A ground for the love of men
January 25, 2009 9:50 PM   Subscribe

Colm Tóibín reviews Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love by Sheila Rowbotham a fine essay and good introduction to the life, thought and work of "the poet, socialist, free-thinker and sexual rebel" of high Victorian England, Edward Carpenter.
posted by Abiezer (15 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I didn't know about Edward Carpenter. So much history to learn. He was a brave soul in a very repressed time in British history, quite an amazing trailblazer sexually and culturally.

A really nicely done and interesting site by Simon Dawson in your "thought and work" link. The creator of that site has another offshoot site I liked: 1976 mountaineering in Iran.
posted by nickyskye at 11:34 PM on January 25, 2009

Your post got me curious. Went to study a bit more about his life at Wikipedia. wow. This Edward Carpenter guy was an amazing man. I love the way he connected the East with the West too. Somebody who synthesized things. So innovative and somehow he managed to live peacefully in spite of his radical -for the time- ideas. It's wonderful to learn about him.
posted by nickyskye at 11:46 PM on January 25, 2009

He was an astounding and courageous bloke, nicky, and it's great to read about a pioneer who seemed to have had a great life (still seducing at 80!) despite the tenor of the times. I'd used the archive I linked to before but didn't check out the newer site they announce on the front page there - just have and it's full of good stuff too: image galleries, photo essays like this visit to the famous house at Millthorpe, essays and more.
posted by Abiezer at 4:22 AM on January 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Edward Carpenter was an incredible trailblazer. I look forward to reading this biography. The essay/review by Colm Tóibín is terrific too. Thank you for the post.
posted by blucevalo at 5:23 AM on January 26, 2009

I've done a bit of writing on Carpenter as he relates to Walt Whitman, who was his biggest role model. He's a fascinating guy. I'm mostly interested him as one of the most shocking examples of Whitman's influence there is: Carpenter produces, in a fit of inspiration, a book of poetry, _Towards Democracy_, which is essentially a translation of _Leaves of Grass_ into a more English idiom.

Carpenter's one of those guys who feels prematurely modern--like, when wrestling with his angel and knocking his head against the constraints of the English middle class of the time, he wound up in a place that's instantly recognizable. The Rowbotham book is quite good.
posted by LucretiusJones at 5:33 AM on January 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Carpenter was a great man, though I've always suspected that all the guff about the 'new aristocracy', comradeship between classes, etc, was chiefly a way for upper-class gay men to justify their taste for a bit of rough. The Toibin essay is good too, though I'd have preferred a bit more about Carpenter and a bit less about what-I-did-on-my-holiday-in-Barcelona-in-1977.

I like Chester Alan Arthur's account of how Carpenter gave him a blowjob in 1924. I hadn't read it before (though it is briefly quoted in Tim d'Arch Smith's Love in Earnest 'from a manuscript in a private collection in New York'). The full account is here, and wonderfully silly it is too:

"How did [Walt Whitman] make love?" I forced myself to ask.
"I will show you," he smiled. "Let us go to bed." It was a warm night and we had just a light eiderdown over us. We were both naked and we lay side by side on our backs holding hands. Then he was holding MY head in his two hands and making little growly noises, staring at me in the moonlight. "This is the laying on of hands" I thought reverently. "Walt. Then him. Then me." I had recently seen some neophytes made priests in Maynooth and their faces had shown the same emotions as I now felt. He snuggled up to me and kissed my ear. His beard ticked my neck. He smelled of the leaves and ferns and soil of autumn woods .. It was as exquisite as the little bubbles that come up from decaying vegetation in a mud bath, caressing the flesh with a feather lightness.

'It isn't the chemical ingredients', Carpenter explains afterwards, 'it's the electrical content, like you get in milk if you get it direct from the cow -- so different from cold milk!'
posted by verstegan at 6:31 AM on January 26, 2009 [3 favorites]

Edward Carpenter was one of the dharma heirs in Allen Ginsberg's personal sexual mythos of "whispered transmission," tying him to his cosmic mentor figure Walt Whitman.

Walt Whitman > Edward Carpenter > Gavin Arthur > Neal Cassady > Allen Ginsberg.

The line doesn't end there, and I'm on it myself, but that's entirely Too Much Information.
posted by digaman at 8:05 AM on January 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

> digaman > ? Curious who was worthy of the transmission or knew what they were getting? Are there people of that ilk around still?
posted by nickyskye at 9:56 AM on January 26, 2009

I was taught by Rowbotham, she was a very interesting lady. May well have to read this.
posted by mippy at 10:06 AM on January 26, 2009

> Are there people of that ilk around still?

You're soaking in them.
posted by digaman at 11:02 AM on January 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

There's another account of the Gavin Arthur / Carpenter encounter, for those interested, in Arthur's book, _A Circle of Sex_. The two are quite different (one was written for publication, and one written, I think, for private use).
posted by LucretiusJones at 3:31 PM on January 26, 2009

poet, socialist, free-thinker and sexual rebel

pretty much sums up how most MeFites view themselves, doesn't it?
posted by jayder at 8:06 PM on January 26, 2009

The line doesn't end there, and I'm on it myself, but that's entirely Too Much Information.

That's a really clever way for dried-up old people to get laid with younger folks.... the promise that, "you, too, will then be part of the line of seminal transmission back to Whitman."

Where the whole thing breaks down, of course, is that nobody has any real idea whom Whitman slept with.
posted by jayder at 8:09 PM on January 26, 2009

Yes, that's precisely how I think of myself: dried-up. Ginsberg was too, a veritable desert. You could hear the wind howl through the tumbleweeds in his ass. And Whitman! Behind that beard it was like the sands of Mars, but more dessicated. On the other hand, young people? We're talking Niagara, tsunamis, fountains of champagne, but even wetter.

> Where the whole thing breaks down, of course, is that nobody has any real idea whom Whitman slept with.

Right. We can't even say for sure he's gay because, after all, didn't he deny it? Really jayder, you should get a job at one of these "universities." You'd cut through a lot of BS.
posted by digaman at 8:58 PM on January 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

> in Arthur's book, _A Circle of Sex_.

That book is hilarious and wonderful, a very '50s-'60s-esque book that tries to honor the diversity of sexual orientations beyond the binaries. Arthur was onto something. For years, he sold flowers in Union Square here in San Francisco.
posted by digaman at 9:04 PM on January 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

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