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Book of the Week — The Lake of Beauty

The Lake of Beauty
Stephanie Wolff
Norwich, VT: Stephanie Wolff, 2015

Edward Carpenter (1844-1929) was born in England. His philosophical writings reflected his interests in social and sexual reform and the late 19th-century anti-industrial Arts and Crafts Movement. In rebellion against Victorian prudery and industrial dehumanization, Carpenter was a prominent advocate of vegetarianism, overt homosexuality, women’s rights, clean air, and the value of manual labor. He argued for gender equality and birth control.

At a time when being gay was illegal and Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde was famously imprisoned for his homosexuality, Carpenter published his writings on gay liberation and lived openly with his partner George Merrill in the working-class town of Sheffield.

He was influenced by Henry David Thoreau, John Ruskin, William Morris, and Walt Whitman whose verse forms he followed for his long, unrhymed poem, Towards Democracy. Reflective of his interest in the sacred Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita, Carpenter began writing the poem in 1881, while he recovered from sickness and stress after a visit to India the year before. Originally published in 1883, Carpenter expanded the poem in 1905. The first edition sold only 400 copies in the first several years after its publication. The four volume poem embraces themes of freedom and equality, expressed in a flowing rant punctuated with wild word associations.

Book artist Stephanie Wolff took an excerpt, “The Lake of Beauty,” from Carpenter’s Towards Democracy as the text for this book. It was letterpress printed with handset metal type on unbleached Thai Mulberry paper. Circular imagery is printed in various shades of greens and blues. Celadon endsheets of Hanji paper connect the text pages to the Somerset Velvet Antique paper cover, inset with a printed sage green paper circle. The softcover flutter binding is wrapped in a sage green bookcloth-covered chemise housed within a basswood slipcase.

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