Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalisation of Love – blazes with passion

Book review: Naomi Wolf blends the personal, political and literary into a necessary read

Outrages blazes with passion for those who found a way to express forbidden love despite the risks they ran. Photograph: Nathaniel Brooks/The New York Times

Outrages blazes with passion for those who found a way to express forbidden love despite the risks they ran. Photograph: Nathaniel Brooks/The New York Times

In Outrages, Naomi Wolf turns her gaze towards Victorian Britain when, she argues, the suppression of homosexuality and strict censorship created the modern concept of homophobia.

The spine of the book is the story of the English poet and critic John Addington Symonds, the subject of Wolf’s doctoral thesis, and she suggests, one of the originators of the modern gay rights movement. Wolf postulates in the book that Symonds lived his life in fear of the possibility of penal servitude or execution.

However within days of publication, Wolf had to admit that she was completely wrong in asserting that dozens of executions for sodomy were carried out at the Old Bailey during the second half of the 19th century. During a BBC interview last week, historian Dr Matthew Sweet forensically challenged Wolf’s assumptions, informing her that the phrase “death recorded”, which she assumed meant execution, actually allowed a judge to abstain from pronouncing a death sentence if a subject was “fit for pardon”. He said he could find no evidence of any executions after 1835.

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