100 Heroes: Edward Carpenter

One of the pioneers of gay rights.

100 Heroes: Edward Carpenter

Edward Carpenter was a poet, philosopher, anthologist, and early activist for gay rights.

As a philosopher, he was particularly known for his publication of Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure, in which he proposes that civilisation is a form of disease that human societies pass through.

An early advocate of sexual freedoms, he had an influence on both D. H. Lawrence and Sri Aurobindo, and inspired E. M. Forster's novel Maurice.

Early life

Born in 1844, Carpenter was raised in Hove and educated at Brighton College.

He went on to study at Trinity Hall in Cambridge, subsequently becoming a curate of the Church of England.

While working in Sheffield, Carpenter embraced the principles of socialism.

Personal life

Carpenter began exploring his sexuality while studying at Cambridge. Significant relationships from that time included Edward Anthony Beck.

In 1891, Carpenter met George Merrill - a working-class man also from Sheffield who was 22 years his junior. Carpenter and Merrill began living together from 1898 and remained together until Merrill died in 1928.

In his book, The Intermediate Sex, Carpenter wrote:

"Eros is a great leveller. Perhaps the true Democracy rests, more firmly than anywhere else, on a sentiment which easily passes the bounds of class and caste, and unites in the closest affection the most estranged ranks of society. It is noticeable how often Uranians of good position and breeding are drawn to rougher types, as of manual workers, and frequently very permanent alliances grow up in this way, which although not publicly acknowledged have a decided influence on social institutions, customs and political tendencies."

E. M. Forster was close friends with Carpenter and Merrill, and a 1912 visit inspired Forster to write his gay-themed novel, Maurice. Carpenter was also a significant influence on the author D. H. Lawrence, whose Lady Chatterley's Lover can be seen as a heterosexualised version of the story of Maurice.

Carpenter died in 1929, aged 84.

Follow Gareth Johnson on Twitter