Houghton Mifflin Harcourt just canceled the U.S. publication of “Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalization of Love” by bestselling author Naomi Wolf after it was discovered she got wide swaths of information completely wrong.
The 400-page book examines the persecution of homosexuality in Victorian Britain and could have been a very useful resource for LGBTQ historians and the general public… if only the information Wolf provided in it was actually accurate.
In the book, Wolf writes about “several dozen” men who were executed by London’s Old Bailey court in the 1850s for sodomy. But it didn’t take long for fact checkers to find that the last recorded hanging for gay sex in Britain was 15 years earlier, in 1835.
The BBC reports that Wolf seems to have confused the 19th century legal term “death recorded” with meaning the men were put to death, when in fact it actually meant the opposite: that judges choose not to issue a death sentence and instead released the men from custody.
Not only that, but many of the cases she cites weren’t actually cases where men were tried for committing consensual homosexual acts.
At one point, Wolf writes about a 14-year-old boy who was allegedly put to death for sodomy. In reality, the BBC learned, the teenager had molested a six-year-old boy, which was not considered a consensual homosexual act and was instead considered an indecent assault. Not only that, but the teenager was never executed for it, like Wolf claims.
In an interview with Wolf, BBC host Matthew Sweet said, point blank, “I can’t find any evidence that any of the relationships you describe were consensual.”
Wolf now admits there were “misinterpretations” of facts in her book. She blames social media for getting the details wrong but insists that, despite her glaring errors, it doesn’t change the fact that men were executed during the Victorian era for committing homosexual acts… just don’t ask her for any specifics on it.
“Outrages” was already released in by U.K., but Houghton Mifflin Harcourt says it won’t be publishing the book in the United States, saying it has “mutually and amicably agreed to part company” with Wolf.
The criticism of her book is the fault of the “Lame Stream Media”. One should never let facts get in the way of telling a good story. FAKE NEWS /|\
herrrrr DURRRRR! You sound smart.
If only Howard Zinn’s publisher had been so diligent.
Sister Bertha Bedderthanyu
If she were smart she would write a screenplay on it. It sounds good and already I can see multiple angles for scenes involving the characters mentioned in the article. If it didn’t work in paperback maybe it might do go on the wide screen or television.
Back then, England was like Saudi Arabia is now in terms of attitudes to male homisexuality. Doesn’t England like it when a book exposes it?
Actually, this article’s title somewhat misrepresents what happened. Wolf didn’t “invent” the executions, she misunderstood the legal, historical term of art in that century when it came to how the British court vacated sentences. It wasn’t fact checkers either, it was an astute reader and writer, Matthew Sweet, who first spotted the error and challenged Wolf on the radio about her error.
My main beef with Wolf was that instead of just immediately saying, You know, I blew this one, because her argument depends in part on the misreading, she allegedly tried to defend it, then the publisher had to pull the books (if you got one, it’s valuable now). The other issue is, there are records of British punishment of gay people, up through the 20th century. Had she been more careful in her scholarship and suppositions, she could have made a very powerful case.
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