Radclyffe Hall

The Well Of Loneliness

  • 67-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 56 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a college professor with a PhD in English
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The Well Of Loneliness Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 67-page guide for “The Well Of Loneliness” by Radclyffe Hall includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 56 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Pressure to Conform to Gender Stereotypes and Discrimination Against Homosexuality.

The Well of Loneliness is a 1928 novel by British author Radclyffe Hall. Banned upon publication due to its lesbian theme, it tells the story of Stephen Gordon, an upper-class Englishwoman and who struggles as a lesbian with the confines of society. A subsequent obscenity trial generated significant publicity for the book, and it has since become a landmark of lesbian fiction.

Plot Summary

After 10 years of marriage, Sir Philip and Lady Anna Gordon are finally expecting a child. They joyfully plan for the birth of Stephen, a name selected by Sir Philip to remind him of his favorite saint. When Stephen is born, Stephen is a girl, not the young boy they’d been dreaming of. They use the name anyway.

As a child Stephen has a zest for life. She loves to wrestle Sir Philip, ride horses, hunt, and make the most of the green hills of Morton, the Gordon’s ancestral home outside of Upton-on-Severn in England. Around the age of seven, Stephen develops a crush on one of the Gordons’ maids, Collins. Following Collins about the house and obsessing over Collins’s wounded knee are two of Stephen’s favorite pastimes, until she witnesses Collins kissing one of the men in the Gordons’ service. Stephen reacts violently to this discovery, causing an uproar in the Morton household. Once Sir Philip hears of the debacle, he removes Collins from his service, leaving Stephen to grieve her first love.

Later in life, Stephen finds herself enamored again, this time with married American beauty Angela Crossby. In this instance, however, Stephen’s crush isn’t so innocent, nor is the woman on the receiving end. Stephen finally starts to feel herself blossom at Angela’s touch, but she soon finds out that Angela is having another affair. Still, Stephen writes a letter to Angela expressing her feelings. Angela then hands it to her husband, who gives it to Anna, creating a rift between mother and daughter.

Stephen leaves Morton with her former governess, Puddles, moving first to London, where she becomes a successful writer with Puddles’s support. Stephen moves to Paris to experience more of life and improve her writing, but when World War I begins, she moves back to London to help with the war effort. While serving as an ambulance driver in the War, Stephen meets the young Mary Llewellyn, with whom she begins a romantic relationship after the war ends.

As Stephen immerses herself in her writing once again, Mary grows lonely. Hoping to make Mary happy, Stephen begins taking her to parties in Paris, and Stephen and Mary soon build a social circle and grow close to another lesbian couple, Barbara and Jaime. When Barbara dies of illness, Jaime, left to mourn in silence, commits suicide. The deaths of Barbara and Jaime, and the social stigma of living as a lesbian, are difficult for Mary.

A former suitor of Stephen’s, Martin, comes back into Stephen’s life, and he falls for Mary. Mary chooses Stephen over Martin, but Stephen, knowing how unhappy Mary is and the sacrifices she is making, tells Mary she is having an affair. Believing this lie to be true, Mary leaves and goes to Martin, leaving Stephen anguished and alone.

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