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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Forbidden History: Edward Carpenter

For my truckbuddies - a series on people and events they cut out of your history books - the stuff they didn't want you to know about, the people they didn't want you to know ever existed.  People like you and me, that is.

Would you believe this studly guy was born in 1844?  Sure looks modern to me:

Edward Carpenter, age 30
 As Wikipedia notes,

A leading figure in late 19th- and early 20th-century Britain, he was instrumental in the foundation of the Fabian Society and the Labour Party. A poet and writer, he was a close friend of Walt Whitman and Rabindranath Tagore, corresponding with many famous figures such as Annie Besant, Isadora Duncan, Havelock Ellis, Roger Fry, Mahatma Gandhi, James Keir Hardie, J. K. Kinney, Jack London, George Merrill, E D Morel, William Morris, E R Pease, John Ruskin, and Olive Schreiner. . . .  he had a profound influence on both D. H. Lawrence and E. M. Forster.
To name a few.  But the dude wasn't a party boy; he had quite a serious turn of mind.  After a fine academic career at Cambridge, he became a curate in the Church of England - but eventually grew disillusioned and left his post, becoming a writer, lecturer, and advocate for, among other things, woman suffrage, the eight-hour day, vegetarianism, nudism, and "mystical socialism" - while decrying air pollution and vivisection.

He was one of the first people to make a habit of wearing sandals, too; would have been like, so at home in the 1960's, ya know?  I often think about some people I know of who were marooned in time, born way, way too soon - like poor Mary Wollstonecraft, the early feminist, stuck way back there in the 18th century.

Eddy also had a thing for, um, blue-collar dudes who were more brawny than intellectual.  Your Head Trucker can relate.  (I could tell you stories.)   In fact, he settled down with one, George Merrill, in happy domesticity in a remote country village for thirty years, and was devastated when his partner died in 1928; he survived George by only a year, dying at age 84, and special tributes were paid to his work as one of the fathers of the Labour Party by the prime minister and other high officials of the realm.

Someone who, um, knew Carpenter at age 80 - the 23-year-old grandson of a U. S. President - reported much later that Carpenter had had sex with Walt Whitman way back in 1877, but I wasn't there so I can't say.  You can read the story and make up your own mind about that.

Down the line, his books, like The Intermediate Sex, influenced a number of gay men - at least, the ones who could ferret them out from the "restricted" shelves in the library - like Harry Hays, who was a founder of one of the first pre-Stonewall gay-rights groups, the Mattachine Society, in 1950.  Eddy and George's relationship was also the model for the happy-ending relationship in Forster's novel Maurice between middle-class Maurice and the gamekeeper Alec.

So all in all, quite a life, even way back there in the gay dark ages:  busy, happy, fulfilled, sucessful, liberated, free. 

Which you weren't supposed to know.

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