Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love by Sheila Rowbotham - review by Francis King

Francis King

Only Connect

Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love


Verso 565pp £24.99 order from our bookshop

Like his near-contemporaries Marie Stopes, Havelock Ellis and the Pankhursts, Edward Carpenter (1844–1929) was one of those characters who changed the society of their times far more effectively than people endowed with infinitely more intellectual, creative or political resources. Although he concerned himself with a bewildering variety of good causes, political movements and fads (animal rights, vegetarianism, the emancipation of women, socialism, nude swimming, clean air, oriental mysticism, recycling of clothes, the wearing of sandals), he should, in my view, be chiefly honoured for the way in which he helped heterosexuals to understand and accept homosexuals and, no less importantly, homosexuals to understand and accept themselves.

In a life devoted to this last cause, he was the antithesis of Wilde. Brilliant, flamboyant and arrogantly witty even when under hostile cross-examination in the dock, Wilde alienated previous friends and admirers with scandalous revelations of his lying in the gutter while looking up at the stars. In contrast,

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

East of the Wardrobe

Follow Literary Review on Twitter