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  July 10, 2000

Turley's Study of Pirates
Examines Sexual Stereotypes

From Blackbeard to Captain Hook, old and young alike are bombarded with images of pirates as almost mythical figures. But how did pirates, a very real threat to trade, come to be viewed as the common enemy of all mankind?

In Rum, Sodomy and the Lash: Piracy, Sexuality and Masculine Identity, Hans Turley, an assistant professor of English, explores the evolution of the portrayal of pirates as hyper-masculine transgressors against society and that depiction's relation to sexuality.

In the book (New York University Press, 1999), Turley examines the ways in which the press, trial records, pirates' confessions and other primary sources established the pirate as an anti-hero. According to Turley, conflicting views of pirates as villains and as people worthy of admiration merged to create the first anti-hero.

Turley also looks at the way pirates have been eroticized during the past several hundred years. The pirate was seen as a transgressor who lived in an all-male world that wasn't bound by conventional norms, but his sexuality was rarely discussed.

The pirate's sexual behavior was either regarded as unspeakable, which Turley says is unlikely, or was considered normal by the pirates. However, the pirates' sexuality is not as important as what it says about society, Turley notes.

In 18th-century literature, sexuality became a component of identity. Sodomites were defined by their sexuality and criminalized for it, Turley says. If the extremely masculine pirates could have been sodomites, it changes the opinion that only heterosexuals could be masculine.

"I hope the book will start people thinking about sexuality in different ways and 18th-century literature in a different way," Turley says.

Turley joined the UConn faculty in fall 1998. He received his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Washington, where he wrote his doctoral dissertation on piracy, sexuality and identity in Daniel Defoe's novels.

Allison Thompson