Sodom on the Thames: Sex, Love, and Scandal in Wilde Times (Paperback)Morris B. Kaplan (author)
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Sodom on the Thames looks closely at three episodes involving sex between men in late-nineteenth-century England. Morris Kaplan draws on extensive research into court records, contemporary newspaper accounts, personal correspondence and diaries, even a pornographic novel. He focuses on two notorious scandals and one quieter incident.
In 1871, transvestites "Stella" (Ernest Boulton) and "Fanny" (Frederick Park), who had paraded around London's West End followed by enthusiastic admirers, were tried for conspiracy to commit sodomy. In 1889-1890, the "Cleveland Street affair" revealed that telegraph delivery boys had been moonlighting as prostitutes for prominent gentlemen, one of whom fled abroad. In 1871, Eton schoolmaster William Johnson resigned in disgrace, generating shockwaves among the young men in his circle whose romantic attachments lasted throughout their lives. Kaplan shows how profoundly these scandals influenced the trials of Oscar Wilde in 1895 and contributed to growing anxiety about male friendships.
Sodom on the Thames reconstructs these incidents in rich detail and gives a voice to the diverse people involved. It deepens our understanding of late Victorian attitudes toward urban culture, masculinity, and male homoeroticism. Kaplan also explores the implications of such historical narratives for the contemporary politics of sexuality.
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Number of pages: 328
Weight: 510 g
Dimensions: 229 x 152 x 20 mm
"An engaging study of sexual scandal in late-nineteenth-century England. . . . Kaplan revels in the engrossing detail of the legal process, the attendant publicity, and the political fallout. . . . He is a good storyteller and he has good stories to tell. . . . His is a highly entertaining, superbly written, and thought-provoking book. Scholars of homosexuality will be grateful for the mass of informative detail, but it is accessible to and deserving of a much broader readership."-Journal of the History of Sexuality
"Kaplan makes a strong argument about the role of class and culture in the interpretation of nineteenth-century homosexuality that will engage the specialist as well as the more general reader. Sodom on the Thames is both highly readable and analytically sophisticated."-Victorian Studies
"Sodom on the Thames is an extraordinary achievement: a witty book about a serious subject. With flair and originality, Morris B. Kaplan shows us how sexuality and gender were not only constructed in Wilde's time in the discursive practices of nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century England, but also in the dress, streets, and cafes in which people sought to make sense of who they were in their intimate lives. This is a book for any audience and is necessary reading in fields as wide ranging as anthropology, philosophy, political science, and women's studies."-Drucilla Cornell, Professor of Political Science, Comparative Literature, and Women and Gender Studies, Rutgers University
"In four detailed case studies, all based on archival work, Morris B. Kaplan explores a complex network of loyal romantic friends, brazen cross-dressers, upper-class male brothels-and astonishing legal decisions. His analysis of Eton College friendships uncovers a potent mixture of politics and sex among the most powerful men of the late nineteenth century. Kaplan is always sensitive to the ways in which the past is a different country, but also strangely familiar to us. In this very readable book, fresh, unexpected connections reveal the pervasive importance of male erotic friendship in the Victorian period."-Martha Vicinus, Eliza M. Mosher Distinguished University Professor, University of Michigan
"This is a book of stories. One after the other they are presented to the reader: the memoirs of Symonds, the spectacular career of Boulton and Park, the Cleveland Street scandals, the lives and times of William Johnson Cory and Reginald Brett. Morris B. Kaplan has gathered new material from the archives and has consolidated the work of biographers and historians: the result is a compelling, original, and often exhilarating work of historical recovery. Sodom on the Thames is a consistently interesting, often spellbinding, portrait of late-Victorian life."-Michael Levenson, William B. Christian Professor of Modern Literature and Critical Theory, University of Virginia
"Sodom on the Thames is a fascinating book about several notorious trials dealing with homosexuality. The first, about cross-dressing, was as early as 1871. Others concern a male brothel in London in 1889-1890 and, most famously, those of Oscar Wilde in 1895. Since these trials occurred in Britain, class plays a crucial role on both sides of the street-it drives both the prosecution of the well-off and their protection. Morris B. Kaplan juxtaposes the public world of the courtroom in intriguing ways to the private homoerotic Eton world of William Johnson Cory, Reginald Brett, and their friends. The reader learns much about sexuality and even love, the differences of the past, and the similarities to the present, perhaps most evident in a 'modern' figure, the rather heroic John Saul, a 'professional sodomite.'"-Peter Stansky, Stanford University