The ‘sexy sage of Sheffield’ as described by Jeanette Winterson in the Guardian, Edward Carpenter, the gay socialist writer had an extraordinary impact on the cultural and political landscape of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A mystic advocate of, among other causes, free love, recycling, nudism, women’s suffrage and prison reform, his work anticipated the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
His extraordinary life and work is all documented at Sheffield, which houses the Edward Carpenter Collection. The city of Sheffield is beginning to revive the personality of Carpenter and bring it into current public consciousness. Sheffield Archives, researchers at the University of Sheffield, Sheffield Museums, Friends of Edward Carpenter (FOEC) and individuals such as Rony Robinson from BBC, who has written plays about Carpenter’s life, Sally Goldsmith, poet and author are all joined in bringing Carpenter to the 21st century!
His prolific writing along with other personal materials is at Sheffield Archives. One interesting book that we found was his travelogue to India and Sri Lanka, a book by the name ‘Adam’s Peak to Elephanta’.
In it, he writes about the traditions of the ancient ‘wisdom-religion’ and its two esoteric schools – he calls them Himalayan and South Indian. He writes about the fabulous south Indian temples of Tanjore, Madurai and Chidambaram. There is an interesting chapter titled ‘ The Anglo-Indian and the Oyster’. He visits Madras, Calcutta, Delhi, Bombay, Agra and Benares. He devotes a couple of chapters on commentary calling the section ‘ The Old Order and the New Influences’. More on Adam’s Peak to Elephanta in a separate post.
The Friends of Edward Carpenter are a small group of people who are dedicated to establishing a permanent memorial to Edward Carpenter in Sheffield City Centre, recognising his historical and social importance and unique association with the city.
FOEC say this about Edward Carpenter
‘Edward Carpenter (1844 -1929) was a significant cultural and political activist, who advocated the ‘Simplification of Life’ and put his beliefs into practice. He campaigned throughout his life on many issues of social concern, ranging from women’s suffrage to the protection of the environment, from sexual emancipation to the formation of trade unions. For over forty years he formed a strong bond with the people of Sheffield, living openly as a gay man in Millthorpe, Derbyshire only a few miles away. His life was one of quiet celebration while his writings and example laid the foundation for the gay liberation movement of the twentieth century. Through his many friendships, Edward Carpenter transversed the divisions of class, gender, sexuality, race and creed. Men and women from across the world and from all walks of life came into connection with each other through him and his connections with Sheffield and home at Millthorpe.
Our aim is to connect with the diverse worldwide population of interested people to establish the memorial. This is a big task, and we will be seeking local, national and international support to achieve this.’
To support the efforts of FOEC, go to http://www.friendsofedwardcarpenter.co.uk/
Sheffield museums recently organised an evening of celebration to mark the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia,
Researcher Helen Smith from the University of Sheffield working on a Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project on Edward Carpenter. Her research has underpinned the production of a play ‘ Sweet Comradeship’ that was shown in Sheffield.
Sweet Comradeship – https://www.facebook.com/SweetComradeship?ref=stream