The bestselling author of The Beauty Myth, Vagina and The End of America chronicles the struggles and eventual triumph of John Addington Symonds, a Victorian-era poet, biographer, and critic who penned what became a foundational text on our modern understanding of human sexual orientation and LGBTQ+ legal rights.
In Outrages, Naomi Wolf chronicles the struggles and eventual triumph of John Addington Symonds, a Victorian-era poet, biographer, and critic who penned what became a foundational text on our modern understanding of human sexual orientation and LGBTQ+ legal rights, despite writing at a time when anything interpreted as homoerotic could be used as evidence in trials leading to harsh sentences under British law. Wolf's book is extremely relevant today for what it has to say about the vital importance of freedom of speech and the courageous roles of publishers and booksellers in an era of growing calls for censorship and ever-escalating state violations of privacy. At a time when the American Library Association, the Guardian, and other observers document national and global efforts from censoring LGBTQ+ voices in libraries to using anti-trans and homophobic sentiments cynically to win elections, the story of how such hateful efforts evolved from the past, to reach down to us now, is more important than ever.
Drawing on the work of a range of scholars of censorship and of LGBTQ+ legal history, Wolf depicts how state censorship, and state prosecution of same-sex sexuality, played out-decades before the infamous trial of Oscar Wilde-shadowing the lives of people who risked in ever-changing, targeted ways scrutiny by the criminal justice system. She shows how legal persecutions of writers, and of men who loved men affected Symonds and his contemporaries, all the while, Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass was illicitly crossing the Atlantic and finding its way into the hands of readers who reveled in the American poet's celebration of freedom, democracy, and unfettered love. Inspired by Whitman, Symonds kept trying, stubbornly, to find a way to express his message-that love and sex between men were not 'morbid' and deviant, but natural and even ennobling. He wrote a strikingly honest secret memoir written in code to embed hidden messages-which he embargoed for a generation after his death - and wrote the essay A Problem in Modern Ethics that was secretly shared in his lifetime and is now rightfully understood as one of the first gay rights manifestos in the English language. Equal parts insightful historical critique and page-turning literary detective story, Wolf's Outrages is above all an uplifting testament to the triumph of romantic love.
This ambitious literary, biographical, and historical treatise from Wolf (The Beauty Myth) examines both 19th-century Britain's persecution of gay men and the work and life of the relatively obscure gay writer John Addington Symonds (1840 1893). The book is partly a group biography of gay writers; Wolf links Symonds with Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde literarily and socially and follows all three men's lives and fortunes in historical context. The historical parts of the book argue that the burgeoning 19th-century feminist movement in Britain indirectly contributed to the censorship and persecution of homosexuals, for example with the inclusion of a ban on male-male sexual activity tacked on to a bill intended to reduce sex trafficking of young girls and a divorce reform bill's inclusion of "sodomy" as one of the few reasons a wife could divorce her husband. The book is also partly a scholarly mystery Wolf tracks down and deciphers codes Symonds used to "express his messages about love between men" in poems, pamphlet on sexual inversion, and scholarly works on love (including male-male love) in Greek poetry. This lively, complicated work may not convince all readers of a causal relationship between feminist progress and persecution of gay Britons, but it will give them a fascinating look at this period and these writers. \nEditor's note: This review was based on an advance copy supplied by the publisher. As of June 2019, the book's publication has been delayed indefinitely while the text is updated, and PW may re-review the updated version when it becomes available.