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Stand Back and Enjoy His Fall

From our 21st century perspective, we have found it hard to sympathize with Thomas—but season three has changed all that. Tara Austen Weaver reports on a crucial plot element that comes to a turning point for Thomas in episode six.


Did you ever think you’d feel sorry for Thomas? Thomas—the guy who shot his hand through to leave the war, who sabotaged Bates at every turn. Snide, supercilious Thomas! Oh, how the mighty have fallen. O’Brien says, “Stand back and enjoy his fall,” but really, it’s hard to.


Let’s get down to brass tacks. How dire was his situation? England has not always been accepting to those attracted to the same sex.


  • In 1533 the British Buggery Act (I’m not making that title up, I swear), punished male gay sex by hanging.
  • The death penalty was removed in 1861, but homosexuality was still punishable by imprisonment. Thus, in the 1920s, Thomas could have been tossed in the clink for his advances on James (perhaps in a cell just next to Bates).
  • As late as the 1950s, police were actively enforcing laws prohibiting relations between men. Oddly enough, lesbians were never targeted.  
  • The tide turns in 1957. The Wolfenden Report recommends same sex relations between consenting adults in private should not be a criminal offense. The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke up in support of the report (!!!), and the Homosexual Law Reform Society was founded to lobby for its adoption.
  • Ten years later the Sexual Offences Bill of 1967 was approved. Some same-sex relations were allowed, after the age of 21, by mutual consent, and in private (hotel rooms were prohibited). It wouldn’t be until 2001 that the age of consent was lowered to 16—on par with the hetero age of consent.


And just this month, British Parliament passed a marriage bill that will legalize same-sex unions by 2015. Today, Thomas and James could be planning their wedding!


But really, that James is awful. Thomas, you could do so much better.