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||Havelock Ellis (1859-1939)|
English essayist, psychologist, a pioneer in establishing a modern, scientific approach to the study of sex. Ellis's magnum opus was Studies in the Psychology of Sex (7 vols., 1897-1928). Until 1935 his work was legally available only to the medical profession. Ellis became known as a champion of women's rights and of sex education, but his autobiography My Life (1939) reveals his marital problems and unhappiness in his own sexual life.
"All advance in social reform, even when it involves surgery, is, and always has been, effected by heroic pioneers who are ready to act, and even, if need be, to become martyrs. They slowly win the world to their side. The law limps behind." (from Questions of Our Day, 1934)
Henry Havelock Ellis was born in Croydon, Surrey, the son of
Edward Peppen Ellis, a sea captain, and Susannah Mary (Wheatley) Ellis.
He was educated at private schools in London. At the age of sixteen he
made a voyage to Australia in a ship under his father's command. He
worked there as a teacher in New South Wales, where he underwent an
inner transformation. Later Ellis returned to this experience in the
novel Kanga Creek (1922) and his autobiography: "Yet there has
never been a moment when the foundation and background of my life have
not been marked by the impress they received at Sparke's Creek." After
four years, he returned to England. Ellis entered St. Thomas' Hospital,
London, where he studied medicine from 1881 to 1889.
However, after qualifying Ellis practiced only for a short time. In 1891, Ellis married the English writer Edith Lees; he was still a virgin. From the beginning, their marriage was unconventional – the wedding breakfast consisted of porridge and at the end of the honeymoon, Ellis went back to his barchelor rooms in Paddington. Edith lived at Fellowship house. Their stormy relationship was the central subject in Ellis's autobiography, My Life. None of Ellis's four sisters ever married. "If men and women are to understand each other," Ellis once said, "to enter into each other's nature with mutual sympathy, and to become capable of genuine comradeship, the foundation must be laid in youth."
In 1883 Ellis met the South African writer Olive Schreiner. He did not aswer to her expectations, but they remained close friends until her death in 1920. "We were not what can be technically, or even ordinarily, called lover," Ellis said later. In On Life and Sex: Essays of Love and Virtue (1921) Ellis referred to Schreiner's Woman and Labour (1911) and her theory that modern society produces a tendency to parasitism in women: "...they no longer exercise the arts and industries which were theirs in former ages, and so they become economically dependent on men, losing their energies and aptitudes, and becoming like those dull parasitic animals which live as blood-suckers of their host." The letters of Schreiner and Ellis were published in 1992. It has been speculated that their relationship was unconsummated. Ellis suffered from impotence until he was about 60. With the help of a devoted lover, he finally cured the problem, and remained sexually active until he was 72. "I am regarded as an authority on sex, a fact which sometimes amused one or two (though not all) of my intimate women friends," Ellis wrote in his autobiography.
During his time as a medical student, Ellis began writing for
magazines, and become a staff member of the Westminster Review.
At the meetings the Fellowship of the New Life Ellis met G.B. Shaw
(1856-1950) and other progressive thinkers, but when Shaw was attracted
by Socialism and collective action, Ellis focused on the problems of
individuals. However, Edward Carpenter's poem Towards Democracy (1883-1902),
about the march of humanity toward socialism, inspired Ellis so much,
that he sent Carpenter a letter, which started their long friendship.
In 1887 he became editor of the Mermaid Series of unexpurgated reprints
of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. He worked on this project with such
writers as Arthur Symons (1865-1945), A.C. Swinburne (1837-1909). His
first work of nonfiction, The Criminal (1890), appeared in the
Contemporary Science Series, which he edited until 1914. In 1894 he
published Man and Woman, which was translated into many
Around the turn of the century Ellis experimented with the hallucinogen mescal, preceding Aldous Huxley who also studied hallucinogenic substances. Yeats, who was interested in the relationship between dreams, visions, and drugs, co-operated in the trials. However, he expressed preference for hashish. The first result was an article, 'Mescal: a new artificial Paradise' published in the Cotemporary Review in 1898, and then another, 'Mescal: a study of a divine planet' (1902).
Like Freud, Ellis based many of his ideas on Darwinian theories of evolution. His increasing concern with sexual matters let to Studies in the Psychology of Sex. It appeared in six volumes from 1897 to 1910. A seventh volume was published in 1928. The work explored sexual relations largely from a biological and multicultural perspective. Especially Ellis was interested in the typical sexual behavior of humans, paving way to the surveys of Alfred Kinsey and other modern writers on sexual topics. He objected Freud's application of adult sexual terms to infants, and tried to demystify human sexuality – most of his English readers were raised in the asexual, ignorant, and prejudiced Victorian climate. Masturbation, he assured his readers, did not inevitably lead to serious illness. Ellis himself liked to watch women urinating. Once he persuaded his lover Françoise Cyon to do so in Oxford Circus. "I think almost all civilized people are in some way what would be thought abnormal," said Bertrand Russel in his Autobiography after reading Ellis's work, "and they suffer because they don't know that really ever so many people are just like them."
Sexual Inversion, which challenged popular prejudices
against homosexuals, was published in Germany in 1896 under
the title Das konträre Geschechtsfühl. When the book appeared
in Britain, George Bedborough, the bookseller, who had stocked it, was
prosecuted, and a British judge declare the Studies obscene.
Just a few years earlier Oscar Wilde had been condemned for the crime
of sodomy. In his work Ellis had presented some 80 cases of homosexual
males, concluding that homosexual behavior was not a disease or a
crime. This view was also maintained by the Finnish sociologist,
philosopher, and anthropologist Edvard
with whom Ellis corresponded from 1902. Both Ellis and Westermarck
advocated for decriminalization of homosexuality. With Edward Carpenter
he established the British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology
(BSSSP) in 1914. Westermarck was not its member but he gave a lecture
at a meeting of the society in 1920.
The subsequent volumes of the Studies were published in the United States by F.A. Davis Company in Philadelphia. The seventh volume, Eonism and Other Supplementary Studies, appeared in 1928. After the ban was lifted, Random House produced to general readers a four-volume series of the work. The last years of his life Ellis spent in retirement near Ipswich, is Suffolk. Ellis died of an apparent heart attack on July 8, 1939 in Hintlesham, Suffolk. Havelock Ellis's library was purchased by Yale University in 1941. The FBI also has files on Ellis.
With The Task of Social Hygiene (1912) Ellis
participated in the discussion about eugenics – he supported it
strongly 'the science and art of Good Breeding in the human race':
"Eventually, it seems evident, a general system, whether private or
public, whereby all personal facts, biological and mental, normal and
morbid, are duly and systematically registered, must become inevitable
if we are to have a real guide as to those persons who are most fit, or
most unfit to carry on the race. Unless they are full and frank such
records are useless." Thus Ellis did not condemn Nazi sterilization
programmes, because they had scientific premises and "need not become
mixed up in the Nordic and anti-semitic aspects of Nazi aspiration." (in Studies in the Psychology of Sex, vol. 6, 1937)
The poet H.D. (Hilda Doolitle), who was married to the
writer and poet Richard Aldington, met Ellis in 1919. They corresponded
for a number of years. H.D. identified herself as the "Person" in
Ellis's essay 'A Revelation' (1924). Ellis called her "Hyacinth," she
called him "Chiron," after the mythological centaur, who was the
teacher of Achilles.
In addition to his studies on sexuality, Ellis wrote on authors such as Casanova, Nietzsche, Henrik Ibsen, Walt Whitman, and Leo Tolstoy. His essays on French writers were collected under the title From Rousseau to Proust (1935). A new edition of The Soul of Spain (1908), with an introductory essay on the Spanish Civil War, appeared in 1937. His critical pieces from 1884 to 1932 on literature and art were reprinted in Views and Reviews (1932). Thousands of people wrote Ellis asking him for advice on sexual matters. His correspondence he utilized in My Confessional (1934), a collection of essays.
For further reading: Havelock Ellis, Philosopher of Love by H. Peterson (1928); Friendship's Odyssey by F.R. Delisle (1946); Sage of Sex: A Life of Havelock Ellis by A. Calder-Marshall (1959); Havelock Ellis, Artist of Life by John Stewart Collis (1959); The Modernization of Sex: Havelock Ellis, Alfred Kinsey, William Masters and Virginia Johnson by Paul Robinson (1976); Havelock Ellis, Philosopher of Sex by V. Brome (1979); Havelock Ellis: a Biography by P. Grosskurth (1980); 'Ellis, (Henry) Havelock', in World Authors 1900-1950, vol. 2, ed. by Martin Seymour-Smith and Andrew C. Kimmens (1996); The Pursuit of Serenity: Havelock Ellis and the New Politics by Chris Nottingham (1999); Sciences of Modernism: Ethnography, Sexology, and Psychology by Paul Peppis (2014); 'H.D. and Havelock Ellis: Popular Science and the Gendering of Thought and Vision' by R. Pappas, in Women's Studies, Vol 38; Number 2 (2009)