Well of Loneliness

Radclyffe HALL

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HALL, Radclyffe. The Well of Loneliness. London: Jonathan Cape, (1928). Octavo, original black cloth, uncut, original dust jacket. Housed in a custom clamshell box.

First edition of Radclyffe Hall's pathbreaking work of gay and lesbian literature, her own copy, with the bookplate of Hall and her lover Una Troubridge.

The Well of Loneliness provided an open treatment of lesbianism "at a time when homosexuality could not be discussed in English books or in the English press. Unlike male inversion… the female kind was not officially acknowledged to exist in England. In 1920, the House of Lords declined to amend the criminal laws of England to include lesbians because the Lords did not admit such people lived" (de Grazia, 166-167). Following its 1928 publication in England, the book was ordered withdrawn from sale by the Secretary of the Home Office. Early in 1929 in New York, "Charles Sumner, Secretary of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, acting under a warrant… raided the office of the publisher and removed 865 copies remaining from the sixth edition, then raided Macy's book department" (Haight 94). This edition contains a summary of the court proceedings by defense attorney Morris Ernst, and a one-paragraph "Commentary" by Havelock Ellis, author of the suppressed 1897 Studies in the Psychology of Sex, who notes that "apart from its fine qualities as a novel by a writer of accomplished art… it is the first English novel which presents, in completely faithful and uncompromising form, one particular aspect of sexual life as it exists among us today." Among the many who protested the suppression of the novel were F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson, George Bernard Shaw, E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, Rudyard Kipling, and Mrs. Ralph Pulitzer. The book remained contraband in England until 1959. The publisher managed to produce two issues in England before the book was suppressed; this copy is from the second issue, with the word "whip" corrected to "whips" on page 50. This is the author's own copy, with the shared bookplate of Hall and her partner Una Troubridge. Hall (who went by the name "John" in her personal life) had been with Troubridge for a decade before she wrote The Well of Loneliness; she considered it essential to get Troubridge's approval before publishing the book. "John came to me one day with unusual gravity and asked for my decision on a serious matter: she had long wanted to write a book on sexual inversion, a novel that would be accessible to the general public who did not have access to technical treatises… It was her absolute conviction that such a book could only be written by a sexual invert… It was with this conviction that she came to me, telling me that in her view the time was ripe, and that although the publication of such a book might mean the shipwreck of her whole career, she was fully prepared to make any sacrifice except—the sacrifice of my peace of mind. She pointed out that in view of our union and all of the years that we had shared a home, what affected her must also affect me and that I would be included in any condemnation. Therefore she placed the decision in my hands and would write or refrain as I should decide. I am glad to remember that my reply was made without so much as an instant's hesitation: I told her to write what was in her heart, that so far as any effect upon myself was concerned, I was sick to death of ambiguities, and only wished to be known for what I was and to dwell with her in the palace of truth" (de Grazia, 167). Although the book was banned in England for over 20 years, its effect on her career was quite the opposite of the anticipated "shipwreck": the attention from the subsequent trials in England and America over the work's "obscenity"—which resulted in a victory for the Hall and her publishers in America—turned the work into an international bestseller, translated into many languages and making Hall a wealthy woman.

Book fine, with a bit of toning to endpapers only; scarce dust jacket with tears with minimal loss, spine toned. Very desirable.

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