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Edward Carpenter

Sheffield’s Pride is bigger and better in 2013 than ever before. But as Annie Ravoire argues, none of it would be possible without Edward Carpenter - a gay rights activist of the 1900’s.

So as I research Edward Carpenter for this article, I am sat on my bed with a few mates who are painting nails, sewing and drawing. We’re relaxing and discussing what we would love Edward Carpenter to be like. 

One of my friends imagines him to be a very small, camp guy wearing clothes of hemp and knitted underwear; which, when you read about him could be a very close depiction of him (if he were alive today).

Having believed in socialism, anarchism, feminism and vegetarianism today we would have called him a hippy and possibly a crusty due to him opposing imperialism, vivisection, war and capital punishment. He sounds like a pretty amazing guy. 

Edward Carpenter lived just outside of Sheffield for the majority of his life but was born in Brighton. In his abode outside the city, he lived openly with his male lover and wrote extensively about gay rights, as well as his ideas and views. He also made sandals, something he was a massive advocate of.

However, this amazing man is somewhat unknown and didn’t have a conventional upbringing into becoming a gay rights activists and writer.  He began a career as a curate for the Church of England more by convention than conviction. However, he was deeply confused due to his sexuality but after he discovered the work of Walt Whitman a ‘profound change’ occurred in him. He left the church and began to lecture at several universities in Yorkshire about astrology, sun worship and other things. 

After his father died, Carpenter was left enough money to be able to quit lecturing and begin a life closer to nature, as he wanted. He was fully out as a gay man at this point and began to write more and more, his work being inspired by eastern spirituality and Walt Whitman.

Carpenter soon went on a trip to India after becoming fascinated with Hinduism and after he returned he met a man called George Merrill who Carpenter would live with and love for the rest of his life. 

Their relationship was massively controversial at the time not only because of the Criminal Law Amendment Bill passed a decade earlier which outlawed all male homosexual acts, but because of the hysteria about homosexuality generated by the Oscar Wilde trial of 1895. They both escaped persecution due to the seclusion they lived within and because of Carpenter’s literary prowess. This is also partly because of the fact that Edward Carpenter often played down the physical side of homosexual relationships and talked more about the spiritual and emotional sides in his work.

Edward Carpenter was an amazing man who constantly worked throughout his life to gain equality for all people regardless of gender, sexuality, class, race or religion. He is not well known in and around Sheffield, which is being swiftly changed by a group of people; The Friends Of Edward Carpenter, who are fighting to get Carpenter more well known due to the fact that it was in Sheffield that most of his work was centered.

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