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Monday, 6 December 2010

Radclyffe Hall and Havelock Ellis

In 1928 Radclyffe Hall published the novel, The Well of Loneliness, about the subject of lesbianism. The publisher, Jonathan Cape, argued on the bookjacket that: "In England hitherto the subject has not been treated frankly outside the regions of scientific text-books, but that its social consequences qualify a broader and more general treatment is likely to be the opinion of thoughtful and cultured people."

Havelock Ellis, the author of argued: "I have read The Well of Loneliness with great interest because - apart from its fine qualities as a novel - it possesses a notable psychological and sociological significance. 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 unsolved problems. The poignant situations which thus arise are here set forth so vividly, and yet with such complete absence of offence, that we must place Radclyffe Hall's book on a high level of distinction."

There was a campaign by the press to get the book banned. The Sunday Express argued: "In order to prevent the contamination and corruption of English fiction it is the duty of the critic to make it impossible for any other novelist to repeat this outrage. I say deliberately that this novel is not fit to be sold by any bookseller or to be borrowed from any library."

Behind the scenes the Home Office put pressure of Jonathan Cape to withdraw the book. One official described the book as "inherently obscene… it supports a depraved practice and is gravely detrimental to the public interest". The chief magistrate, Sir Chartres Biron, ordered that all copies be destroyed, and that literary merit presented no grounds for defence. The publisher agreed to withdraw the novel and proofs intended for a publisher in France were seized in October 1928.

Several writers, including, Arnold Bennett, Vera Brittain, John Buchan, T.S. Eliot, E.M. Forster, Victor Gollancz, George Bernard Shaw, Lytton Strachey, Leonard Woolf, Virginia Woolf, Julian Huxley, Violet Markham, T.S. Eliot and Harley Granville-Barker, signed a letter of protest about the banning of the The Well of Loneliness to The Daily Chronicle.

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