Sodom on the Thames: Sex, Love, and Scandal in Wilde Times

Morris B. Kaplan, Author Cornell University Press $35 (314p) ISBN 978-0-8014-3678-9
Though it has the trappings of a scholarly cult classic, Kaplan's look at the budding world of cross-dressing, transgenderism and male homosexuality that crossed the strict class lines of Victorian London can hook even the most unaware reader. Kaplan, a philosophy professor and the author of Sexual Justice: Democratic Citizenship and the Politics of Desire, draws on three major episodes involving sex between men (or the strong suspicion of it) to weave an intriguing, amusing and occasionally disturbing narrative of sexual controversy in staunchly conservative times. Kaplan painstakingly reconstructs Eton headmaster William Johnson Cory's shameful resignation after accusations of homosexual behavior surfaced in 1871; Kaplan even includes letters Cory wrote to a student that contain a clear ""plaint of the disappointed lover."" The cases can also be subversively funny, especially that of Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton, cross-dressers known as ""Fanny"" and ""Stella,"" who were brought up on sodomy conspiracy charges in 1871. Famous for their female portrayals and infamous for frequenting clubs in feminine garb to solicit unknowing men, the term ""drag"" was first used to refer to the pair and their contemporaries. Kaplan's most impressive achievement is his ability to tell the story without judging; indeed, he shows a great deal of compassion for his real-life characters. This readable, eye-opening book will surely appeal to history buffs looking to learn something a little queer about the Victorian age.
Reviewed on: 09/01/2005
Release date: 09/01/2005
Paperback - 328 pages - 978-0-8014-7792-8
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