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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars will be the standard work, 11 Feb. 2009
Mat Kinton (Nottingham, England) - See all my reviews
Sheila Rowbotham, a great socialist and feminist writer with a fascinating back catalogue, has had a long engagement with the story and ideas of Carpenter, and this book is a culmination of that engagement. It will surely be the standard work on Carpenter & a classic of the left. It made me warm to her subject, despite my having vestigal personal sympathy for Orwell's distaste for the sandals & vegetarianism & personal eccentricity school of anarcho-socialism as it manifested itself in Britain. It may also be that it is time to look again at this libertarian left tradition, largely overlooked now but once a significant strain of British intellectual life, now that the country and the media have gone all anti-capitalist and the Labour party is the most ideologically bankrupt that it has ever been. In any case, Carpenter is a great and colourful character, and Rowbotham easily the most qualified person, in terms of engagement, understanding and style, to tell his story. Oh, and he's a gay icon too.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Impressive research - small print!, 17 July 2010
This biography is thoroughly researched and the many connecting threads are skillfully woven together in a rich, if sometimes dense, narrative. There is much here to send you off researching other, related topics, and indeed it led me to discover the existence of pub discussion groups - non-party-political discussion groups whose focus may be almost anything with a philosophical, social or political foundation. So quite apart from offering a comprehensive life story of Edward Carpenter, Sheila Rowbotham's biography contextualises the man and his work very thoroughly both historically and in terms of a trajectory towards the present, and the ripples of influence that are clearly apparent now, if you know where to look. I have found the amount of detail somewhat daunting at times, I have to admit, and an outline dramatis personae or brief explanation of who's who would be extremely welcome; when Rowbotham leaves one thread to pick up another, by the time we return I find I am sometimes at sea, and sometimes Carpenter himself seems to disappear. But this should not be taken as a serious criticism - with a project of this size and depth, the reader should expect to put some work in herself, and I have not been able to read the book consistently from start to finish, which contributes to my experience of feeling 'lost' from time to time. I have the paperback edition, and wish I had the hardback, for a larger page and font size, commensurate with the scale of the book itself (not because I need reading glasses!). I should have liked a stronger sense of Carpenter the man running through the whole - but perhaps that is a project for a novelist to undertake.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable work., 19 Nov. 2013
Adrian Drew (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love (Paperback)
Prophet of Human Fellowship - Chuschichi Tsuzuk's impressive 1980's work on Carpenter was an important contribution to the studies on this remarkable man. Now academic Sheila Rowbotham has gone that one stage further and produced an exhaustive and portrait of the man who Tolstoy called "a worthy heir to Carlyle and Ruskin". At around 450 pages of small print - with a further 100 of detailed notes - we have a fascinating account of many - if not all - aspects of Carpenter's complex life. The book has been justifiably praised by many but it is extraordinary that so few people today know anything about this revolutionary whose work inspired not only the Labour movement but also was the clarion call for gay liberationists and anyone in fact who believed that there should be equality for all. The fact that people of such intellect and stature seem few and far between in the 21st Centrury is clearly regrettable - but for many the insights Rowbotham gives of this charming, seductive and totally engaging " sexy sage of Shefield " could provide many hours of enjoyable, and sometimes quite surprising, reading.
Highly recommended.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not quite the last word, 9 Sept. 2010
E. J. Webb "Eric" (UK) - See all my reviews
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Most of what you might want to know about Edward Carpenter is to be found within Sheila Rowbotham's many pages; with a certain amount you might not - unless you are very much 'into' gay history. Otherwise, why buy the book in the first place? But Carpenter was more than just a groundbreaking gay writer and activist. He was also one of the early socialists - of the kind who know just what's right for the workers, and are then somewhat affronted when the workers themselves have quite different ideas. None of those to be found these days of course? He was nonetheless very fond of the working man, over the course of a long and active life he had love-relationships with quite a number. There is a lot here about the early socialist movement, and very illuminating it is too. But all that effort, all that fire, fury and fratricide, and what is there to show for it now?

He would not himself of course have used the modern term 'gay'. His own chosen formulations were 'Uranian' which he adopted from the German pioneer Karl Ulrichs and 'Homogenic' which he coined himself. 'Homosexual' which was already widely current he deprecated, for like 'Television' this is a miscegenate growth from Greek and Latin roots combined.

Before long the mainstream socialists did their best to dump Carpenter and his ilk. 'I do not want [Socialism] to be a depository of old cranks, humanitarians, vegetarians, anti-vivisectionists, and anti-vaccinationists, arty-crafties and all the rest of them!' remarked the proto-Marxist Henry Hyndman as early as 1881. Eventually of course they found their natural home in the Liberal Party, where some yet remain. Nonetheless enough to cause annoyance clearly clung on around the fringes of Labour for in 'The Road to Wigan Pier' [1937] George Orwell felt moved to excoriate 'every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal wearer [and] sex maniac' in the movement. Beyond question he was thinking of Carpenter, by then dead 8 years, who had been all of those things save only perhaps the last, but he certainly remained sexually active well into old age; something to be said for fruit-juice after all perhaps! In fairness too, he made his own sandals, in fact he is credited with their introduction into the UK.

Ms. Rowbotham writes well. She leaves some curious gaps. She has almost nothing to say about Carpenter's magnificent - in its way - 'Ioläus' [1902] - subtitled 'an anthology of friendship' - whose printing style, rubrics and all, so quickly earned it the sobriquet 'The Buggers' Bible'. Has she even seen one of the early editions in all its finery? Perhaps not, for that must surely excite more interest than she exhibits. Her list of archives consulted is long and impressive, but does not include those of Carpenter's early publishers Swan Sonnenschein, which seem likely to contain a great deal of interesting material and might answer her expressed doubts as to the publication history of his subsequent forthright presentation of his views on homosexuality 'The Intermediate Sex' [1908].

Verso's presentation leaves something to be desired. The paper stock used is rather thick, rather coarse and off-white, which does not serve the occasional illustrations well. Something has gone wrong with the index, which commonly does not lead to quite the right page.

But criticisms all aside, this is a fine book, shedding a flood of light on the life and loves of a talented and original man, whose influence - mostly for the good - is still traceable today, and all the more readily so with Ms. Rowbotham's diligent assistance.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting book, 3 April 2009
MLS WELLS - See all my reviews
I recommend this book to anyone interested in politics generally and sexual politics in particular.

It was a great surprise to me how far in advance his times Edward Carpenter was. It was only about 20 years ago that Jean Genet's works were no longer banned in the UK, which has been behind much of continental Europe in the acceptance of homosexuality lifestyles and literature.

Sheila Rowbotham's book is quite academic and a little dry, but a fantastic contribution that is eminently readable.
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Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love
Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love by Sheila Rowbotham (Paperback - 5 Oct. 2009)
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