chapter  3
36 Pages

Celestial Configurations: Aspects of Lesbian Stardom

In her biography of Radclyffe Hall, her lover of twenty-eight years, Una Troubridge, recalls a momentous conversation:

With Una’s permission granted, The Well of Loneliness was written and published in 1928. And Hall’s career was anything but shipwrecked, although the almost immediate prosecution under Britain’s Obscene Publications Act of 1857 of booksellers in possession of copies of the novel, followed by an unsuccessful appeal of the guilty verdict, disappointed and angered her. Nor was the critical reception all she had wished for. Unlike the favorable responses her previous novels had received, reviewers of The Well refrained from praising the book’s literary qualities while, in a number of cases, affirming its call for greater understanding and tolerance of lesbians.1 Instead, the book reaped Hall other rewards. It became a colossal best-seller, despite the proscription of its publication in Britain until 1948; 200,000 copies were sold by the end of 1933 and over 500,000 copies prior to publication of the first British paperback edition in 1968. Twenty thousand copies were sold in the United States when Covici-Friede published the book after other, less daring publishers turned it down due to skittishness about the inevitable legal action that would follow (Taylor 2001, 261). Her next novel, published in 1932, sold 9,000 copies in its first two weeks despite bad reviews, and earlier books by Hall reissued in the wake of The Well ’s success garnered hefty additional sales.2 Hall did not depend upon the income she received for her writing and could have lived comfortably without it, due to the good-sized fortune she had inherited from her grandfather, but she still enjoyed the financial profits her work generated. This is confirmed by a note she wrote to her agent Audrey Heath: “Do you remember the time when no publisher wanted John Hall, and now they’re all at each other’s throats-oh, well, as long as we get the dollars!!!” (Baker 1985, 253).