Radclyffe Hall:  The Well of Loneliness (1928)

The first open novel with a lesbian heroine, this book was banned as soon as it was published.

         Through the long years of life that followed after, bringing with them their dreams and disillusions, their joys and sorrows, their fulfilments and frustrations, Stephen was never to forget this summer when she fell quite simply and naturally in love, in accordance with the dictates of her nature.

To her there seemed nothing strange or unholy in the love that she felt for Angela Crossby. To her it seemed an inevitable thing, as much a part of herself as her breathing; and yet it appeared transcendent of self, and she looked up and onward towards her love—for the eyes of the young are drawn to the stars, and the spirit of youth is seldom earth-bound.

         She loved deeply, far more deeply than many a one who could fearlessly proclaim himself a lover. Since this is a hard and sad truth for the telling; those whom nature has sacrificed to her ends—her mysterious ends that often lie hidden—are sometimes endowed with a vast will to loving, with an endless capacity for suffering also, which must go hand in hand with their love....

         Two days later as they sat alone in the garden at Morton, Stephen turned to Angela abruptly: 'I can't go on like this, it's vile somehow—it's beastly, it's soiling us both—can't you see that?'

         Angela was startled. 'What on earth do you mean?'

         'You and me—and then Ralph. I tell you it's beastly—I want you to leave him and come away with me.'

         'Are you mad?'

         'No, I'm sane. It's the only decent thing, it's the only clean thing; we'll go anywhere you like, to Paris, to Egypt, or back to the States. For your sake I'm ready to give up my home. Do you hear? I'm ready to give up even Morton. But I can't go on lying about you to Ralph, I want him to know how much I adore you—I want the whole world to know how I adore you. Ralph doesn't understand the first rudiments of loving, he's a nagging, mean-minded cur of a man, but there's one thing that even he has a right to, and that's the truth. I'm done with these lies—I shall tell him the truth and so will you, Angela; and after we've told him we'll go away, and we'll live quite openly together, you and I, which is what we owe to ourselves and our love.'

         Angela stared at her, white and aghast: 'You are mad,' she said slowly, 'you're raving mad. Tell him what? Have I let you become my lover? You know that I've always been faithful to Ralph; you know perfectly well that there's nothing to tell him, beyond a few rather schoolgirlish kisses. Can I help it if you're—what you obviously are? Oh, no, my dear, you're not going to tell Ralph. You're not going to let all hell loose around me just because you want to save your own pride by pretending to Ralph that you've been my lover. If you're willing to give up your home I'm not willing to sacrifice mine, understand that, please. Ralph's not much of a man but he's better than nothing, and I've managed him so far without any trouble. The great thing with him is to blaze a false trail, that distracts his mind, it works like a charm. He'll follow any trail that I want him to follow—you leave him to me, I know my own husband a darned sight better than you do, Stephen, and I won't have you interfering in my home.' She was terribly frightened, too frightened to choose her words, to consider their effect upon Stephen, to consider anyone but Angela Crossby who stood in such dire and imminent peril. So she said yet again, only now she spoke loudly: 'I won't have you interfering in my home!'

         Then Stephen turned on her, white with passion: 'You— you—' she stuttered, 'you're unspeakably cruel. You know how you make me suffer and suffer because I love you the way I do; and because you like the way I love you, you drag the love out of me day after day—Can't you understand that I love you so much that I'd give up Morton? Anything I'd give up—I'd give up the whole world. Angela, listen- I'd take care of you always. Angela, I'm rich—I'd take care of you always. Why won't you trust me? Answer me—why? Don't you think me fit to be trusted?'

         She spoke wildly, scarcely knowing what she said; she only knew that she needed this woman with a need so intense, that worthy or unworthy, Angela was all that counted at that moment. And now she stood up, very tall, very strong, yet a little grotesque in her pitiful passion, so that looking at her Angela trembled—there was something rather terrible about her. All that was heavy in her face sprang into view, the strong line of the jaw, the square, massive brow, the eyebrows too thickand too wide for beauty; she was like some curious, primitive thing conceived in a turbulent age of transition.

         'Angela, come very far away—anywhere, only come with me soon—to-morrow .'

         Then Angela forced herself to think quickly, and she said just five words: 'Could you marry me, Stephen?' She did not look at the girl as she said it—that she could not do, perhaps out of something that, for her, was the nearest she would ever come to pity. There ensued a long, almost breathless silence, while Angela waited with her eyes turned away. A leaf dropped, and she heard its minute, soft falling, heard the creak of the branch that had let fall its leaf as a breeze passed over the garden.

Then the silence was broken by a quiet, dull voice, that sounded to her like the voice of a stranger: 'No—' it said very slowly, 'no—I couldn't marry you, Angela.' And when Angela at last gained the courage to look up, she found that she was sitting there alone.

Question:  What does this passage reveal about society's attitudes toward homosexual love during the 1920s?