Naomi Wolf: US publisher cancels book release after accuracy concerns

Naomi Wolf, American author, during the 2019 Hay Festival on May 25Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Dr Wolf admitted her “misinterpretations” following the BBC interview

The US publisher of a new book by Naomi Wolf has cancelled its release after accuracy concerns were raised.

Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalisation of Love details the persecution of homosexuality in Victorian Britain.

But during a BBC radio interview in May, it came to light that the author had misunderstood key 19th Century English legal terms within the book.

Publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said their parting was “amicable”.

Following the BBC radio interview, Wolf admitted there were “misinterpretations” in her book.

Her UK publisher, Virago, had already published the book by the time the interview was broadcast, but said it would make “necessary corrections” to future reprints.

However, US publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt delayed publication, and has now cancelled it altogether, according to the New York Times.

Dr Wolf is best known for her acclaimed third-wave feminist book The Beauty Myth and other works such as Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries.

Her new book argues that the British Obscene Publications Act of 1857 led to homosexual persecution in Britain getting worse.

But, during an interview on BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking programme, presenter Matthew Sweet questioned key claims within it.

Media captionMatthew Sweet questions some of Naomi Wolf’s evidence in her new book Outrages

Dr Wolf alleged she had discovered that “several dozen” men were executed for having homosexual sex during the 19th Century.

“I don’t think you’re right about this,” Sweet replied, before detailing the term “death recorded” in fact meant that judges had abstained from handing down a death sentence.

“I don’t think any of the executions you’ve identified here actually happened,” he said.

In one particular case, he pointed out a 14-year-old boy had been discharged and not executed as she had detailed.

Sweet also raised questions over her interpretation of the surrounding “sodomy” – revealing the teenager had in fact committed an indecent assault against a six-year-old boy, and not a consensual homosexual act.

“I can’t find any evidence that any of the relationships you describe were consensual,” he added.

In June, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt told the New York Times it was delaying the publication of Dr Wolf’s book in order to have time to “resolve those questions” raised about its content. They added then that they still intended to publish it in due course.

Follow us on Facebook, on Twitter @BBCNewsEnts, or at bbcnewsents. If you have a story suggestion email