Alan Turing would have been 109 years old on 23 June 2021, and a new £50 note featuring the mathematician, computer pioneer and codebreaker entered circulation today.
To celebrate Alan Turing’s life, the Bank of England are proudly flying the Pride Flag above their Threadneedle Street building in London.
Public support for lesbian novelist Radclyffe Hall over banned book
Radclyffe Hall’s 1928 novel The Well of Loneliness was subjected to a vicious campaign of attack led by the Sunday Express for its depiction of lesbian relationships, eventually being suppressed and censored in the UK as a piece of “obscene libel”. The editor even said he would rather give “a healthy child prussic acid to drink than read such an obnoxious book”.
But the author’s own papers, which have been digitised, reveal the outpouring of support Hall received from members of the public around the world, who wrote to thank her for creating, in her heroine Stephen Gordon, a character with whom they could identify.
Seen today as a seminal work of gay literature, The Well of Loneliness tells of the “invert” Stephen Gordon, who realises from a young age that she is attracted to women, dresses in masculine clothes, and falls in love.
The book has its shortcomings both as a work of literature and as an apologia for a homosexual way of life and love; nevertheless, for decades these have been outweighed for many readers by the novel’s mere existence in telling them that they were not alone, and by the courage of its author in both writing and defending it.
Hall, a lesbian herself, wrote it to “put my pen at the service of some of the most misunderstood people in the world”. At its raciest, it goes no further than “she kissed her full on the lips, as a lover”, with a night of passion described as “that night they were not divided”. It ends with Stephen’s plea: “Give us also the right to our existence!”
Sunday Express editor James Douglas led a campaign against the novel, writing in his paper: “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.” Despite support from writers including Virginia Woolf and EM Forster, it was banned in the UK until 1949, after Hall’s death. But newly revealed papers from the author’s archive, which have been digitised by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas alongside those of her partner, the artist Una Vincenzo, Lady Troubridge, show that the novel was also supported by thousands of readers, who wrote to Hall in outrage at the ban.
“The picture you paint of the poor invert should make everyone more charitable … No one could finish your book, Miss Hall, without donning a sword and shield forever in the cause of inverts,” wrote one reader from the US, where the novel was not withdrawn despite a challenge, a court declaring it not obscene.
“It has made me want to live and to go on … I discovered myself in Paris and I dreaded this thing which I thought abnormal,” wrote another.
In the UK, an 18-year-old man told Hall he had “experienced many of the terrors of the invert”, hailing her “truly marvellous but searing book”. Others offered to send money to help Hall in an appeal against the judgment, or wrote of how the book changed their perspectives. “At first it repulsed and disgusted, and then the pathos and beauty of it got me, and if I had it in my power to help those poor souls I would have offered my services,” wrote a London correspondent.
Dr Steven MacNamara, who has researched Hall’s papers, said she received “thousands of letters of support”.
“The letters demonstrate the public’s awareness that The Well of Loneliness was not an obscene novel, and that Hall had been unfairly and unjustly treated by the government and the media. Access to these letters, through the digitalisation project, will enhance the importance and understanding of this groundbreaking novel for Hall’s contemporary readers,” he said.
In one letter, a married coal miner in Doncaster wrote that he had “marvelled at the bigoted outlook of so-called ‘thinking men’, who are ashamed to let broader minded folk than themselves delve into the great sex problems”. The miner added: “Some day we will wake up, and demand to know ourselves as we profess to know about everything else.”
The project has seen more than 38,500 images from Hall and Troubridge’s papers digitised and made available online. Alongside Hall’s notebooks and drafts for The Well of Loneliness, the archive also includes diaries, letters – including around 650 that Hall wrote between 1934 and 1942 to Evguenia Souline, a Russian émigrée with whom she had an extended affair – and evidence gathered by Hall’s American lawyer before her obscenity trial in the US in 1929.
In a telegram, physician Dr Logan Clendening writes that “it is incredible to the scientific mind that an honest and sensitive presentation in literary form of a subject familiar and tragic to every physician should be threatened due to the pornographic imagination of a censor.”
Ransom Center director Stephen Enniss said: “The richness and depth of this material goes well beyond the subsequent censorship and cultural controversies sparked by The Well of Loneliness.”
Jana Funke, senior lecturer at the University of Exeter and author of The World and Other Unpublished Works by Radclyffe Hall, said the archive also includes early drafts of The Well of Loneliness, which are “more explicit in their depiction of lesbian desire and more affirmative regarding the protagonist’s gender non-conforming identity”. Hall dropped earlier sections from the book “arguably to try and make the book less scandalous – a strategy that obviously failed,” said Funke.
One chapter in an early draft, included in Funke’s book, begins with the protagonist having sex with a woman during wartime at the frontline. “They spoke very little, for the darkness was rent by intolerable noise, and by sudden swift flashes that penetrated even into this darkness between cracks in the war-scarred brickwork,” wrote Hall. “And something, perhaps this near presence of death, seemed to quicken their bodies into agonised loving, so that they felt the throb of their bodies in each separate nerve and muscle and fibre, so that they ceased to be two poor atoms, and became one transient imperative being, having reason for neither good nor evil – the primitive, age-blind life force.”
Funke said that when people read The Well of Loneliness, knowing that it was banned as obscene in the UK, “they are often surprised and disappointed to find that there is no explicit sexual content. It was banned simply because it argued that lesbian sexuality and gender non-conformity should be accepted by society.” Hall and Troubridge, she added, “are internationally recognised as LGBTQ pioneers, and it is vitally important that audiences around the globe have access to their papers now and in the future”.
New podcast celebrates the LGBT+ community
From protests to parades, parties to politics, Pride is all about visibility. The LGBT+ community is loud and proud, here and queer, after many years forced inside the closet.
A brand new podcast will learn what it means to be LGBT+ in 2021.
Launched during Pride Month this June, The Out Crowd is a new LGBT podcast speaking to members from all gender identities and sexualities about their experiences in the past and present – and their hopes for the future.
Podcast host Joe Ali hopes that The Out Crowd will help raise more awareness about the LGBT+ community.
He said: “I’m really looking forward to getting this podcast out into the world. More awareness of LGBT+ people and our past is absolutely vital. A lot of people still don’t understand what the community has sacrificed and continue to sacrifice to be authentically themselves.”
Joe added: “I really hope that a young LGBT+ person will pick up on this podcast and feel less alone.”
The battle for equality still remains, and the podcast will look at the history of the struggle from those who continue to fight for it.
You will hear from activists, artists, drag queens, writers, educators, journalists, family, friends, and colleagues, as they answer the questions about the LGBT+ community you may have been too shy to ask: What does non-binary mean? What are the correct pronouns to use when speaking to trans people? What’s the difference between bisexual and pansexual?
Daniel J McLaughlin, who produced the podcast, argues that “Pride is not just for June – it’s for life”.
He said: “I wanted to create an LGBT+ podcast. The struggle for equality lasts longer than just one month, and we hope that The Out Crowd will make a fabulous noise in Pride Month and beyond.
As a bisexual man, I am looking forward to learning more about members of the LGBT+ community that I belong to – as well as providing an insight into modern LGBT+ life for those not accustomed to it.
Like the rainbow flag that represents the LGBT+ community, The Out Crowd will hear the inspirational, fascinating, and entertaining tales from all those on the sexuality and gender spectrum: lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, transgender, non-binary, and more!”
The Out Crowd is available on all major podcasting platforms, and Episode 1 features an interview with Lisa Power.
Hiding behind fake profiles, some internet trolls gave the following reviews:
Missbettyboop: “Disgusting ban it”
Wendigo: “Its for this hetrophobic group only. Build a wall around the village.”
TheTruthHurts18: “What a waste of Space”
Alphaonezero: “Couldn’t care any Less if I Tried !!!!!”
Personally, I enjoyed it (except for the adverts!) and looking forward to listening to more episodes.
Meet the people from Greater Manchester determined to end HIV stigma and shame.
HIV+Me showcases three people living with HIV and their extraordinary stories in three beautifully shot short films.
Paul remembers the lovers and friends he lost whilst fighting and campaigning from a grotty basement just off Canal Street.
Mark revisits the squat he used to call home on Claremont Road and reflects how a positive diagnosis marked the beginning of a new life.
Yvonne recalls a lifetime of hiding in the shadows before she found something inside so strong that now helps her help others.
Credits: Stories written and performed by Paul Fairweather, Mark Holder and Yvonne Richards and directed by Nathaniel Hall.
The stories are powerful and very moving – highly recommended.