Queer Relics and Outrages (Nov. 2019)

I have two recent reviews at the Toward Freedom website, both relating to queer history.

The first takes a hard look at Naomi Wolf’s Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalization of Love.  In it, she provocatively relates the Victorian persecution of homosexuality to the censorship of literature and traces both back to the reactionary backlash against the nineteenth-century women’s movement.  Unfortunately, and now somewhat notoriously, she gets her facts wrong.  Her claim that “several dozen” men were executed for sodomy at the end of the nineteenth century was debunked in the course of a BBC interview, leading to the book’s (temporary) recall.  As I note, she is equally mistaken about the legal difference between sodomy and “gross indecency,” leading her to misunderstand the statutory changes resulting in the prosecution of Oscar Wilde, Alan Turing, and a great number of other less famous people.

In contrast, Gregory Mackie’s Beautiful Untrue Things is a fascinating and delightful study of the forgeries of Oscar Wilde’s work which poured into the literary market during the 1920’s.  My review considers the ways that the contest between the forgers and the guardians of Wilde’s canon was also a struggle over queer identity.

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