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‘Outrages’ book cancelled over factual error

Acclaimed writer and feminist Naomi Wolf’s latest book has been sensationally cancelled in the US after a major factual error was discovered.

Publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced that they and Wolf have “mutually and amicably agreed to part company” and that Houghton would not be releasing the US edition of Outrages.

Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalisation of Love, centres on the treatment of gay people in Victorian England. At its core is supposed examples Wolf had discovered of “several dozen executions” of men convicted of sodomy in Britain, the last being in the 1830s.

But during a promotional tour for the book in the UK in May, BBC interviewer Matthew Sweet pointed out to Wolf that she had misinterpreted the legal term “death recorded” found in historical documents, assuming it meant men had been executed for being gay.

However it actually means the opposite — that the judge abstained from pronouncing the death sentence and the prisoner was pardoned.

“I don’t think any of the executions you’ve identified here actually happened,” Sweet told a stunned Wolf.

The US publisher initially planned to publish Outrages in June, but decided to postpone its release after the mistake came to light, announcing that “new questions have arisen.”

Wolf, the author of a number of best-selling books including The Beauty Myth has acknowledged some errors, but contended they were fixable and openly objected to the postponement.

She even promoted Outrages on her own in the US, with attendees offered the chance to buy the UK edition.

At that event in New York City in June, Wolf said of the debacle:

“I had read death recorded as meaning death recorded. The death penalty was the law of the land until 1861, [but] I misunderstood the phrase,” according to The Guardian.

“The bottom line is that [Sweet] did me a favour by identifying a misreading that I corrected.

“I don’t feel humiliated but I’m grateful for the correction. I feel great responsibility and humility about this history.”

Publishers rarely fact-check books, citing time and expense.

Wolf, known for such bestsellers as Misconceptions, has had her scholarship challenged before.

In The Beauty Myth, she wrote that anorexia caused the deaths of 150,000 women a year, a number widely regarded as inflated.

The rights for Outrages have been reverted to Wolf, who can now pursue a deal with a new publisher.


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