Wolf's "Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalization of Love," coming out from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt next month, describes severe punishment for gays in the 19th century. But her contention that dozens in England were executed under sodomy law was questioned during a recent BBC conversation with historian Matthew Sweet, author of "Inventing the Victorians." Sweet noted that sodomy laws didn't only refer to gays, but also to the abuse of children.
He also pointed out that Wolf had misinterpreted the term "death recorded," which the author had assumed meant the accused was executed. "Death recorded" meant the sentence was documented, but not carried out.
In a statement Friday, Wolf's publisher said that "While HMH employs professional editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders for each book project, we rely ultimately on authors for the integrity of their research and fact-checking. Despite this unfortunate error we believe the overall thesis of the book 'Outrages' still holds. We are discussing corrections with the author."
Publishers rarely fact-check books, citing time and expense.
Wolf is known for best-sellers such as "The Beauty Myth" and "Misconceptions." She responded on the air to Sweet by saying he had made an "important point" and later tweeted that she had fixed passages referring, erroneously, to two men being executed. She has also defended herself on Twitter, linking to a 1978 article in The Historical Journal that refers to over 50 executions in Britain under sodomy law in the early 19th century. (The author of that piece, A.D. Harvey, later became notorious for fabricating a meeting between Dickens and Dostoevsky).
As of midday Friday, Sweet had not responded, but in an earlier tweet praised her for being "generous enough to revisit her research."
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