Virago says it stands by Naomi Wolf and the thesis for her book but will make “any necessary corrections” after she was accused on the BBC of misunderstanding a key legal term.
The author appeared on Radio 3 to discuss Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalisation of Love (Virago) and was challenged by historian Dr Matthew Sweet over claims in the work that, after 1857, there were “several dozen” executions of men for homosexual sex in the UK.
Her claim was mainly based on Old Bailey records showing sentences of “death recorded” had been imposed.
But Sweet told her she had misunderstood the records, quoting one particular case of a 14-year-old who was reported in her book as being executed in 1859 for committing sodomy. He told her the boy was not executed at all and he was later discharged.
Quoting the Old Bailey definition, he told her “death recorded” was a category that actually allowed judges to abstain from pronouncing the death sentence if the subject was “a fit subject for pardon”.
“I don’t think any of the executions you’ve identified here actually happened,” he said.
Appearing to acknowledge this could be a mistake, she replied: “Well that’s a really important thing to investigate.”
He then told her the teenager in question had committed an indecent assault on a six-year-old boy and served a two-and-a-half year sentence, adding he couldn’t find any evidence that any of the cases mentioned in the book were consensual. Wolf said she would “update the book accordingly”.
In a statement, Virago said: “Virago stand by their author Naomi Wolf and the thesis of her book Outrages which is based on her Oxford PHD. With Naomi Wolf and her American publisher Houghton Mifflin we will make any necessary corrections.”
At the Hay Festival, Wolf stood by her main thesis but acknowledged she had made several errors, the Guardian reported.
She said: “Some of you may have seen that there has been a healthy debate about two errors I did make in this book, and they’re on page 71 and 72. Hang on to your copies because it will be a collectors’ item because it will not [be] in the next printing.”