Stephen Gordon’s father desperately wanted a son but what he got instead is a daughter who fences and rides like a man, and who falls in love with women. She feels isolated and apart from ‘normal’ people until she meets a young woman during World War I who finally returns her affection. Societal pressure, however, threatens to destroy her happiness.
Written by an author who described herself as a ‘congenital invert’ and first published in 1928, this was banned in the UK for obscenity even though there is nothing explicit in its depiction of lesbian love. Where it excels is in the portrayal of the plight of those who find themselves outside of what is perceived as the norm. The whispers behind one’s back, the shunning, and the ostracism are often subtle but maybe even more damaging because of it. In this book, no one is physically or even verbally assaulted, but it is clear that Stephen is always apart from everyone else, and that others reinforce this feeling of alienation constantly and in a lot of ways. Even as a child, when she doesn’t yet understand what makes her so different, she is perpetually aware of it.
Otherwise, I don’t think that the book is particularly great, as there are some noticeable weaknesses regarding the characters, the pacing, and the development of the plot. There are some parts that drag interminably and should maybe have been omitted in their entirety or at least shortened considerably. Some characters are no more than stereotypes or are simply underdeveloped. Overall, the age of the novel is showing, as many ideas are markedly dated. Nowadays, we are aware of the many nuances of human sexuality, and that gender dysphoria is entirely independent of sexual orientation. In this book, however, all this gets muddled. On top of that, the author surprisingly has some very rigid and narrow views on homosexuality which is jarring in a novel that pleads for acceptance.
It is surely an important and a groundbreaking book but I wonder about it’s attractiveness for a modern audience. Although there are some very good parts it was not an especially engaging read for me, and I think that it has to be read very carefully within its historical and social context as it generally does not possess the timeless quality that other classics have.
CBR11 Bingo: Rainbow Flag