Edward Carpenter, British socialist poet

Edward CarpenterFrom British daily The Morning Star:

Ahead of his time

(Sunday 23 November 2008)

Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love by Sheila Rowbotham
(Verso, £25)

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.

2 thoughts on “Edward Carpenter, British socialist poet

  1. Walt Whitman H.S. students shout down anti-gay protesters
    Muriel Kane
    Published: Friday April 24, 2009

    The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, KS is notorious for its tasteless and frequently nonsensical anti-gay protests. Not only do they picket the funerals of victims of anti-gay hate crimes, but they have been known to protest concerts, football games, and even a hardware store selling Swedish vacuum cleaners. Most recently, they have been busy picketing the funerals of soldiers killed in the Iraq War, believing their deaths to be a judgment on America.

    However, the Westboro protesters may have overreached when they attempted to picket Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, MD, named after the nineteenth century poet who many biographers believe to have been either homosexual or bisexual.

    According to the Potomac Almanac, “When Whitman sophomore Ryan Hauck first heard about the scheduled protest at Whitman from a friend he thought it was a joke. Then he went online … and saw just how serious the church is. ‘I was just shocked just from the second I heard it and I knew I had to do something,’ Hauck said. ‘[It was] the hatred of the whole thing that shocked me.'”

    Hauck was aided by his fellow-sophomore Amar Mukunda, who “set up a Facebook group to generate support for the counter-protest through which more than 600 students have committed to attend. Mukunda said he doesn’t expect that many to show up on Friday, but that he does expect a healthy turnout.”

    As it happened, the turnout far exceeded Mukunda’s expection of “a couple of hundred.” The Washington Post reports that “faculty had spun the event into an interdisciplinary lesson. English teachers spent the day teaching Whitman’s verse. Social studies teachers led a unit on tolerance. Math teachers fanned through the crowd, attempting a head count.”

    Although the handful of picketers initially had the street to themselves, that changed dramatically when school was dismissed at 2:10 and five hundred students marched out, chanting the school name alternating with “Go home!”

    LGBT group Driving Equality had even set up a “Phelps-a-Thon” webpage, promising, “For every minute the ‘God Hates Fags’ clan is protesting, we will be collecting donations for the Walt Whitman High School gay/straight alliance. … You can pledge any amount you chose, whether it be $0.25, $0.50, $1, or even $2 for every minute they protest. … After the event, we will send Phelps a thank you card, telling him how much money he raised for LGBT equality.”

    Many of the students in the counter-protest were wearing T-shirts bearing a picture of Whitman and the line, “Let your soul stand cool and composed.” However, far more sarcastic commentary on the day’s events was provided by blogger Oliver Willis, who had taken note of the upcoming protest when it was first announced in March.

    “I gotta say,” Willis wrote, “if they’re devoting time and resources to protesting Walt Whitman they must have an insane amount of time on their hands. Leaves of grass, indeed.”



  2. Pingback: British author Edward Carpenter (1844 -1929) remembered in Sheffield | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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