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. (June)
Editor'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.
Reviewed on : 03/29/2019 Release date: 01/22/2019 Genre: Nonfiction
During the Covid-19 crisis, Publishers Weekly is providing free digital access to our magazine, archive, and website. To receive the access to the latest issue delivered to your inbox free each week, enter your email below.