A new local community campaign group, the Friends of Edward Carpenter, has been established in Sheffield to commemorate the life and work of the city’s famous queer socialist writer and campaigner. The campaign will be organising a number of events to raise funds for a permanent public artwork to serve as a memorial to Edward Carpenter and to raise awareness of the radical causes he fought for. Edward Carpenter (1848-1929) lived on the outskirts of Sheffield on a farm he worked on with his boyfriend, George Merill, an uneducated labourer from the city’s slums. Their life together inspired E.M. Forster’s groundbreaking gay novel “Maurice”. He travelled widely and was a supporter of Indian and Irish self-rule and an opponent of British imperialism. He spent time in Leeds working as a university lecturer in a project that brought free higher education to the working class of that city for the first time. He was invited to be tutor to the Prince of Wales, the future King George V, but declined as he despised the monarchy and the class system. He spent some time in Chesterfield before settling in Sheffield, where he helped to found the Sheffield Socialist Society, a revolutionary organisation that rejected reformist social democracy.
As well as being a libertarian socialist who was instrumental in the founding of the Labour Party, the Socialist League and the Fabian Society, a pro-feminist supporter of the Suffragette movement, an opponent of the death penalty, an early environmentalist and animal rights campaigner, Carpenter was a passionately vocal advocate of the cause of gay liberation at a time when homosexuality was punishable by imprisonment in Britain and queer icon Oscar Wilde had just been convicted in a trial that had scandalised the nation.
Carpenter was a fine poet who was responsible for introducting the work of queer American genius Walt Whitman to Britain, and he also helped E.M. Forster to “come out”, both in terms of his sexuality and his literatury career. He counted among his friends socialist pioneer James Keir Hardy, anti-imperialist martyr Mahatma Ghandi, Whitman, Forster, William Morris, Annie Beasant, Isadora Duncan, Olive Shreiner, John Ruskin and Jack London.
Kate Flannery of the Friends of Edward Carpenter said the following about the motivation for the new community campaign:
“We believe Carpenter is an important historical character who bravely campaigned on numerous issues such as sexuality, the environment, clean air and the rights of women…Recognition of this man’s contribution to social change is long overdue.”
Mark Scott, also of the Friends of Edward Carpenter, explained the campaign’s aims:
“We intend to organise a number of events which will not only raise money for the public artwork celebrating Carpenter, but will also ensure that more people are aware of Carpenter’s work and influence. We hope that such events will also build a sense of community among people who share the values espoused by him.”
The group aims to establish the public artwork by 2014. For more information visit www.friendsofedwardcarpenter.co.uk