By 1928 – the year The Well of Loneliness and Orlando were published – there was an increasing social awareness of female same-sex desire in Britain. Whilst The Well engages in religious and contemporaneous sexological discourse in order to legitimise and justify ‘sexual inversion’; Orlando adopts metaphorical language and narrative strategies to deconstruct and expose conventional heterosexuality, exploiting the possibility for same-sex desire.
The masculinised protagonist of The Well – Stephen Gordon – can be identified, with the help of Newton, as ‘The Mythic Mannish Lesbian’. This view of female homosexuality echoes throughout the novel, and is primarily drawn from the work of contemporary sexologist’s such as; Havelock Ellis, Edward Carpenter, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, and Karl Ulrich, whose theories of ‘congenital sexual inversion’ Hall embraced. To these theorists ‘sexual inversion’ is seen as misaligned gender identity; in other words, female homosexuality is characterised by a masculine soul trapped in a female body. Stephen is directly associated with masculinity: her masculine tastes and accomplishments, her cropped hair and her men’s ties, combined with an aversion to female domesticity and passivity, identifies her as the quintessential ‘invert’. For Stephen – and Hall – ‘lesbianism is a congenital form of lust caused by and manifested in gender reversal’ but this use of sexological distinctions between ‘true inverts’ and the women who love them, sets up a hierarchy of inversion weighed down by contradictions about same-sex desire.Continue reading “Representation, Expression and Censorship: Same-sex Desire in ‘Orlando’ and ‘The Well of Loneliness’”