Carpenter Publishes Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Poet and social activist Edward Carpenter’s The Intermediate Sex was the first book in English on homosexuality to receive wide distribution, both nationally and abroad.

Summary of Event

The Intermediate Sex: A Study of Some Transitional Types of Men and Women was published simultaneously in English in 1908 by Swan Sonnenschein in London and S. Clarke in Manchester. Though the book already had appeared in German (Das Mittelgeschlecht) in 1907 and as articles or pamphlets earlier, publication in book form in English made Carpenter’s writings on homosexuality available to the general English reader for the first time, and for almost two decades it stood alone in providing a sympathetic treatment of homosexuality as a congenital disposition. [kw]Carpenter Publishes The Intermediate Sex (1908) [kw]Publishes The Intermediate Sex, Carpenter (1908) [kw]Intermediate Sex, Carpenter Publishes The (1908) Intermediate Sex, The (Carpenter) Homosexuality;early works on [c]Literature;1908: Carpenter Publishes The Intermediate Sex[0210] [c]Publications;1908: Carpenter Publishes The Intermediate Sex[0210] Carpenter, Edward

Edward Carpenter, c. 1875.

Especially in the first half of the book, Carpenter adopts the stance of a disinterested observer, that of an ethnologist or psychologist taking a fresh look at an ancient social “problem.” He makes a brief survey of “homogenic” "Homogenic love," definition of[homogenic love] (that is, homosexual) love throughout history and into modern times, deliberately blurring the customary distinction between passionate same-gender friendships and explicitly sexual relationships. Eventually his concern for the rights of this misunderstood sexual minority comes to the fore, but he continues, perhaps for strategic reasons, to downplay the importance of sexual acts, explaining that while homogenic love “has its physical side,” it is more essentially marked by “spiritual” qualities such as affection, commitment, and common purpose. He remarks that work by European sexologists Sexology such as Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Albert Moll, and Richard von Krafft-Ebing indicates that uranism, Uranism, definition of as homosexuality was called, is a congenital disposition, and more common than generally thought.

Carpenter further argues, however, that “comrade lovers” "Comrade lovers," definition of[comrade lovers] can make a vital contribution to society. Drawing on “A Problem in Greek Ethics,” "Problem in Greek Ethics, A" (Symonds) a privately printed pamphlet by John Addington Symonds, Symonds, John Addington he suggests that, just as in the ancient Greece, ancient;and masculinity[masculinity] world comrade lovers defended the state against tyranny, so today they might devote themselves to fighting social ills. If “the slaughter of tyrants” may no longer be required, modern society does confront “hydra-headed monsters at least as numerous as the tyrants of old, and more difficult to deal with, and requiring no little courage to encounter.” Quoting Walt Whitman’s essay “Democratic Vistas,” he suggests that comradeship can bring about the spiritualization of democracy and defend it from sinking into crass materialism.

Three of The Intermediate Sex’s five chapters had also appeared in English previously. Chapter 2, “The Intermediate Sex,” first appeared as “An Unknown People” in the Labour Party magazine The Reformer in July and August, 1897, and Carpenter had incorporated a slightly revised version into the fifth (1906) edition of his best-selling book on relations between the sexes, Love’s Coming of Age. Chapter 3, “The Homogenic Attachment,” was a revised version of a fifty-one-page pamphlet titled Homogenic Love: And Its Place in a Free Society Homogenic Love (Carpenter) that Carpenter had privately printed in 1894 as one of a series of pamphlets on sexual problems. Chapter 4, “Affection in Education,” had appeared in the International Journal of Ethics in July, 1899.

The fact that only a small portion of The Intermediate Sex was completely new and that Carpenter was held in high regard as a social philosopher and poet made it difficult for authorities to prosecute him for committing “obscene libel,” though government officials did seriously consider bringing charges.

Carpenter had studied mathematics at Cambridge University and briefly served as an assistant clergyman, but after reading Whitman’s poetry and traveling in Germany, he decided to join the Cambridge University Extension Movement to bring education to working men and women in the industrial cities of England’s Midlands. Associating with workers politicized Carpenter, and he became active in the socialist movement, joining the Sheffield Socialists, the Fabian Society, and the Fellowship of the New Life. Carpenter’s socialism was utopian, however, and as the program of the labor movement became more pragmatic, aiming to win seats in Parliament, he found himself increasingly on the margins. This fact, and the strength of his domestic partnership with George Merrill, persuaded him to speak out more boldly on behalf of homosexuals.

Carpenter’s work is remembered less for its originality than for its influence in his own time. Through a steady stream of articles, lectures, and poems, he proved to be a skillful and effective popularizer of “advanced ideas” concerning not only homosexuality but also vegetarianism, animal rights, smoke pollution, women’s rights, Hindu philosophy, and spiritualism. He corresponded with progressive thinkers worldwide, including Mohandas K. Gandhi and Leo Tolstoy. Though as much an anarchist as a socialist, he was widely read and admired. His farm at Millthorpe became a destination of pilgrimage for all those interested in social reform.


England imposed no official censorship on books as it did plays, but the system of prosecuting work thought to be “obscene” made it extremely hazardous to publish on the subject of homosexuality. The few who did would generally print their work privately, for distribution only to friends and colleagues. As a result, Carpenter’s The Intermediate Sex was in its time the only work on homosexuality that ordinary readers could obtain. The value of the book for gays and lesbians of the period is inestimable, though the testimony of contemporary readers such as E. M. Forster, Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, and Edith Lees suggests that it profoundly affected many individual lives.

The majority of reviews were surprisingly favorable, and the book sold well, running through five editions between 1908 and 1918, and six more reprints between 1918 and 1930—about eleven thousand copies in all. In the 1920’s, interest in the work of Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis diminished the influence of Carpenter’s work. By his death in 1929, Carpenter’s ideas, even about “homogenic love,” already seemed to belong to a bygone time. Intermediate Sex, The (Carpenter) Homosexuality;early works on

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brown, Tony, ed. Edward Carpenter and Late Victorian Radicalism. Special issue, Prose Studies: History, Theory, Criticism 13, no. 1 (May, 1990).
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carpenter, Edward. The Intermediate Sex: A Study of Some Transitional Types of Men and Women. In Selected Writings. London: GMP/Heretic, 1984. Available at
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. My Days and Dreams. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1916.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hynes, Samuel. “Science, Seers, and Sex.” In The Edwardian Turn of Mind. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1968.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rowbotham, Sheila, and Jeffrey Weeks. Socialism and the New Life: The Personal and Sexual Politics of Edward Carpenter and Havelock Ellis. London: Pluto Press, 1977.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tsuzuki, Chushichi. Edward Carpenter, 1844-1929: Prophet of Human Fellowship. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

May 6, 1868: Kertbeny Coins the Terms “Homosexual” and “Heterosexual”

1869: Westphal Advocates Medical Treatment for Sexual Inversion

1896: Der Eigene Is Published as First Journal on Homosexuality

1896: Raffalovich Publishes Uranisme et Unisexualité

1897: Ellis Publishes Sexual Inversion

May 14, 1897: Hirschfeld Founds the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee

1903: Stein Writes Q.E.D.

1905: Freud Rejects Third-Sex Theory

1906: Friedlaender Breaks with the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee

December 10, 1924: Gerber Founds the Society for Human Rights

1928: Hall Publishes The Well of Loneliness

1933-1945: Nazis Persecute Homosexuals

1950: Mattachine Society Is Founded

Categories: History