US publisher scraps book on gay persecution after errors exposed

by Ellen Wulfhorst | @EJWulfhorst | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 24 October 2019 21:36 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Author and political consultant Naomi Wolf speaks to reporters during a news conference outside the Federal Court in Manhattan March 29, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar

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Wolf's book 'Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalization of Love' aimed to examine Victorian laws which punished men with execution for having sex with other men

By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK, Oct 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has canceled publication of a book by American author Naomi Wolf on gay persecution in 19th century Britain, the U.S. company said, after the work was exposed for several errors.

The publisher and author "have mutually and amicably agreed to part company," Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) said in an email on Thursday.

Wolf's book "Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalization of Love" aimed to examine Britain's Victorian laws which punished men with execution for having sex with other men.

Wolf wrote about men sentenced to death by London's Old Bailey court in the 1850s for sodomy, even though the last recorded hanging for gay sex in Britain was in 1835.

"HMH will not be publishing 'Outrages,'" a company spokeswoman said in an email without elaboration.

Wolf's contention that "several dozen" men were executed in the 19th century was challenged in May by a British historian who said Wolf misinterpreted the phrase "death recorded" as execution, when in fact it meant the accused were spared.

Wolf argued at the time on social media that while she got a few details wrong, it did not change the fact that gay men in Britain were executed and oppressed during the Victorian era.

HMH had said in May it would correct "Outrages" as its overall thesis still held.

The author could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Wolf has written several books, including the 1990 bestseller "The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women."

Homosexual acts were decriminalized in England in 1967, and in 2001 the age of consent for homosexuals was lowered to 16, the same as for heterosexuals.

Britain in 2017 granted posthumous pardons to thousands of gay and bisexual men who were convicted of sexual offenses.

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Chris Michaud

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