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.
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