Mapping Male Sexuality: Nineteenth-Century England

By Jay Losey; William D. Brewer | Go to book overview

“The bricklayer shall lay me”:
Edward Carpenter, Walt Whitman, and
Working-Class “Comradeship”

WILLIAM A. PANNAPACKER

EDWARD CARPENTER (l844–1929) HAS ALWAYS STOOD IN THE SHADOW of the American poet Walt Whitman (1819–1892); Havelock Ellis even referred to Carpenter’s major literary production, a collection of poetry called Towards Democracy (1883–1905), as nothing more than “Whitman and water.”1 Carpenter’s generally conceded status as a second-rate author brings the example of his life to the fore among those who cherish his reputation as pioneer of socialism and gay liberation. E. M. Forster’s praise of his “constancy” and Henry Bishop’s claim that “Carpenter’s life was of a uniform texture” have become critical commonplaces.2 Carpenter’s abandonment of a respectable clerical position at Cambridge University, his move to Sheffield as a University Extension lecturer, his quest for a productive life of farming, and his long-term homosexual relationships with working-class men are often presented as examples of heroic opposition to the snobbery and repression of Victorian England. Chushichi Tsuzuki’s recent biography, Edward Carpenter 1844–1929, Prophet of Human Fellowship (1980), for example, asserts that Carpenter’s “whole life presented an open revolt against this society.”3 The referent of “this,” however, never seems completely clear, for it assumes the stability of culturally and historically specific social categories such as middle-class and workingclass, heterosexual and homosexual. Carpenter’s writings and the record of his life suggest that his allegedly subversive masculinity, based as it was on the transgression of the boundaries of class and gender, was inherently unstable and often supported the social categories he is said to have resisted. Carpenter’s masculinities were an ongoing negotiation of competing and overlapping discourses: elitism and populism, conservatism and radicalism, effeminacy and manliness, submissiveness and dominance, refinement and primi-

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