Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2014

Published In

Eighteenth Century


This article offers a reading of some texts that reflect what sodomy meant to this particular moment, that which followed the sodomy executions of 1726. I concentrate, in particular, on two: a polemical attack by a self-professed “Philogynus” published in a newspaper the week after the executions and a chapter of a half-fictional narrative supposedly penned by a celebrity criminal, James Dalton, who makes “pleasant and remarkable” adventures into the world of the mollies, accompanied by a man, Sukey Haws, who is “neither a downright Pick-pocket, a downright Sodomite, or a downright Bug, tho’ a Part of every one of them.” I proceed from the assumption that we can learn a lot about what these texts are doing by focusing on the moment when they are written and that this, in turn, can confound our assumptions about the cultural origins and range of anti-sodomitical sentiment. Key to my analysis is an attention to urbanity. The cultural afterlife of the executions in the public sphere of 1720s London tells us as much about the city as it does about sodomy. The private spaces that the mollies inhabited, the satirical texts that emerged to condemn them, the ideological tensions that formed around these descriptions: all were eminently urban, all moreover were features and events in the history of 1720s London. By embedding these texts into the culture and thought of 1720s London, we can better understand how the fear of the urban sodomite, as represented in the figure of the shameless, bestial molly, became part and parcel of the fear of urban life.


This work is freely available courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Press.

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