Naomi Wolf loves suppressed books; she loves them so much that she’s managed to suppress her own. One way of extinguishing a brilliant idea is to smother it under an enormous quantity of misinformation. Another is to discredit the author. In her new book Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalization of Love, Wolf seems to have accomplished both.
The signal error, grabbing headlines immediately upon the book’s release, was her claim that “several dozen” men inVictorian England were executed for sodomy. They were not: the last were hanged in 1835. Wolf’s error was the result of an understandable but embarrassing misreading of the legal arcana: taking “death recorded” to indicate a completed execution rather than the mere documentation of a formal sentence that the judge expected to see commuted. The goof was made known to Wolf in a most public way, in the midst of a BBC interview. This led to the recall of the first British printing and the delayed release of the US edition. Some observers took the opportunity to soak in the schadenfreude, but I suspect a larger number started quietly humming “There but for Fortune.” I know I did.