Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Sexual Liberationist and Feminist Campaigner Addresses "The Trapped Soul"

Edward Carpenter, Wikimedia Commons

Throughout his life, Edward Carpenter (1844-1929) campaigned for feminism and sexual freedom. These issues were at the forefront of his professional career, giving inspiration and hope to others. He lived as a child in Brunswick Square in Hove in East Sussex, UK, and when he was ten years old, he attended Brighton College, where he first recognised within himself feelings towards his own sex.

My Days and Dreams

In his autobiography My Days and Dreams, Carpenter comments on the problems that arose in schools due to the suppression and misdirection of the natural emotions of boy-attachment.

"I, as a day boy, and one who happened to be rather pure-minded than otherwise, grew up quite free from these evils; though possibly it would have been a good thing if I had had a little more experience of them than I had. As it was, no elder person ever spoke to me about sexual matters... I suppose it was in consequence of this that I never saw anything repellent or shameful in sexual acts themselves."

In 1877, Edward Carpenter left Brighton and met the great American poet Walt Whitman. He'd already "found himself" through his reading of the colourful, gay poet, around the year 1869. "It was not until I read Whitman - and then with a great leap of joy - that I met with the treatment of sex which accorded with my own sentiments." Carpenter regarded these feelings as perfectly natural. They were just like any other bodily function and he simply could not understand what all the fuss was about.

The Uranian Temperament in Man

Carpenter believed that what he called "the Uranian temperament in man" closely resembled the normal temperament of women because in both, love, in some form of other, is the main object of life. He says that in a "normal" (sic) man, love, as a rule, becomes secondary to ambition, money, adventure, business. Heterosexual men, he felt, did not understand the suffering of women in what he described as "the drying-up of the well-springs of affection as well as in the crucifixion of their physical needs."

Further, he understood that these thwarted needs inspired the Women's Movement: "I do not practically doubt that the similar sufferings of the Uranian class of men are destined in their turn to lead to another wide-reaching social organisation and forward movement in the direction of Art and Human Compassion," he says in his autobiography.

In 1890, Edward Carpenter openly began a relationship with George Merrill. Merrill was attractive both to men and women, but his passionate nature rendered him not quite "respectable." George Merrill cared not a jot for public opinion, nor what anyone thought of him. Carpenter intuited on meeting George that he was not "satisfied in his heart."

After WWI, Carpenter and Merrill moved to Guildford where they remained for the rest of lives.

E.M. Forster Honours Edward Carpenter

The writer, E.M. Forster, claimed that Edward Carpenter was the inspiration behind his novel of homosexual love, Maurice, which was completed in 1914. It was published, posthumously, in 1960. In his "Terminal Note" to the book, added in 1960, Forster says: "Carpenter had a prestige which cannot be understood today. He was a rebel appropriate to his age... he was a believer in the Love of Comrades... It was this last aspect of him that attracted me in my loneliness. For a short time he seemed to hold the key to every trouble."

Forster also adds in his "Terminal Note" that George Merrill touched his (Forster's) backside very gently, and that he found the sensation unusual and still remembered it, "as I remember the position of a long-vanished tooth."

Theory of the "Trapped Soul"

In "The Muted Lesbian Voice" Nickie Hastie mentions Edward Carpenter's theory of the "trapped soul." She says: "... according to Carpenter, in the homosexual, the embryo's emotional and nervous regions (the soul) develop along a masculine line, while the outer body develops along a feminine line, or vice versa, and the individual's personality traits are considered to correspond to the soul's gender."

Carpenter's first book Homogenic Love was published in 1895 and The Intermediate Sex followed in 1908. He also set up the British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology.

·                                 My Days and Dreams, Edward Carpenter, 1916.
·                                 "The Muted Lesbian Voice: Coming Out of Camouflage," Nickie Hastie, 1989.
·                                 Maurice, E.M. Forster, Penguin Books, 1972. First published by Edward Arnold, 1971.
·                                 LGBT Brighton and Hove, Janet Cameron, Amberley Publishing, Gloucestershire, 2010.

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