ABOUT THIS BOOK
Sexual blackmail first reached public notice in the late eighteenth century when laws against sodomy were exploited by the unscrupulous to extort money from those they could entrap. Angus McLaren chronicles this parasitic crime, tracing its expansion in England and the United States through the Victorian era and into the first half of the twentieth century. The labeling of certain sexual acts as disreputable, if not actually criminal--abortion, infidelity, prostitution, and homosexuality--armed would-be blackmailers and led to a crescendo of court cases and public scandals in the 1920s and 1930s. As the importance of sexual respectability was inflated, so too was the spectacle of its loss.
Charting the rise and fall of sexual taboos and the shifting tides of shame, McLaren enables us to survey evolving sexual practices and discussions. He has mined the archives to tell his story through a host of fascinating characters and cases, from male bounders to designing women, from badger games to gold diggers, from victimless crimes to homosexual outing. He shows how these stories shocked, educated, entertained, and destroyed the lives of their victims. He also demonstrates how muckraking journalists, con men, and vengeful women determined the boundaries of sexual respectability and damned those considered deviant. Ultimately, the sexual revolution of the 1960s blurred the long-rigid lines of respectability, leading to a rapid decline of blackmail fears. This fascinating view of the impact of regulating sexuality from the late Victorian Age to our own time demonstrates the centrality of blackmail to sexual practices, deviance, and the law.
This book brilliantly explores the parallel historical expansion of sexual propriety and blackmail, the one making the other profitable until the onset of modern sexual tolerance put the blackmailers out of business. McLaren writes first-rate comparative legal and sexual history with wit, erudition, and considerable doses of irony.
-- Robert A. Nye, Oregon State University
Sexual Blackmail is an original, timely, and illuminating study of a pervasive sexualized and criminalized cultural practice. McLaren offers a riveting narrative, with arguments supported by rich, evocative, and illustrative examples. A superbly written and finely researched history of a fascinating subject.
-- Judith Allen, Indiana University
By culling examples from the New York Times and the Times of London, legal reports, film TV and tabloids, McLaren shows not just how sexual blackmail reflects social mores, but also the ways in which sexual deceit and secrecy have affected legislation...The book tracks sexual blackmail from repressive Victorian times to today, when exposure of sexual secrets if far less damaging...Deftly organized and full of gripping facts and critique, Sexual Blackmail makes reading history a wicked indulgence.
-- Lily Burana Washington Post
The central premise of this carefully researched volume is that sexual blackmail--the attempt to extort money by threatening to expose sexual secrets--has a past. McLaren...has delved extensively into court documents and news archives to furnish hundreds of examples of his subject...McLaren's most useful cautionary tale is that blackmail flares up in times when widely practiced sex acts are most stigmatized.
-- Publishers Weekly
McLaren...offers a fascinating account of blackmail in England and America, showing that it both reflected and influenced society's sexual values.
-- Deirdre Bray Root Library Journal
One suspects that an examination of sexual blackmail in the United States and Britain must reveal a great deal about differing attitudes to sex in general, and indeed Angus McLaren's Sexual Blackmail--which addresses these two countries alone--does constitute a fascinating comparative study of sexual values...An excellent history: vividly argued, richly textured, widely focused and thought-provoking.
-- Sarah Bakewell Times Literary Supplement
McLaren's book is a fascinating account of shifting power relations, influenced by largely unconscious assumptions about class, race and gender...It is a powerful reminder of a vanished world in which desperate women and gay men were persecuted, and judicial attempts to police private life were far more corrupting than the practices they sought to prevent.
-- Joan Smith The Observer
A fascinating new study...[McLaren] introduces us to a gallery of persistent blackmailers, like Dapper Dan Collins, who led an American extortion gang 80 years ago...[He] sees the history of Europe and North America through the prisms offered by sexual experience and laws related to sex...McLaren uses the rich material he's uncovered as a way to understand sexuality in modern history.
-- Robert Fulford National and Financial Post
As [McLaren] shows in this meticulous and detailed excavation of a painful history, people suffer doubly when their consensual, private erotic needs are denied or distorted by a hypocritical culture: first by being forced to hide or deny their desires; second by being exposed to the insidious forms of sexual blackmail.
-- Jeffrey Weeks Times Higher Education Supplement
Angus McLaren's book is full of fascinating stories
McLaren argues that sexual blackmail is unique to the modern period
[T]his book provides a wealth of rich evidence that establishes the cultural prominence of stories about sexual blackmail in the years in which sexuality began to take a modern form.
-- Stephen Robertson Journal of American History
Angus McLaren's account of modern sexual blackmail is extravagantly detailed. It confirms the view of legal scholars that sexual blackmail as a crime emerged out of a "sodomite" subculture of the eighteenth century
With increasing acceptance of sexual minorities, and the declining stigmatization of behavior that was hitherto regarded as deviant, McLaren suggests that sexual blackmail has died out.
-- H. G. Cocks Journal of Contemporary History