Gay Identity and the Act of Reading in The Well of Loneliness

Valerie Rohy, Chair and Professor, Department of English

Valerie Rohy, Chair and Professor, Department of English

This lecture examines the retroactive formation of gay identity through the act of reading in a famous lesbian novel of the 1920s, Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness. Appealing to sexologial theory, Hall argues that homosexuals are naturally and immutably different–as we say now, “born this way”–yet the novel’s scene of reading opposes that claim, showing something like the queer influence of which the text itself would be accused. In doing so, it leads us to question theories of biological determinism, reframe paranoid notions of queer increase, and consider new forms of gay identity.

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Professor Rohy is the author of Impossible Women: Lesbian Figures and American Literature (Cornell, 2000) and Anachronism and Its Others: Sexuality, Race, Temporality (SUNY, 2009), and the co-editor (with Elizabeth Ammons) of American Local Color Writing, 1880-1920 (Penguin, 1998). She has published essays on sexuality, race, and American literature in such journals as GLQ, Genders, and Modern Fiction Studies. In 2006 she won UVM’s Kroepsch-Maurice Excellence in Teaching Award.

The Dean’s Lecture Series was established in 1991 as a way to recognize and honor colleagues in the College of Arts and Sciences who have consistently demonstrated the ability to translate their professional knowledge and skill into exciting classroom experiences for their students — faculty who meet the challenge of being both excellent teachers and highly respected professionals in their own discipline. The Award is a celebration of the unusually high quality of our faculty and has become an important and treasured event each semester.

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