Before Wilde: Sex between Men in Britain’s Age of Reform
by Charles Upchurch
University of California Press. 276 pages, $45.
THIS INSIGHTFUL BOOK is an illuminating study of London in the early to mid-19th century. Charles Upchurch, assistant professor of history at Florida State University, examines the court documents and newspaper accounts of criminal cases of men accused of homosexual acts. The evidence demonstrates, in his words, that “there was no single, unified understanding of sex between men” during this time; rather, people’s reactions to these cases, especially those of the families of the men accused, differed depending on their class standing. While such cases were generally condemned and the suspects excoriated by the vast majority of people, those in the upper echelons of society, having been exposed to positive role models of homosexual conduct in ancient works, tended to be somewhat sympathetic toward associates who were accused of such crimes. Indeed, men from the upper class could request that their case be heard before special juries, drawn only from men of similar background.