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The bestselling author of The Beauty Myth, Vagina and The End of America illuminates a dramatic history - how the Obscene Publications Act of 1857 led to a maelstrom, with reverberations lasting to our day.
At once, dissent and morality, deviancy and normalcy, became modern legal concepts: if writers, editors, printers and booksellers did not uphold the law and the morals of society they faced serious repercussions.
Wolf depicts the ways this censorship played out - decades before the infamous trial of Oscar Wilde - among a bohemian group of 'sexual dissidents', including Walt Whitman in America and the English critic John Addington Symonds, who fell in love with Whitman's homoerotic voice in Leaves of Grass. This was a dangerous love, as dire prison terms and even executions became penalties for such love, even if only expressed on the page.
Algernon Charles Swinburne, Dante and Christina Rossetti, Walter Pater and painter Simeon Solomon were among the artists whose lives were shadowed with jeopardy. But Wolf also reveals how, cleverly, they crafted their works to avoid the censor.
Wolf recounts how a dying Symonds, inspired by his love for Whitman, helped to write the book on 'sexual inversion' one of the foundations of our modern understanding of homosexuality. By shining a light on his secret memoir, rightfully understood as one of the first gay rights manifestos in the west, Outrages also shows how the literature of love ultimately triumphs over censorship.
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.