Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love
by Sheila Rowbotham
Verso. 573 pages, $39.95
EDWARD CARPENTER (1844-1929) was the most important early pioneer of gay liberation. Before him, writing in German, Heinrich Hössli had defended the “male love of the Greeks” (1836-38) and Karl Heinrich Ulrichs had decried the persecution of “male-male love” (1864-1880). John Addington Symonds had defended the “masculine love” of the Greeks (A Problem in Greek Ethics, 1883) and rebutted 19th-century homophobia (A Problem in Modern Ethics, 1891). But their writings were known to very few people. In contrast, Carpenter’s polemics were read by tens of thousands and were translated into foreign languages.
Carpenter was involved in many causes: socialism, women’s emancipation, vegetarianism, animal rights, nudism, sunbathing, Eastern mysticism, the simple life, and sexual freedom. Sheila Rowbotham deals thoroughly with all of these in her new book, Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love. While not the first biography of Carpenter, this is by far the most comprehensive. An earlier biography by Chushichi Tsuzuki, Edward Carpenter 1844-1929: Prophet of Human Fellowship (1980), is much shorter, though still valuable.