What the papers are saying - ‘Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love'
The following clips are from reviews in the British & American press during autumn 2008 (with links to the full text, where available. Click on paper's name).
Mark Simpson, reviews the ‘worthy but fascinating new biography' of the ‘Utopian poet, mystic, activist, homophile, feminist, nudist and environmentalist Edward Carpenter' for The Independent on October 5, 2008. It is seen that Rowbotham ‘to her credit doesn't shrink from pointing out the limits of Carpenter's socialism'. Carpenter's portrayal of those ‘attracted to their own sex as harbinger's of a new age, the cultural advance guard of socialism' and the enraged response of George Bernard Shaw are highlighted, along with several citations of ‘this gloriously eccentric figure's' inconsistencies and detractors, including the paradoxical Carpenter hallmark, pointed out by E.M.Forster, of wishing to ‘merge with the cosmos and retain identity'. Nonetheless the reviewer finds it hard not to agree with Rowbotham's conclusion that "This complicated, confusing, contradictory yet courageous man is not going to vanish entirely from view."
A few days later, on October 7, The Independent followed up with, Richard Canning writing that Carpenter enthusiasts have been ‘awaiting a serious critical life for decades' and ‘read these 550 pages in a day, longing for more'. He sees Rowbotham, ‘more engaged with his ideas than his literary contribution', also ‘underlining the paradoxes in Carpenter's life' - but ‘thanks to her fine efforts, this incomparable progenitor of both green and gay politics may belatedly get his due'.Melissa Benn writes of ‘pioneering feminist writer and activist Sheila Rowbotham',"A most unshowy icon", for The Guardian, October 22. ‘Sexuality, trade unionism, birth control, wages, love: she brought these disparate concerns together in her activism and writing. She still does.' Interviewed on her ‘magisterial biography of Edward Carpenter', Rowbotham highlights that ‘he linked so many different causes... He was a visionary who was very interested in practical solutions.' ‘I would like people to discover him, to find the book relevant to the things they are interested in now, to how people might live and society could be.'
The Guardian's ‘Book of the Week': Fiona MacCarthy labels Carpenter ‘the most rivetingly interesting figure in late 19th-century radical politics' who envisaged ‘a new world in which men and women of all classes could live creatively together in love, beauty and freedom'. In ‘a splendid reassessment', ‘exhaustively researched and resonant in detail', Rowbotham reveals ‘a whole homosexual subculture in 19th-century industrial England' - and ‘an altogether different milieu from the more familiar metropolitan gay underworld of Oscar Wilde.' The Guardian November 1.
For Mary Fitzgerald in The New Statesman , ‘the views of Carpenter libertarian and outspoken campaigner' ‘differ little from those held by many activists today', and, despite his ‘tendency to exaggerate and self-dramatise', ultimately agrees with Rowbotham that ‘Carpenter's inspiring tale remains "as relevant for rebels now as it was then".
Doug Ireland in the November 26th issue of New York City's Gay City News writes: "As brilliantly researched and told by Rowbotham, "Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love" has lessons for same-sexers, and for the left, which are invaluable in considering how we got to where we are and whither we should go. If you think you know Carpenter, this book's revelations will nonetheless surprise you, as they did me. And if you don't know him, you owe it to yourself to add this important and entertaining work, illustrated with numerous photos, to your bookshelf."
In the Library Journal - Xpress Review , Troy Reed stated "Carpenter constantly challenged Victorian era views of society and encouraged his milieu to think in new and different ways. Rowbotham does him justice in this accessible introduction to Carpenter and his times."
Book of the year for the political activist Peter Tatchell in The Observer, November 30; 'one of the best political biographies for many years bursting with ideas that remain relevant to the future of humanity. An engaging insight into the life of a remarkable man.'
Jeanette Winterson commends for her selected books of the year 'a powerful and entertaining biography of the "sexy sage of Sheffield"'. 'This absorbing book opens up the whole period of early socialism in Britain. And it reads beautifully.' The Guardian, November 29 .