From British daily The Morning Star:
Ahead of his time
(Sunday 23 November 2008)
KARL DALLAS reads the inspiring life story of Sheffield poet, writer and lifelong socialist and activist Edward Carpenter.
EDWARD Carpenter was a man ahead of his time. Living from 1844 to 1929, he was a poet and writer and composer of the wonderful socialist hymn England Arise, a close friend of Walt Whitman [see also here] and Rabindranath Tagore and corresponded with people like Bernard Shaw, EM Forster, Annie Besant, Isadora Duncan, Havelock Ellis, Roger Fry, Mahatma Gandhi, James Keir Hardie [see also here], Jack London, William Morris, John Ruskin and Olive Schreiner.
An active homosexual at a time when Oscar Wilde was incarcerated in Reading jail for his proclivities, his writings on sexuality linked the personal with the political in a manner which prefigured the advances of the late 20th century and still have relevance today.
To do justice to the life of such a multifaceted, long-living personality is a mammoth task and Sheila Rowbotham has done a remarkable job of marshalling the available facts into a thick volume of nearly 600 pages.
A life of such complexity really needs some kind of a timeline in which to set his writings, which began in 1873 with a collection of juvenile poetry when he was 29 and extended to two years before his death at the age of 85 in 1929. Rowbotham’s story does not follow a strict chronology and it is hard to dredge up the basic facts of his birth, history and death from the book’s complexity.
But this is an inspiring story that Rowbotham tells very well.
I’ve known Carpenter’s name ever since we used to sing from his Chants Of Labour round the piano when I was still in short trousers and knew the broad outlines of his life. But Rowbotham offers up a great deal more, not only about the man himself but also how he managed to survive and propagate his views in a frequently oppressive environment.
Anyone wanting to know still more can consult the longer manuscript version of the book in the Sheffield Archives.
Another review of this biography is here.
Oscar Wilde and politics: here.
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