1929 April 19

“The Well of Loneliness,” Famous Lesbian-theme Novel, Ruled Not Obscene


A New York court on this day ruled that Radclyffe Hall’s lesbian-theme novel, The Well of Loneliness, was not obscene under the terms of New York state law. The action against the novel, which was published in the U.S. and had been on sale for several weeks, was initiated by John Sumner, head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. Three months after the victory on this day, the Court of Customs, on July 26, 1929, also declared the novel not obscene and that foreign published copies (presumably these were from France, because publication in England was stopped) could be imported into the U.S.

The novel had been ruled obscene in England, Radclyffe Hall’s home, in 1928 and withdrawn from publication. In his memoirs, Hall’s publisher, Donald Friede, recalled writing her the first royalty check for $64,000 (which was enormous in terms of today’s dollar). Since the New York obscenity case had caused sales to double, Friede went to Boston to try to maneuver the Watch and Ward Society, the famous local anti-obscenity group, to declare it obscene; but to his disappointment, the group said it did not find the novel objectionable.

Read the novel: Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness (1928)

Watch a short reading of The Well of Loneliness: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJoIwgeCG9U

Learn more: Diana Souhami, The Trials of Radclyffe Hall (1999)

And more about Radclyffe Hall: http://www.egs.edu/library/radclyffe-hall/biography/

And lesbian literature “Good Reads:”  https://www.goodreads.com/genres/lesbian-literature

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