Naomi Wolf’s Outrages establishes the context for [John Addington] Symonds’s desperate efforts to justify his own sexual feelings... With intelligence and flair, Wolf uses the various responses to Whitman to show the levels of intense need in the decades after the publication of Leaves of Grass for images and books that would rescue homosexuality from increasing public disapproval... The value of Outrages comes from Wolf’s constant placing of the brutal response to homosexuality in context. She studies the repression of homosexuality in relation to attitudes towards divorce and prostitution, and also in relation to the censorship of books. The Obscene Publications Act of 1857 was a landmark piece of legislation that not only allowed the courts to seize books on suspicion that they were obscene, without defining obscenity, but was also part of the climate of Victorian oppression that Wolf surveys... While concealment may have nourished the work of James and Wilde, it did nothing for most other gay people in these years, as the story of Symonds makes abundantly clear.
In the latter part of 1894, A E Housman drafted a poem in which he complained about the state’s interference in the private lives of men such as himself. ‘Let God and man decree/Laws for themselves and not for me,’ he wrote. ‘Their deeds I judge and much condemn,/Yet when did I make laws for them?’ Naomi Wolf’s aptly titled Outrages shows how several such laws were introduced in Britain in the second half of the 19th century in a flurry of parliamentary acts intended to regulate people’s personal conduct... Wolf’s unravelling and reconstructing of these ‘sodomitical’ poems provides one of the most fascinating elements of her wide-ranging book... Whitman provides a useful transatlantic perspective in Outrages, but a more important figure here is the British writer John Addington Symonds, one of the subjects of the doctoral thesis Wolf wrote at Oxford... Alongside her two principals, Wolf draws numerous other people, books and institutions into her story, including Boulton and Park, Simeon Solomon, Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant, Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market and Dr Kahn’s Anatomical and Pathological Museum... Imaginatively researched, entertainingly written and enjoyably indignant, Outrages is a sobering and timely book.