Sunday, August 29, 2010

In Memoriam: Edward Carpenter

By the dawn of the Victorian Age the Industrial Revolution had rapidly unmade the world as it had existed unchanged for centuries, causing a sea change in every aspect of Western life; the Victorians, then, became determined to solve the considerable troubles brought about by moving a large segment of the population from the countryside to cities to staff the Establishment's factories before those problems manifested themselves as a revolution. Edward Carpenter's essay Civilisation, its Cause and Cure was much-discussed following its publication, especially amongst the chattering classes, another group born in this era, making him a renowned social philosopher at a time in British history when social philosophy was an increasingly favoured pastime.

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1844, Carpenter was initially on his way to a comfortable if boring life in academe and the church when his gradual dissatisfaction with such a life manifested itself in a growing bohemianism. Instrumental in the foundation of the Fabian Society (and its successor, the Labour Party) Carpenter was able to use his considerable powers of persuasion to bring his many famous friends around to his way of thinking with regards to vegetarianism, psychotherapy, and sexual liberation.

Carpenter certainly practiced what he preached; after 1898, he shared his life, his home, and his bed with George Merrill, and as early as 1908 Carpenter's writing had taken on the still-taboo subject of homosexuality. Although his later work probably affected his career in life - and even to a certain extent his legacy following his death in June 1929 - it was in death that Carpenter exerted his greatest influence; by giving generations of professional homosexuals the impetus for one of the greatest social changes in history - namely the erosion of homophobia - Carpenter's words have shaped today's gay community, a concept foreign to many of his contemporaries but one which he was among the first to elucidate.
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