials on subjects such as "the flapper vote" that is, the extension of suffrage to women under 30 and "modern sex novelists" helped the Express family of papers prosper in the cutthroat circulation wars of the late s. These leader articles shared the pages of the Sunday Express with gossip, murderers' confessions, and features about the love affairs of great men and women of the past.
Above all, children must be protected: "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.