Edward Carpenter (29 August 1844 – 28 June 1929) was an English socialist poet, anthologist, and an early homosexual activist.
Born in Brighton, Carpenter was educated like all his brothers at Brighton College where his father was a governor. He then attended Trinity Hall, Cambridge before joining the Church of England as a curate, "as a convention rather than out of deep conviction".
In 1883, Carpenter joined the Social Democratic Federation, and in 1885 he left with William Morris to join the Socialist League. Never committing to any narrow doctrine, he dabbled in the Labour Church movement, and studied Eastern Religion, travelling to Ceylon and India in 1890. On his return he developed a kind of "mystic socialism" which produced campaigns against air pollution and vivisection, promoted vegetarianism and "rational dress", a reaction to Victorian clothing which included the making and wearing of sandals. These ideas were considered crackpot by many in the Left — in The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), George Orwell famously ridicules "every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal wearer [and] sex maniac" in the Socialist movement.
Carpenter achieved growing acclaim for his Whitman-esque poetry and became involved in defending Fred Charles of the Walsall Anarchists in 1892. Later he became a founder member of the Independent Labour Party in 1893, with George Bernard Shaw among others. His pacifism led him to become a vocal opponent of first the Second Boer War and then the First World War.
In the 1890s, Carpenter began to campaign against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. He strongly believed that homosexuality was a natural orientation for people of a third sex. His 1908 book on the subject, The Intermediate Sex, would become a foundational text of the LGBT movements of the 20th century. Carpenter also both supported and drew inspiration from the Women's movement.
His groundbreaking 1908 anthology of poems, Iolaus - anthology of friendship was a huge underground success, leading to a more advanced knowledge of homoerotic culture. It went to a second British edition in 1906 and a third edition in 1927. The New York 1917 edition is now available as a free online e-book.
Carpenter was an infuence on photographer Ansel Adams. In his early manhood Adams was... "devoted to the comparative-religious poetry of Edward Carpenter, who had close links with the Theosophical community of Halcyon, in Southern California" (Anne Hammond, Ansel Adams: Equivalent as Expression.).
On December 30, 1910 he had written:
Unfortunately the existence of his request was not discovered until several days after his burial. The closing words form the epitaph engraved on his tombstone:
He died 13 months after suffering a paralytic stroke and was interred in Mount Cemetery at Guildford in Surrey.
Edward Carpenter: An Exposition and an Appreciation, Edward Lewis 1915