glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy






Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

Bookmark and Share
Carpenter, Edward (1844-1929)  
page: 1  2  3  

Edward Carpenter, a champion of both women's and homosexuals' liberation, was one of the great socialist visionaries of England at the turn of the twentieth century.

Carpenter was born in England in 1844. His family was of the upwardly situated middle class, and his father, Charles, a former naval commander, earned a living as a lawyer and through investments in American and British railways. His mother, Sophia, patterned herself after the stereotypical vision of the placid Victorian housewife and spent her time tending to Edward and his six sisters. In 1881, she passed away, and Charles died a year later. Carpenter died at Guildford in 1929.

These rather typical details do not foreshadow the role Carpenter was to build for himself in Britain, for by the time of his death, he was to be thought of as one of the great socialist visionaries of England and a champion of both women's and homosexuals' liberation.

Carpenter's life began to follow the course prescribed by his privileged station. He was educated at Oxford and Cambridge, and in 1868, began a career as a lecturer at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. During his second year, he was elected a clerical fellow and ordained a deacon.

Carpenter's family had raised him in the relatively liberal doctrines of the Broad Church, and he soon found himself in conflict with the tenets of Anglicanism he was expected to uphold. By 1871, this conflict had led to physical debilitation, and after a brief leave of absence, he resigned his church roles and functioned solely as a lecturer.

During this period, Carpenter formed a romantic attachment to Andrew Beck, but Beck ultimately denied the attachment and rebuked Carpenter so that he could marry and pursue an academic career as Master of Trinity Hall.

The aftermath of this breakup seems to have affected Carpenter profoundly, for it is during this period that he began to identify strongly with Walt Whitman and to pattern his own poetry around Whitman's liberational male body in Calamus.

Also during this period, Carpenter began to embrace systematically the British socialist vision that hitherto had been only a sporadic theme in his thinking. The despair resulting from the breakup might also have motivated his joining the University Extension movement in Sheffield, certainly the deciding event in his development as a socialist.

The University Extension program in England was started by James Stuart of Cambridge in response to pressures from women demanding access to education. More conservative English academics saw a twofold purpose in establishing an extension university in Sheffield: First, it would help indoctrinate the more remote areas of England into the Cambridge class system; second, it would meet the demand for women's higher education while preserving the masculine sanctity of Cambridge itself.

Stuart, however, saw these rather oppressive motives as an opportunity to attempt to forge an educational institution that would give equal access to all classes and both genders. This democratic vision attracted Carpenter, but certainly the opportunity to escape the presence of his former lover also strengthened his resolve. By 1877, Carpenter was firmly ensconced as a key player within the extension program and its socialist goals.

Following the death of his parents in 1880 and 1881, Carpenter resigned his teaching duties and devoted himself to full-time study at Millthorpe, a retreat he bought in the Sheffield countryside. He began what was to become a key part of his theoretical vision, a systematic study of Eastern religions and particularly of the Bhagavad-Gita. He also completed his epic poem cycle, Towards Democracy.

Through his involvement with such groups as the Progressive Association, the Fellowship of the New Life, the Fabians, and the Social Democratic Federation (SDF), he met important political and social theorists such as William Morris, Havelock Ellis, and Olive Schreiner, one of the leading socialist feminists of the time.

In 1884, William Morris broke alliance with the SDF and formed the Socialist League, and Carpenter followed suit. The development was crucial for Carpenter, for the League viewed the task of socialism to be the creation of a new inner consciousness for all people. This mingling of politics and spirituality enabled Carpenter to synthesize his own religious past, his current embrace of Eastern mysticism, and his strong allegiance to social reform into a unique vision that might be best termed mystic socialism.

The events of Carpenter's life, including details of his travels in the East, have been reliably and fluently set down by Sheila Rowbotham in Socialism and the New Life. Perhaps the most significant event in Carpenter's life, however, happened in 1891, when returning from a journey to India, he met George Merrill.

Prior to this meeting, Carpenter had been in a relationship with George Adams, who with his wife, Lucy, lived in Millthorpe from 1893 to 1898. By 1898, it was apparent to Carpenter that he wanted to live his life with Merrill, and the resulting acrimony between him and Adams destroyed their friendship.

    page: 1  2  3   next page>  
zoom in
Edward Carpenter in 1905.
Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about Literature
Popular Topics:


Williams, Tennessee
Williams, Tennessee

Literary Theory: Gay, Lesbian, and Queer

The Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance

Romantic Friendship: Female
Romantic Friendship: Female

Feminist Literary Theory

American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969
American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969

Erotica and Pornography
Erotica and Pornography

Mishima, Yukio
Mishima, Yukio

Sadomasochistic Literature

Beat Generation
Beat Generation




This Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.