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RADCLYFFE HALL, Marguerite

The Well of Loneliness

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For now the room seemed to be thronging with people. Who were they, these strangers with the miserable eyes? And yet, were they all strangers? Surely that was Wanda? And someone with a neat little hole in her side–Jamie clasping Barbara by the hand; Barbara with the white flowers of death on her bosom. Oh, but they were many, these unbidden guests, and they called very softly at first and then louder. They were calling her by name, saying: ‘Stephen, Stephen!’ The quick, the dead, and the yet unborn–all calling her, softly at first and then louder. Aye, and those lost and terrible brothers from Alec’s, they were here, and they also were calling: 'Stephen, Stephen, speak with your God and ask Him why He has left us forsaken!’ She could see their marred and reproachful faces with the haunted, melancholy eyes of the invert–eyes that had looked too long on a world that lacked all pity and all understanding: 'Stephen, Stephen, speak with your God and ask Him why He has left us forsaken!’ And these terrible ones started pointing at her with their shaking, white-skinned, effeminate fingers: 'You and your kind have stolen our birthright; you have taken our strength and have given us your weakness!’ They were pointing at her with white shaking fingers.

Rockets of pain, burning rockets of pain–their pain, her pain, all welded together into one great consuming agony. Rockets of pain that shot up and burst, dropping scorching tears of fire on the spirit–her pain, their pain…all the misery at Alec’s. And the press and the clamour of those countless others–they fought, they trampled, they were getting her under. In their madness to become articulate through her, they were tearing her to pieces, getting her under. They were everywhere now, cutting off her retreat; neither bolts nor bars would avail to save her. The walls fell down and crumbled before them; at the cry of their suffering the walls fell and crumbled: 'We are coming, Stephen–we are still coming on, and our name is legion–you dare not disown us!’ She raised her arms, trying to ward them off, but they closed in and in: 'You dare not disown us!’

They possessed her. Her barren womb became fruitful–it ached with its fearful and sterile burden. It ached with the fierce yet helpless children who would clamour in vain for their right to salvation. They would turn first to God, and then to the world, and then to her. They would cry out accusing: 'We have asked for bread; will you give us a stone? Answer us: will you give us a stone? You, God, in Whom we, the outcast, believe; you, world, into which we are pitilessly born; you, Stephen, who have drained our cup to the dregs–we have asked for bread; will you give us a stone?’

And now there was only one voice, one demand; her own voice into which those millions had entered. A voice like the awful, deep rolling of thunder; a demand like the gathering together of great waters. A terrifying voice that made her ears throb, that made her brain throb, that shook her very entrails, until she must stagger and all but fall beneath this appalling burden of sound that strangled her in its will to be uttered.

'God,’ she gasped, we believe; we have told You we believe…We have not denied You, then rise up and defend us. Acknowledge us, oh God, before the whole world. Give us also the right to our existence!’

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