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Carpenter, Edward (1844-1929), British campaigner for homosexual equality and socialist writer

  • Carpenter, Edward, 1844-1929.
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Letter-card to Frieda, from Edward Carpenter (1844-1929). Written from Holmesfield, 30 July 1908



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1 file ( 1 item)

Acquisition note

Purchased from Sotheby's, London, July 1932 (acc.65271)

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Edward Carpenter (1844-1929), campaigner for homosexual equality and socialist writer, was born in Brighton into a wealthy west-country family. In 1864, he entered Trinity Hall, Cambridge, with the intention of being ordained. He won the College prize in 1866 for his essay "On the continuation of modern civilization", and in 1869 the Burney prize at Cambridge for his essay "The Religious influence of art". He was ordained in 1870, and served as a curate to Frederick Denison Maurice, but finding liberal Anglicanism to be not broad enough, he joined thirty three other clerics, in a memorial presented to Gladstone in 1870 seeking the freedom to resign clerical orders. The Clerical Disabilities Relief Act was passed in 1870. Carpenter became heavily influenced by the ideas of Walt Whitman and a visit to Paris shortly after the suppression of the Paris commune. In 1874, he took advantage of the Clerical Disabilities Relief Act, and relinquished his orders in 1874.

In October 1874, he began to lecture astronomy at Leeds and other northern towns for the university extension scheme. In 1877, he visited Whitman in New Jersey and met some of the New England celebrities: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and John Burroughs. Carpenter adopted a more natural way of living- becoming mainly a vegetarian and a teetotaller and following John Rushkin's experiment at St George's Farm, in May 1880 he took lodgings with Albert Fearnehough, a scythe maker, and his family at Totley, near Sheffield. Fearnehough became his lover and the long-delayed fulfilment of his sexual needs was attained at last. Carpenter's sexual liberation was accompanied by his conviction of spiritual freedom and equality and in 1883 he published anonymously his work Towards Democracy .

The death of his father brought Carpenter some £6000, which he used to set himself up as a market gardener in 1882. He began in 1883 to play a role in the nascent socialist movement, writing an important tract, Modern Money-Lending and the Meaning of Dividents (1883), which presents a world of surplus value from which the moneyed class could extricate themselves by adopting a simple mode of living, and by starting co-operative production or disseminating ideas on the subject. He joined the Democratic Federation founded by Hyndman and contributed £300 to it organ Justice . In 1886, Carpenter prepared a programme asserting independence from national socialist bodies for the Sheffield Socialist Society. In 1889, his new year's Fabian lecture of 1889 came out as a book, Civilization: its Cause and Cure (1889), in which he described civilization as a social and moral disease, and earned the nickname of the Noble Savage.

Carpenter later in life became more vocal on sexual relations and produced a number of pamphlets in 1894-5 on the subject, the last, being on Homogenic Love, and its Place in a Free Society . This culminated in his publication of The Intermediate Sex (1908) that had significant readership both in Britain and abroad. Among those influenced by his works were Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, E.M Forster, and D.H Lawrence.

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