19 Dec 2008
Edward Carpenter 1844-1929
I'd heard of this chap before but never really looked in any detail. Carpenter spent much of his life in search of a pure form of anarcho-socialism, but he's more interesting that just that. He was also openly gay, and his first boyfriend was a razor grinder from Sheffield. In fact, he had a little gay commune going just outside the city. I suppose it wasn't a 'gay commune' per se, but definitely a place where it was acceptable. The community emphasised a kind of simple life and enjoyed some moderate success to the extent that Carpenter received requests from Japanese fans of his books to move to Sheffield and allow them to make sandals.
Carpenter was an early exponent of the personal being political. Much of his writing focussed on sexual liberation, and influenced writers such as D H Lawrence. Following travels round Asia, his school of thought took on some elements of eastern mysticism, but it remained true to both libertarian and western progressive thought.
The great love of his life was George Merrill, who had no formal education and was brought up in the slums of Sheffield. This fitted in nicely with Carpenter's belief that same-sex love could both bring classes together, and be a force for social change.
Carpenter's life has so many interesting facets that its impossible to convey in this many words a full picture of the man, but its worth noting that he was also a pioneer of nude sunbathing.