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Book in Progress: Abstract

My new book, “Illegal Bodies: Law and Emotion in the Work of Tennessee Williams,” positions American playwright Tennessee Williams and his work within the context of sodomy laws that criminalized a range of non-procreative consensual sex acts and rendered the homosexual’s body, the prostitute’s body, and the adulterer’s body illegal. An openly gay man whose successful Broadway plays were staged in the decades following World War II, Williams represented himself and his characters as “degenerates,” criminals whose sexual acts were described in judicial opinions as “disgusting” and “unnatural.” Importing legal language and situations into his imaginative texts, he acknowledged his era’s restrictive sociosexual mores while presenting complex figures worthy of compassion, thus narrowing the distance between his characters and his audiences. His work undermined cultural support of statutes legislating sexuality, fostered acceptance of marginalized individuals and groups, and fueled the social movements that led to the repeal of restrictive laws.