Death recorded live

I’d lost track of Naomi Wolf, the former political adviser who was reportedly well paid for helping Al Gore coordinate his wardrobe in the 2000 presidential campaign. Wolf appeared on BBC Radio 3 for an interview with Matthew Sweet to promote her new book, Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalization of Love. BBC Radio has posted the entire 54-minute Arts & Ideas episode here.

Historian and Spectator USA Life & Arts editor Dominic Green highlights what happened in the course of the interview in his column “False history from Naomi Wolf and Marc Lamont Hill.” This is how he presents that moment when Wolf was confronted with the proposition that her book got it exactly wrong on a basic point that she simply failed to ascertain and understand:

Did the Victorians execute dozens of men for sodomy?…[O]ld people across Britain choked on their cocoa as Wolf plugged her book Outrages on BBC Radio. Wolf, having visited the archives of the Old Bailey, London’s chief court, claims to have discovered “several dozen executions” of gay men in Victorian Britain, and has written a book about how awful the Victorians were.

The truth, host and historian Matthew Sweet explained to Wolf in an excruciating interview, is the opposite. The verdict “Death recorded,” which Wolf takes as proof of execution, was created in 1823 to allow judges to abstain pronouncing a death sentence. Worse, one of the men that Wolf describes as an “executed” victim of Victorian homophobia was prosecuted, and not executed, for raping a child.

Wolf seemed to take it in stride. She responded: “Well, that’s a really interesting thing to investigate.” Hey, I thought it was so interesting that you did investigate it. Green links to the tweet below.

The Amazon listing of Outrages holds Wolf out as the best-selling author of Vagina, a book that appears to have been about as well researched as Outrages. Maybe that’s why Vagina is now available in a revised and updated edition. Although Outrages has not yet hit its official publication date — according to Amazon, it is to be published on June 19 — it’s probably time to update Outrages too.

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