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Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love Hardcover – 1 Oct 2008
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Exhaustively researched and resonant in detail. It is a splendid reassessment of a man who was both typical of his own time and light years ahead of it. --Fiona MacCarthy, Guardian
Indispensable... A lively, readable, and balanced account of the gender wars of one messy century. -- The Times 'One of the best political biographies for many years. It is not just a book about the past; it's bursting with ideas that remain relevant to the future of humanity.' --Peter Tatchell, Observer Books of the Year
Sheila Rowbotham has given us not just an account of one remarkable individual's life, but has helped to explain how we evolved into the society we are today. --Martin Pugh, Times Literary Supplement
About the Author
Sheila Rowbotham is Professor of Gender and Labour History at the University of Manchester, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. Her many books include A Century of Women: The History of Women in Britain and the United States in the Twentieth Century and Promise Of A Dream: Remembering the Sixties. She has written for, among other newspapers, the Guardian, The Times, the Independent, New Statesman, and The New York Times.
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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'  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'  - 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' .
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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