Outrage as author Naomi Wolf stands by view of Victorian poet

Historians in the News
tags: legal history, poetry, Naomi Wolf

Naomi Wolf has said she “stands by” her latest book and denied that the presence of errors had undermined her wider argument, after historians called into question her claim that dozens of Victorian men were executed for sodomy.

The errors in Outrages were first identified this week on BBC Radio 3, when the historian Dr Matthew Sweet challenged Wolf on air when she said she had found “several dozen executions” of men accused of having sex with other men. In the book, Wolf argues that in 1857 there was a brutal turn against consensual sex between men, with an increase in executions influencing the lives of Victorian poets such as John Addington Symonds.

“I don’t think you’re right about this,” Sweet told Wolf on Thursday, identifying the case of one Thomas Silver in her book. Aged 14 when he was convicted, his sentence was noted as “Death recorded”, which Wolf interpreted as meaning that Silver had been executed.

Historians including Sweet have since pointed out that the label actually meant judges could abstain from an execution in cases where they intended to recommend a pardon from the death sentence.

Wolf told an audience at the Hay festival on Saturday afternoon: “Some of you may have seen that there has been a healthy debate about two errors I did make in this book, and they’re on page 71 and 72. Hang on to your copies because it will be a collectors’ item because it will not [be] in the next printing.”


Read entire article at The Guardian

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