Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalization of Love

Houghton Harcourt. Jun. 2019. 400p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780544274020. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780544273344. HIST
The last half of the 19th century saw Britain enforcing increasingly strict obscenity laws. Homosexuality went from something private and unprosecuted to a crime that could put someone in jail for years. By the end of century, writing a letter that could potentially influence the recipient to behave in an effeminate manner or engage in homosexuality was a prosecutable offense. Wolf (The Beauty Myth) documents the rise and fall of British obscenity laws, focusing primarily on their impact on the literature of the time. At the center of the book is the life and work of John Addington Symonds, a little-known poet and critic who had an admiration for and epistolary relationship with Walt Whitman. The work is primarily concerned with Symonds's expression of homosexual desire in his writing and the importance of this in the history of gay rights. However, such a myopic reading of both Symonds and the obscenity laws that forced him into self-censorship often feels as though the whole picture (whether that be Symonds or the obscenity laws) is not on full display.
VERDICT Nonetheless, this is an engaging and important read for anyone interested in LGBTQ history. [See Prepub Alert, 10/8/18.]

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