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Visions of Sodom

Religion, Homoerotic Desire, and the End of the World in England, c. 1550-1850

Visions of Sodom

Religion, Homoerotic Desire, and the End of the World in England, c. 1550-1850

The book of Genesis records the fiery fate of Sodom and Gomorrah—a storm of fire and brimstone was sent from heaven and, for the wickedness of the people, God destroyed the cities “and all the plains, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.” According to many Protestant theologians and commentators, one of the Sodomites’ many crimes was homoerotic excess.

In Visions of Sodom, H. G. Cocks examines the many different ways in which the story of Sodom’s destruction provided a template for understanding homoerotic desire and behaviour in Britain between the Reformation and the nineteenth century. Sodom was not only a marker of sexual sins, but also the epitome of false—usually Catholic—religion, an exemplar of the iniquitous city, a foreshadowing of the world’s fiery end, an epitome of divine and earthly punishment, and an actual place that could be searched for and discovered. Visions of Sodom investigates each of these ways of reading Sodom’s annihilation in the three hundred years after the Reformation. The centrality of scripture to Protestant faith meant that Sodom’s demise provided a powerful origin myth of homoerotic desire and sexual excess, one that persisted across centuries, and retains an apocalyptic echo in the religious fundamentalism of our own time.


“This is a powerful and important book. As St. Paul insisted, sodomy was a crime not to be named and so homoerotic desire quickly became screened by hyperbolic accusations of all kinds of iniquity. In disentangling these complexities, Cocks demonstrates not only how the ‘story of Sodom’s destruction is central to the history of homoerotic desire,’ but how its various inflections have been shaped by religious, political and cultural contingencies.”

Times Higher Education

Visions of Sodom by H. G. Cocks redraws the map of a terrain many of us thought we knew well: the history of sodomy in early modern Europe. What emerges powerfully from this beautifully conceived and densely textured study on England is that theology, prophecy, and millenarianism, with their histories, continued to matter well throughout the period. A rare and superb achievement as well as a stunning read.”

Helmut Puff, University of Michigan

“This lucid and fascinating study richly illuminates its subject. Cocks learnedly traces sodomy’s complex cultural roles and homoerotic applications from its ancient conceptual origins through the ensuing centuries into our present. He has superbly enhanced our knowledge of Western cultural, intellectual, and sexual history.”

Kenneth Borris, McGill University

"As insightful on English Protestant theology and English national identity as it is on the place of homoerotic desires within British culture, this is an original and well-researched study that deserves a wide readership."

The Historian

"Cocks argues that English Protestant thought in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries assembled an argument against sodomy as peculiarly a sin of the papists and a sign of the coming apocalypse, and that the early eighteenth-century Societies for the Reformation of Manners used the same argument against the unprecedented wave of early eighteenth-century sodomy and that these cases could not therefore have signalled the beginning of a modern sexual system."

The English Historical Review

Table of Contents

1. The Roman Sodom
2. City of Destruction
3. The End of the World
4. Laws
5. Histories
6. Lust and Morality in the (Long) Eighteenth Century
7. The Discovery of Sodom, 1851
Conclusion: The End

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