In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

‘Trick Mirror’

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Sexual PoliticsMichael Neve
Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close
Edward Carpenter, 1844-1929: Prophet of Human Fellowship 
by Chushichi Tsuzuki.
Cambridge, 237 pp., £15, November 1980, 0 521 23371 2
Show More
Show More

The British were the only people who went through both world wars from beginning to end. Yet they remained a peaceful and civilised people, tolerant, patient and generous. Traditional values lost much of their force. Other values took their place. Imperial greatness was on the way out: the welfare state was on the way in. The British Empire declined: the condition of the people improved. Few now sang ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. Few even sang ‘England Arise’. England had risen all the same.

Thus A.J.P. Taylor, in his English History 1914-1945, of 1965. Who can believe it now, either as an idea of England, or as a starting piece for a collection of English writings from the early 1950s? And who can even remember ‘England Arise’? Who recalls who wrote it, or the England that it called out to?

The author of the hymn was Edward Carpenter (1844-1929), the dimly remembered socialist, vegetarian, mystic and sandal-wearer. Carpenter is slowly being dragged back into the present by a variety of interests and pressures, the most obvious being the campaign for homosexual rights and the reprinting of various pamphlets and political statements that support this movement. Chushichi Tsuzuki’s useful but unimaginative biography, with its Cambridge imprint, makes this revival official. Even ‘England Arise’ may receive its dusting-off. The question still remains: what England, and what active relationship might this revival have to Edward Carpenter himself?

Historians, for what it is worth, have never cared much for Carpenter. Peculiar alliances are struck over this dislike, most notably between Taylor himself and E.P. Thompson. The two men united in their pronouncements as to the emptiness of Carpenter’s ‘individualism’, the weedy, private-income vegetarianism that he embodied, the hopeless blend of mysticism and retreatism that took the place of politics. The now semi-legendary Thompson announced in 1955 that Carpenter (unlike, of course, William Morris) represented the cosy intellectualism of those ‘whose aspirations are satisfied today by comfortably converted old cottages on the rural fringes of great towns, a goat in the paddock, and an occasional bout of classless bonhomie and darts in the village pub’. Another contemporary Marxist intellectual, Terry Eagleton, wrote his PhD thesis about Carpenter, but it has never been published, perhaps fitting untidily with the cleansed, scientific precisions of anti-humanist literary criticism of the kind Eagleton now favours. Only one famous historian came out on Carpenter’s behalf: J.H. Plumb. In an essay reprinted in his collection In the Light of History (1969), Plumb surveyed the world of Edwardian cranks, mystics and nature freaks, and gave his opinion: ‘they were right.’ History continues to be the muse of true irony.

This biography does useful service, but not much more, bearing the marks of one kind of worthy but unadventurous labour history. If Carpenter is to make sense in a new version, it will only be because he managed, in an actual historical struggle, to combine politics with other things: sexual emancipation, an anarchism not dismissable on the grounds of irrelevance, and, above all, a sense of humour. There are things to be said all round about this. In terms of anxiety-inducing literary influences, he had his effect on D.H. Lawrence, but not in ways that have to do with a sense of humour. His relationship to sexual emancipation in general is far more intriguing, because it took hold in the international sphere, the world of German sexology, Leo Tolstoy and P.D. Ouspenski. It is very odd that Tsuzuki says nothing of Carpenter’s influence in Japan, where some of his ideas on ‘comrade love’ and sacrificial struggle must have fitted neatly with a range of Japanese codes of conduct, many of them militaristic. Did Yukio Mishima read Edward Carpenter? The answer could matter quite a lot, as this might rescue the vexed question of ‘sexual politics’ from a purely English discussion, and perhaps throw light on other options within sexual radicalism than those of vegetarian socialism. It would also extend the discussion beyond the most important of its English dimensions: that of the fate of muscular Christianity, and the peculiar hybrids that this English ideology grew in the last part of the 19th century.

Edward Carpenter was born in Brighton in 1844 of naval parents, and spent much of his early life living with six sisters. It was the strong impression of the waste in their lives, and of the waste in the lives of Victorian middle-class women in general, that made up his earliest memories of family life. Carpenter then went up to Trinity Hall, Cambridge in 1864, straight to the heart of the Broad Church network, and eventually to a fellowship in that college, newly relinquished by Leslie Stephen. In June 1870, he was ordained by the Bishop of Ely, and got to know F.D. Maurice, Professor of Moral Philosophy and proponent of Christian Socialism. Carpenter was also friendly with Henry Fawcett and the mathematician W.K. Clifford (not R.K., as Tsuzuki has it); he also began reading Walt Whitman. After journeying to Italy, and experiencing with Whitman’s verse a whole array of new thoughts (and new doubts), Carpenter came to find the intellectual life of the university ‘a fraud and a weariness’. In June 1874, he relinquished his fellowship.

It is now that sexuality, socialism and the remnants of a Christian background become tangled, as Carpenter set off into ‘England’ as a lecturer in the University Extension Scheme. With unerring skill, he made straight for the Bermuda triangle of modern English camp: Leeds, Halifax and Skipton, lecturing there on astronomy in late 1874. In 1877, he made a ritual pilgrimage to Camden, New Jersey, to visit Walt Whitman; he also called on Emerson at Concord. On returning to England, Carpenter extended his lecturing activities, and Sheffield became his base. He was moving ‘towards democracy’.

The pamphleteering and agitation that Carpenter engaged in during these Sheffield years, as well as the personal liberations which he experienced, seem even more impressive after this biography and the work of others, such as Sheila Rowbotham, on the topic. In ways not important to the Cambridge mind, Carpenter seems to have managed to enter a lively and purposeful socialist environment, making extensive contacts with Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation, as well as with local anarchists and social radicals. He published Toward Democracy (1883), and this brought new friends, notably Havelock Ellis. Out of this collaboration came the impulse to complete his theoretical work by writing, not just on the banalities of the money economy, but on ‘intermediate sexual types’ and their place in a revolutionary future. Market-gardening and agitation: on this combination, England was to arise, out of her ‘evil dream of toil and sorrow’. At the same time, reflecting his class ambiguities, Carpenter was able to describe his lower-class companions on the Atlantic crossing as ‘really very nice, orderly and good-natured – we have quite jolly times – only they are too corroded but that is not their fault.’ And Mr Tsuzuki lets slip, in a brief discussion of the Cleveland Street homosexual scandal of 1889, that Carpenter was asked in 1875 to become tutor to Prince Albert Victor (‘Eddy’, Duke of Clarence and implicated in the scandal) and to Prince George, later George V. Carpenter visited Windsor in 1875 to refuse the offer, but ‘retained autographed photographs of the two princes’. The ambiguities abound.

Carpenter’s socialism, and his work in activist politics in Sheffield in the period of the New Unionism of the late 1880s, continued to reflect the Christianity of his Cambridge years. The English working-class male was to be the carrier of a Shelleyan revival, the agent of a libidinal politics that transcended empty liberalism, in an inverted version of the conventional pieties of muscular Christianity. The lasting, if veiled attraction of Christian belief for English thought from Kingsley onwards is receiving attention again, and John Vincent illuminated the historical career of G.M. Trevelyan in exactly that way in the London Review of Books last year. The different social trajectory of Edward Carpenter bears out this analysis, for all the sociological distinctions. It isn’t underestimating the peculiar courageousness of Carpenter’s work in the North, nor a dismissal of it, to continue to find the Broad Church mission visible beneath the outer garments of local socialism and beards and sandals. In being part of the Christian socialist mix, Carpenter was in all senses conventional. And this point is reinforced when he pulls out of active politics to revisit Cambridge in its grandest historical version, a version where the great semi-Platonist, semi-scientific, semi-Christian idea of male fellowship found its most sustaining tutorials: on the passage to India.

Carpenter went to the East in 1890, to peel off his outer self, and effectively ended his English political career. He came back to the world of anti-vivisection, of the Fellowship of the New Life, and to the rise of the Uranians. Employing sexual typologies from German sources, and also using a Lamarckian notion of inherited characteristics, Carpenter outlined his vision. The Uranians, of mixed sexual type and prophetic powers, would initiate ‘a new chivalry’. Women would be rescued from the tombs of orthodox division of labour, bourgeois sexuality overthrown, and a true ‘inner’ democracy would flourish. Nietzsche was now welcomed, as a ‘healthy reaction’ to Christianity; the criminal world contained an idea of democracy in miniature, lying in wait for its realisation; men, and, more important, women, could evacuate the exhausted sexual categories of the Victorian psychiatrists and meet on the higher ground of the battle against a dead ‘civilisation’. The hermaphrodites would legislate.

Carpenter expounded these themes, in a series of books from the 1890s onwards, which have far more power than is understood by this biography, and far less relationship to political practice. It seems more and more difficult to place whatever ‘sexual politics’ Carpenter may have had: he moved away from the one as he gave himself over to the other. By the time of the First World War, he had almost exclusively become a writer on sex questions, with occasional visits to the political front, especially when supporting the suffragette movement. The development of his interest in Eastern philosophy coincided with an absence from the local activism of the 1880s, and at the same time reinforced the high-mindedness of the ex-Fellow of Trinity Hall. The impact of India in the English novel is well understood, its presence in re-conciliatory social philosophy less so. But for figures such as Carpenter, much Buddhist theoretical writing could do the work that secular liberalism did for others, in providing an extravagant language of class politics. It is not derogatory to Carpenter to find the tasks that he asked of sexuality as politics burdensome and peculiarly prone to defeat; and there is something wan in the fact that Carpenter is now probably best remembered for his lover George Merrill having pinched E.M. Forster’s bottom, thus inducing him to write Maurice.

The idea of a Uranian revolution seems perfectly tenable, makes considerable psychological sense, and in many ways it is going on at this moment. But the point must be made that the period since Carpenter’s death has seen new attempts to unite the libidinal and political in various forms, and hence to join sexuality to politics. It must also be admitted that it is hard to think of many real victories in this area, an area that received its most distinguished theoretical support in the writings of Herbert Marcuse. Liberal social theory has always had a sophisticated grasp on the distinctions between the public and the private, in its theories on rights and its notion of democratic activity. To seek a ‘sexual politics’ inside that tradition is obviously foolish, since much of the dignity of liberalism must reside in its refusal to conjoin these private parts to the general conduct of citizens in the polity. The Uranian revolution, the marriage between Eros and Civilisation, demands that such distinctions be dissolved, and that the sexual become the political. And it’s all too easy to point out how this programme has disintegrated, into the fatuities of West Coast hedonism and a ghastly intrusion (and hence extension) of the merely sexual into the whole social fabric. At the end of every corridor in institutions of higher education stands Howard Kirk the History Man.

The whole project may seem implausible, generating the same excitement, and the same confected frisson of spectacle and let-down, as the films of Lindsay Anderson. But the issue is not closed, as the renewal of interest in Carpenter may suggest. A thousand flowers did bloom: some were lowered into the barrels of guns, others placed outside houses in Memphis, Tennessee, and apartments in New York. Many – far too many – have been handed to gurus. The bunches that are left will have to be less widely distributed, as the whole notion of a ‘sexual politics’ is reworked. Could it all make sense, in another version?

The portrait of Edward Carpenter in the National Portrait Gallery asks the question in a striking way. This is Carpenter in 1895, as Bloomsbury (in this case, Roger Fry) captured him. He seems downcast, serious-minded, isolated in a world of glass that reflects him at an odd angle. An awful thought crosses the mind, that Carpenter in fact represents a fastidiousness, an aloofness, a Cambridge donnishness, which, allied to sexual indeterminacy, has left him marooned. The Uranians – whom he tended to see as ascetic and often less sensual than others – suddenly present themselves as ice-cold. If the portrait suggests this, there is a photograph that may answer back, of Carpenter and George Merrill, in front of trees somewhere. It is non-metropolitan, it looks as if they are happy, and makes one think that if England is to arise, the ways this will happen will reflect the continuing polarities of Northern and Southern life in English affairs, polarities that seem more pronounced now, for obvious economic reasons, than for many years. Carpenter certainly had all the 20th-century ambiguities, and more. His politics came – and went – in the North, and he died, remembered but isolated, in a bungalow in Guildford on 29 June 1929.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.