Publisher scraps book on historic gay persecution after errors exposed

Access to the comments Comments
By Reuters
Naomi Wolf's book has was excoriated by the New York Times
Naomi Wolf's book has was excoriated by the New York Times

A publisher has canceled a book by American author Naomi Wolf on gay persecution in 19th century Britain after the work was exposed as having several errors.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) and the author "have mutually and amicably agreed to part company," the publisher said 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.