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US author Naomi Wolf stands by gay persecution book despite blunder

Lin Taylor

Reuters

London, United Kingdom  /  Fri, May 31, 2019  /  11:06 pm
US author Naomi Wolf stands by gay persecution book despite blunder

American author Naomi Wolf downplayed on Thursday several errors in her new book that set out to expose a buried story of gay persecution in 19th century Britain, arguing it was not a 'social investigation' but a 'cultural analysis of a mood'. (Shutterstock/Billion Photos)

American author Naomi Wolf downplayed on Thursday several errors in her new book that set out to expose a buried story of gay persecution in 19th century Britain, arguing it was not a "social investigation" but a "cultural analysis of a mood".

Wolf's book Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalization of Love examined Britain's Victorian laws that sentenced men to death for having sex with other men in a bid to highlight the struggles of the gay community in that era.

The author wrote about men sentenced to death by London's Old Bailey court in the 1850s for sodomy, despite the last recorded hanging for gay sex in Britain being 1835.

But during a radio interview on Britain's BBC, historian and presenter Matthew Sweet challenged the author's premise that dozens of gay men were executed and when this happened.

Sweet said Wolf, during her research, had wrongly interpreted the phrase "death recorded" as meaning that an accused was executed when they were actually spared.

Wolf said she stood by Outrages despite the blunder.

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"This is not a social investigation. This is not a demographic investigation. It's a cultural analysis of a mood - just like all my books," Wolf told The Times newspaper.

The author's publishers in Britain and the United States - Virago and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt respectively - said they would correct the books as the "overall thesis" still held.

Wolf, author of bestseller The Beauty Myth, argued on social media that although 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.

"I misinterpreted one of the cases (and one has no death record). But there are multiple other executions that are confirmed," she wrote on Twitter.

Homosexual acts were decriminalized in England in 1967 and it was not until 2001 that 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 offences.