Tuesday, June 26, 2018
This is a terrific story, full of historic detail, plot twists, and much to reflect on.
It is London in the 1830s. John Alcorn is a freelance reporter, a "penny-a-liner." His specialty is the criminal courts because, then as now, scandal is always popular. He is in the gallery when Charles Stanbridge is brought into the courtroom. This fine, outstanding married gentleman has been accused of indecent assault, which is a reduced version of the charge of "the infamous crime," alias, homosexuality. That greater offense could get a man sentenced to exile or even death.
Alcorn offers to sell his story on the case to the defendant, rather that to the press, a form of extortion which is perfectly legal. But when Stanbridge apparently kills himself the reporter feels guilt and tries to learn more about the case.
And so he, and we, find out a good deal about the secret life of what we would call gay men, but what in this era were called sods or Mary Anns. As I said there are plot twists I never saw coming, but the whole story is fascinating.