From New York Times bestselling author Naomi Wolf, Outrages explores the history of state-sponsored censorship and violations of personal freedoms through the inspiring, forgotten story of one writer’s refusal to stay silenced.
Released for the first time in North America on October 9, Outrages (newly updated and expanded) chronicles the struggles and eventual triumph of John Addington Symonds, a Victorian-era poet, biographer, and critic who penned what became a foundational text on our modern understanding of human gender orientation and LGBTQ+ legal rights, despite writing at a time when anything interpreted as homoerotic could be used as evidence in trials leading to harsh sentences under British law.
Wolf’s book is extremely relevant today for what it has to say about the vital importance of freedom of speech and the courageous roles of publishers and booksellers in an era of growing calls for censorship and ever-escalating state violations of privacy. At a time when the American Library Association, the Guardian, and other observers document national and global efforts from censoring LGBTQ+ voices in libraries to using anti-trans and homophobic sentiments cynically to win elections, the story of how such hateful efforts evolved from the past, to reach down to us now, is more important than ever.
Drawing on the work of a range of scholars of censorship and of LGBTQ+ legal history, Wolf depicts how state censorship, and state prosecution of same-gender relations, played out – decades before the infamous trial of Oscar Wilde – shadowing the lives of people who risked in ever-changing, targeted ways scrutiny by the criminal justice system. She shows how legal persecutions of writers, and of men who loved men affected Symonds and his contemporaries, all the while, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass was illicitly crossing the Atlantic and finding its way into the hands of readers who reveled in the American poet’s celebration of freedom, democracy, and unfettered love.
Inspired by Whitman, Symonds kept trying, stubbornly, to find a way to express his message – that love and relations between men were not “morbid” and deviant, but natural and even ennobling. He wrote a strikingly honest secret memoir written in code to embed hidden messages – which he embargoed for a generation after his death – and wrote the essay A Problem in Modern Ethics that was secretly shared in his lifetime and is now rightfully understood as one of the first gay rights manifestos in the English language.
Equal parts insightful historical critique and page-turning literary detective story, Wolf’s Outrages is above all an uplifting testament to the triumph of romantic love.
“A heartbreaking, eye-opening book…Outrages is revelatory in the way it brings together sometimes unbearably painful personal narratives with political and literary history…[a] remarkable book.” – Harper’s Bazaar
“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)…a fascinating look at this period and these writers.”
– Publishers Weekly
“[A] long-overdue literary investigation into censorship and the life of a tormented trailblazer, a prescient father of the modern gay rights movement.”
– Oprah Magazine
“Wolf provides engrossing accounts of Whitman and Symonds, yet her story is even more compelling in its wider portrait of the societies and institutions in America as well as England that served to shape the fears and prejudices that have lingered into our modern age. An absorbing and thoughtfully researched must-read for anyone interested in the history of censorship and issues relating to gay male gender identity.”
– Kirkus Reviews