Havelock Ellis

Havelock Ellis

Henry Havelock Ellis, the eldest child and only son of Edward Peppern Ellis (1827–1914), a sea captain, and his wife, Susannah Mary (1829–1888), was born on 2nd February 1859 at 1 St John's Grove, Croydon. He was named after a distant relation, Sir Henry Havelock, a general during the Indian Mutiny.

His father was rarely home and it was his mother who was the dominant influence in his early life. According to one of his biographers: "As an ardent evangelical Christian, who had experienced a conversion at the age of seventeen, she had vowed never to visit a theatre in her life. Despite this she was a warm influence on the young Ellis, who early on slipped away from the more rigid aspects of her faith." Havelock Ellis was provided with a basic education at local schools but he was a compulsive reader and he was deeply influenced by the philosopher, Ernest Renan, and the poets, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Algernon Charles Swinburne.

He travelled with his father to Australia and at the age of nineteen became a teacher in schools in the outback. During this period he read Life in Nature by James Hinton, a writer on political, social, religious, and sexual matters. He later recalled that the book sparked a spiritual transformation: "The clash in my inner life was due to what had come to seem to me the hopeless discrepancy of two different conceptions of the universe … The great revelation brought to me by Hinton … was that these two conflicting attitudes are really but harmonious though different aspects of the same unity." Ellis now became convinced that sexual freedom could bring in a new age of happiness.

Havelock Ellis arrived back in England in April 1879 and eventually became a medical student at St Thomas's Hospital in Southwark. In 1883 he joined the Fellowship of the New Life, an organisation founded by Thomas Davidson. Other members included Edward Carpenter, Edith Lees, Edith Nesbit, Frank Podmore, Isabella Ford, Henry Hyde Champion, Hubert Bland, Edward Pease and Henry Stephens Salt. According to another member, Ramsay MacDonald, the group were influenced by the ideas of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

In January 1884 some of the members of the group, including Havelock Ellis, decided to form a socialist debating group. Frank Podmore suggested that the group should be named after the Roman General, Quintus Fabius Maximus, who advocated the weakening the opposition by harassing operations rather than becoming involved in pitched battles. They therefore decided to call themselves the Fabian Society.

Havelock Ellis read the novel Story of an African Farm at the beginning of 1884. He wrote in his autobiography, My Life (1940): "What delighted me in The African Farm was, in part, the touch of genius, the freshness of its outlook, the firm splendor of its style, the penetration of its insight into the core of things." Ellis wrote to the author, Olive Schreiner and she replied on 25th February 1884: "The book was written in an upcountry farm in the Karoo and it gives me great pleasure to think that other hearts find it real." Soon afterwards they arranged a meeting and over the next few months they were constant companions.

Phyllis Grosskurth, the author of Havelock Ellis (1980), has argued: "Ellis and Olive were completely devoted to each other. They went to meetings and lectures together; they wandered through art galleries; late at night after the theatre they would stroll along the street, the tall, lean youth and the short, squat girl holding hands and chattering endlessly in a carefree way." They both shared the same views on sexuality, free love, marriage, the emancipation of women, sexual equality and birth control.

Ellis later wrote in his autobiography, My Life (1940): "She was in some respects the most wonderful woman of her time, as well as its chief woman-artist in language, and that such a woman should be the first woman in the world I was to know by intimate revelation was an overwhelming fact. It might well have disturbed my mental balance, and for a while I was almost intoxicated by the experience." However, he added: "We were not what can be technically, or even ordinarily, called lovers. But the relationship of affectionate friendship which was really established meant more for both of us, and was even more intimate, than is often and relationship between those who technically and ordinarily are lovers."

According to Jeffrey Weeks: "Olive was a forceful and passionate woman, though prone to ill health, and the two writers quickly established a fervent relationship. It is not clear whether it was conventionally consummated. Ellis himself appears not to have been strongly drawn to heterosexual intercourse, and had a lifelong interest in urolagnia, a delight in seeing women urinate."

Olive also became friends with Karl Pearson, the Goldsmid Chair of Applied Mathematics and Mechanics at University College. By 1885 she was in love with Pearson and he began to replace Havelock Ellis in the role of confidant. However, he did not feel the same way about her. Olive wrote that while she was desperately in love, he was "too idealistic for anything as earthy as sex." He later married Maria Sharpe and their relationship came to an end.

Olive Schreiner remained close to Ellis but was upset by his lack of sexual desire. She wrote to Edward Carpenter: "Ellis has a strange reserved spirit. The tragedy of his life is that the outer man gives no expression to the wonderful beautiful soul in him, which now and then flashes out on you when you come near him. In some ways he has the noblest nature of any human being I know."

By March 1884 the Fabian Society had twenty members. However, over the next couple of years the group increased in size and included socialists such as Sydney Olivier, William Clarke, Eleanor Marx, Annie Besant, Graham Wallas, J. A. Hobson, Sidney Webb, Beatrice Webb, George Bernard Shaw, Charles Trevelyan, J. R. Clynes, Harry Snell, Clementina Black, Walter Crane, Sylvester Williams, H. G. Wells, Clifford Allen and Amber Reeves.

Havelock Ellis met Edith Lees, in 1887 at a meeting of the Fellowship of the New Life. He later recalled: "She was a small, compact, active person, scarcely five feet in height, with a fine skin, a singularly well-shaped head with curly hair, square, powerful hands, very small feet, and - her most conspicuous feature on a first view - large rather pale blue eyes. I cannot say that the impression she made on me on that occasion was specially sympathetic; it so happens that the dominating feature of her face, the pale blue eyes, is not one that appeals to me, for to me green or grey eyes (I believe because one is drawn to those of one's own type) are the congenial eyes, and I never grew really to admire them, though to many they were peculiarly beautiful and fascinating." Edith was also critical of Havelock's appearance. "She (Edith) was not impressed; it seemed to her that my clothes were ill-made, and that was a point on which she always remained sensitive."

In 1890 Havelock Ellis' first book, The New Spirit, was published. According to one critic, the book discusses "the manifestations of the new spirit abroad in the world: the growing sciences of anthropology, sociology, and political science; the increasing importance of women; the disappearance of war; the substitution of art for religion as a social and emotional outlet." The book was heavily criticised. One reviewer commented that: "His reading has been rather too exclusively among the rebels and heretics of literature; and he would be well advised if he were to restore the balance by devoting more attention to the older, more conservative, more historic writers, whose influence, we may depend upon it, will survive the fame of several of the new men for whom our present-day critics are erecting very lofty pedestals."

Edith Lees later wrote: "When I first read The New Spirit, I knew I loved the man who wrote it." In August, Ellis had a week's work replacing Dr. Bonar at Probus, in Cornwall. While Lamorna he met Edith Lees who was on holiday at the time. They went for long walks together and talked a great deal about their ideas on politics and religion. Ellis later described their relationship as "a union of affectionate comradeship, in which the specific emotions of sex had the smallest part, yet a union, as I was later to learn by experience, able to attain even on that basis a passionate intensity of love."

They eventually married on 19th December 1891. The relationship was highly unconventional. They maintained separate incomes and, for large parts of the year, separate dwellings. It seems that they did not have a sexual relationship. Ellis wrote that "on my side I felt that in this respect we were relatively unsuited to each other, that (sexual) relations were incomplete and unsatisfactory". Lees was a lesbian who had relationships with other women. The first relationship was with a woman that Ellis called "Claire" in his autobiography. Phyllis Grosskurth has pointed out: "Edith was to have a succession of passionate relationships, although - and Ellis regarded this as an extenuation - only one intense friend at a time. He learned to accept the succession of dear friends; he never quarrelled with any of them and the only test he applied to them was whether they were good for Edith or not."

Edith Ellis and Havelock Ellis
Edith Ellis and Havelock Ellis

According to Lillian Faderman, the author of Surpassing the Love of Men (1985): "Ellis's wife, Edith Lees, seems to have been a victim of his theories. From his own account, Ellis apparently convinced her that she was a congenital invert (lesbian), while she believed herself to be only a romantic friend to other women. He relates in My Life that during the first years of their marriage, she revealed to him an emotional relationship with an old friend who staved with her while she and Ellis were apart... He thus encouraged her to see herself as an invert and to regard her subsequent love relations with women as a manifestation of her inversion."

In his autobiography, My Life: Havelock Ellis claimed: "It was certainly not a union of unrestrainable passion; I, though I failed yet clearly to realise why, was conscious of no inevitably passionate sexual attraction to her, and she, also without yet clearly realising why, had never felt genuinely passionate sexual attraction for any man... Whatever passionate attractions she had experienced were for women."

Havelock Ellis published his second book, The Nationalization of Health in 1892. Phyllis Grosskurth has commented that Ellis argued: "The state was to be responsible for the physical well-being of the individual, a revolutionary suggestion in its time. Against an historical background of the development of health movements, he discusses the role of the private practitioner, the existing hospital system, the hospital of the future, and the necessity for a Minister of Health... In The Nationalization of Health a national health scheme is, as far as I know, advocated for the first time."

In 1894 Ellis published Man and Woman: A Study of Human Secondary Sexual Characters. In his autobiography he wrote "it was a book to be studied and read in order to clear the ground for the study of sex in the central sense in which I was chiefly concerned with it". He added that it was "primarily undertaken for my own edification". However, as the author of Havelock Ellis (1980) has pointed out: "Until his marriage to Edith, Olive Schreiner seems to have been the only woman with whom he indulged in sexual intimacies, however unsatisfactory they may have been. In other words, the man who wrote Man and Woman was almost totally inexperienced, and when he departs from physiological description he sounds remarkably naïve."

In 1897 Havelock Ellis published Sexual Inversion, the first of his six volume Studies in the Psychology of Sex. The book was first serious study of homosexuality published in Britain. It was based partly as a result of his awareness of the homosexuality of his wife and friends such as Edward Carpenter. Ellis admitted in his autobiography: "Homosexuality was an aspect of sex which up to a few years before had interested me less than any, and I had known very little about it. But during those few years I had become interested in it. Partly I had found that some of my most highly esteemed friends were more or less homosexual (like Edward Carpenter, not to mention Edith)." According to a letter he wrote to Arthur Symonds, Edith Lees Ellis promised to "supply cases of inversion (homosexuality) in women from among her own friends."

Phyllis Grosskurth has argued: "Sexual Inversion was an unprecedented book. Never before had homosexuality been treated so soberly, so comprehensively, so sympathetically. To read it today is to read the voice of common sense and compassion; to read it then was, for the great majority, to be affronted by a deliberate incitement to vice of the most degrading kind.... That such sexual proclivity is not determined by suggestion, accident, or historical conditioning is apparent, he argues, from the fact that it is widespread among animals and that there is abundant evidence of its prevalence among various nations at all periods of history."

As one biographer, Jeffrey Weeks, pointed out: "Ellis's aim was to demonstrate that homosexuality (or inversion, his preferred term) was not a product of peculiar national vices, or periods of social decay, but a common and recurrent part of human sexuality, a quirk of nature, a congenital anomaly." This idea was repugnant to most people and the book was attacked by most reviewers. The birth-control campaigner, Marie Stopes, described reading it as "like breathing a bag of soot; it made me feel choked and dirty for three months."

George Bedborough, the secretary of the Legitimation League, was arrested on 31st May 1898 and charged with selling Sexual Inversion. The arresting officer, John Sweeney, later admitted that the objective was to destroy what they believed was an anarchist organisation as well as removing obscene books for sale: "we were convinced that we should at one blow kill a growing evil in the shape of a vigorous campaign of free love and Anarchism, and at the same time discover the means by which the country was being flooded with books of the psychology type." Bedborough was charged with having "sold and uttered a certain lewd wicked bawdy scandalous and obscene libel in the form of a book entitled Studies in the Psychology of Sex: Sexual Inversion."

A group including George Bernard Shaw, Henry Hyndman, Frank Harris and George Moore, formed a committee to defend the book. Shaw argued: "The prosecution of Mr. Bedborough for selling Mr. Havelock Ellis's book is a masterpiece of police stupidity and magisterial ignorance... In Germany and France the free circulation of such works as the one of Mr. Havelock Ellis's now in question has done a good deal to make the public in those countries understand that decency and sympathy are as necessary in dealing with sexual as with any other subjects. In England we still repudiate decency and sympathy and make virtues of blackguards and ferocity."

In court the book was described as being a "certain lewd, wicked, bawdy, scandalous libel". The judge told George Bedboroug: "So long as you do not touch this filthy work again with your hands and so long as you lead a respectable life, you will hear no more of this. But if you choose to go back to your evil ways, you will be brought up before me, and it will be my duty to send you to prison for a very long time." As a result of this case all copies of Sexual Inversion were withdrawn from sale.

In 1898 Edith Lees Ellis published her first novel, Seaweed: A Cornish Idyll. Havelock Ellis commented that the novel was "a real work of art, well planned and well balanced, original and daring, the genuinely personal outcome of its author, alike in its humour and its firm, deep grip of the great sexual problems it is concerned with, centering around the relations of a wife to a husband who by accident has become impotent.... it has seemed to me that the story was consciously or unconsciously inspired by her own relations with me and of course completely transformed by the artist's hand into a new shape."

During this period Edith began a relationship with Lily, an artist from Ireland who lived in St. Ives. In his autobiography, My Life, Ellis pointed out that: "Much as Edith always admired the clean, honest, reliable Englishwoman, there was yet, as I have already indicated, something in that type that was apt to jar on her in intimate intercourse; she craved something more gracious, less prudish, pure by natural instinct rather than by moral principle. In Lily she found the ideal embodiment of all her cravings." He claimed that he did not mind Edith's passionate relationship with Lily because Claire had absorbed all his capacity for jealously. Edith was devastated when Lily died from Bright's Disease in June 1903.

Havelock Ellis continued to work on Studies in the Psychology of Sex. Volume II, The Evolution of Modesty, The Phenomena of Sexual Periodicity, Auto-Erotism, appeared in 1899. This was followed by Love and Pain, The Sexual Impulse in Women (1903), Sexual Selection in Man (1905), Erotic Symbolism, The Mechanism of Detumescence (1906) and Sex in Relation to Society (1910).

Bertrand Russell wrote to Ottoline Morrell after the final volume was published: "I have read a good deal of Havelock Ellis on sex. It is full of things that everyone ought to know, very scientific and objective, most valuable and interesting. What a folly it is the way people are kept in ignorance on sexual matters, even when they think they know every-thing. I think almost all civilized people are in some way what would be thought abnormal, and they suffer because they don't know that really ever so many people are just like them."

In Erotic Symbolism, The Mechanism of Detumescence Havelock Ellis discussed his "own germ of perversion" urolagina: "There is ample evidence to show that, either as a habitual or more usually an occasional act, the impulse to bestow a symbolic value on the act of urination in a beloved person, is not extremely uncommon; it has been noted of men of high intellectual distinction; it occurs in women as well as men; when existing in only a slight degree, it must be regarded as within the normal limits of variation of sexual emotion."

In December 1914 Havelock Ellis received a letter from Margaret Sanger. As Phyllis Grosskurth, the author of Havelock Ellis (1980), has pointed out: "He invited her to tea the following week and was startled to find her so pretty and so comparatively young. At first she was overwhelmed by his patriarchal beauty and his refusal to make small talk. She was also surprised - as many others were on first meeting him - by his thin, high voice, so unexpected in a man of his size."

Sanger fell in love with Ellis. She wrote in An Autobiography (1938): "I was at peace, and content as I had never been before... I was not excited as I went back through the heavy fog to my own dull little room. My emotion was too deep for that. I felt as though I had been exalted into a hitherto undreamed-of world."

Soon afterwards Sanger tried to turn it into a sexual relationship. Ellis wrote to her explaining "What I felt, and feel, is that by just being your natural spontaneous self you are giving me so much more than I can hope to give you. You see, I am an extremely odd, reserved, slow undemonstrative person, whom it takes years and years to know. I have two or three very dear friends who date from 20 or 25 years back (and they like me better now than they did at first) and none of recent date."

Edith Lees Ellis suffered from poor health in her forties. In March 1916 she suffered from a severe nervous breakdown and entered a local convent nursing home at Hayle in Cornwall. Soon afterwards she attempted suicide by throwing herself from the fourth floor. Havelock Ellis wrote to Edward Carpenter: "Quite what she was feeling and thinking these last few days I do not know. It was some kind of despair. She has been despondent and self-reproachful as not having lived up to her ideals for some time past, and has lost her faith in things and in her spirit... The condition has been fundamentally neurasthenia, with mental symptoms - distressing loss of will power and helplessness."

Edith was eventually released but was forced back to hospital and died of diabetes in September 1916. Havelock Ellis told Margaret Sanger: She was always a child, and through everything, a very lovable child, to the last. Even friends whom she only made during the last few weeks are inconsolable at her loss." Two years later he arranged for the publication of her James Hinton: a Sketch (1918).

Françoise Lafitte-Cyon had been doing some translating work for Edith shortly before her death. Havelock first met her to pay an outstanding bill. They began meeting and on 3rd April 1918, Françoise, who was twenty years his junior, declared her love for the older man. Havelock wrote back that "I feel sure that I am good for you, and I am sure that you suit me. But as lover or a husband you would find me very disappointing." Havelock's relationship with Françoise blossomed. Stella Browne wrote to Margaret Sanger that "Ellis is looking better than I've seen him for some time: he seems slowly recovering from all he had to go through last year." They eventually moved into a cottage in Wivelsfield Green.

Havelock Ellis
Françoise Lafitte-Cyon

During the First World War Havelock's great friend, Olive Schreiner, returned to England. They saw each other often but it was not now a romantic relationship. According to Phyllis Grosskurth, the author of Havelock Ellis (1980): "Olive Schreiner... had become grotesquely fat, was obviously seriously ill, and was convinced that she did not have long to live." Sensing that death was imminent she returned to South Africa where she died following a heart-attack at her home in Wynberg on 10th December, 1920.

Havelock wrote to Françoise Lafitte-Cyon about her death: "I have for a very long time been reconciled to the idea of her (Olive Schreiner) death for I knew for many years her health had been undermined and how much she suffered. I am sure she was quite reconciled herself, though still so full of vivid interest in life, that she went back to Africa to die... It is the end of a long chapter in my life & your Faun will soon be left alone by all the people who knew him early in life."

In 1920 William Heinemann asked Ellis to write a preface for the German best seller, The Diary and Letters of Otto Braun. He was a poet and scholar who had been killed during the First World War. He was visited by Ella Winter, the translator of the book. She wrote in her autobiography, And Not to Yield (1963): "He was an astonishing old man, extremely tall and imposing, with a large head, white hair, and a bushy square beard. He lived alone in a small flat and, to my surprise, made the tea and carried in the tray." Ellis told her: "My wife lives in another flat, we feel that's better for our relationship." Winter pointed out: "When he discussed marriage, I kept very still lest he stop, but I was uncomfortable because he kept his eyes glued on the opposite wall and did not look at me. He developed this habit, I supposed, when he interviewed women about their sex lives for his Psychology of Sex. Presumably one talked more freely that way, but it gave me an eerie feeling. He did not ask me about my sex life. I was rather hurt."

Havelock Ellis published several more books including The Erotic Rights of Women (1918), The Philosophy of Conflict (1919), The Dance of Life (1923), Eonism and Other Supplementary Studies (1928), Fountain of Life (1930), The Revaluation of Obscenity (1931), The Psychology of Sex (1933), Questions of Our Day (1936) and Morals, Manners and Men (1939).

Havelock Ellis died at Cherry Ground, Hintlesham, near Ipswich on 8 July 1939. His autobiography, My Life, was published posthumously during the Second World War in 1940. His biographer, Phyllis Grosskurth, has pointed out: "It was a great disappointment in terms of sales or critical reception. In 1940 people's minds were too preoccupied with the war to pay much attention to it and the reviews tended to be either patronizing or outraged by the accounts of Edith's lesbianism and Ellis's urolagnia."

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) (1) Havelock Ellis, letter to Edith Lees (13th June, 1891)

We have never needed any explanations before, and that has always seemed so beautiful to me, and we seemed to understand instinctively. And that is why I've never explained things that perhaps needed explaining. This is specially so about Olive. I have never known anyone who was so beautiful and wonderful, or with whom I could be so much myself, and it is true enough that for years to be married to her seemed to me the one thing in the world that I longed for, but that is years ago. We are sweet friends now and always will be; but to speak in the way you do of a "vital relationship" to her sounds to me very cruel. Because one has loved somebody who did not love one enough to make the deepest human relationship possible, is that a reason why one must always be left alone? I only explain this to show that I am really free in every sense - perhaps freer than you - and that I haven't been so unfair to you as you seem to think. The thing I wanted to tell you about that has been bothering me was this: I had to decide whether it was possible for me to return the passionate love of someone whom I felt a good deal of sympathy with, and even a little passionate towards. She would have left me absolutely free, and it hurt me to have to torture her. But I had no difficulty in deciding; the real, deep and mutual understanding, which to me is more than passion, wasn't there, and the thought I had constantly in my mind was that my feeling towards you, although I do not feel passionate towards you (as I thought you understood), was one that made any other relationship impossible. I wonder if you will understand that.

Now I've got to explain what I feel about our relationship to each other - and that will be all. Perhaps the only thing that needs explaining is about the absence of passionate feeling. I have always told you that I felt so restful and content with you, that the restless, tormenting, passionate feeling wasn't there; and I have seen that you didn't feel passionate towards me, but have said over and over again that you didn't believe in passion. So we arc quite equal, and why should we quarrel about it? Let us just be natural with each other-leaving the other feeling to grow up or not, as it will. It is possible to me to come near you and to show you my heart, and it is possible to you to come near me; and (to me at least) that is something so deep and so rare that it makes personal tenderness natural and inevitable, or at all events right.

In reference to marriage: I said (or meant) that I did not think either you or I were the kind of people who could safely tie ourselves legally to anyone; true marriage, as I understand it, is a union of soul and body so close and so firmly established that one feels it will last as long as life lasts. For people to whom that has come to exist as an everyday fact of their lives, then the legal tie may safely follow; but it cannot come beforehand. I have seen so much of unhappy marriages - which all started happily - and I do not think anything on earth could induce me to tie myself legally to anyone with whom I had not - perhaps for years - been so united in body and soul that separation would be intolerable. Surely, Edith, you, too, understand that you can't promise to give away your soul for life, that you can't promise to love for ever beforehand. Haven't you learnt this from your own experience?

I don't think I've anything more to explain. Now it's your turn, and then we'll have a rest from explaining. I've told you simply and honestly how I stand towards you. I took it for granted before that everything I have said was what you could have said too. Tell me where you don't feel with me, and tell me quite honestly, as I have told you, how you feel towards me. We aren't so young that we need fear to face the naked facts of life simply and frankly. You know how much you are to me - exactly how much. Putting aside Olive, I have never loved anyone so deeply and truly, and with the kind of love that seemed to make everything possible and pure, and even mv relationship to Olive has not seemed so beautiful and unalloyed as my relationship to you. It has seemed to me that we might perhaps go on becoming nearer and nearer, and dearer and dearer, to each other as time went on. My nature isn't of the passionately impetuous kind (though it's very sensuous) and mv affections grow slowly, and die hard, if at all. Even as it is, we shall be dear comrades as long as we live. You have hurt me rather, but I don't mind because there mustn't be anything false, and our relationship is strong enough to bear a good deal of tugging.

(2) Havelock Ellis, My Life (1940)

The Fellowship of the New Life was founded (I believe I had a considerable finger in writing its manifesto) to promote the general social renovation of the world on the broadest and highest lines, seeking inspiration in its Goethean motto: "Im Ganzen, Guten, Schonen resolut zu leben." A little later, as it grew, the Fabian Society, with a more practical and political programme, broke off from it, and with the aid of men who have since attained fame, notably Sidney Webb and Bernard Shaw, it played the leading part in permeating England with an anglicised form of Socialism. It is in accordance with the irony of human affairs that "Fabianism" should indirectly have been produced by a man so alien to its spirit as Thomas Davidson. I, who had no political interests, while sympathetic with the Fabians, decided to remain with the parent body, though as I came to realise the inevitable limitations of the movement, my more active participation diminished and ceased, Edith Lees - my wife to be - who had been introduced by Chubb simultaneously becoming its chief organiser and guiding spirit. It continued its quietly influential existence for some years (publishing a little paper called Seed-time and holding meetings) until after Edith Lees's marriage, when it peacefully expired.

(3) George Bernard Shaw, letter to Henry Seymour (June, 1898)

The prosecution of Mr. Bedborough for selling Mr. Havelock Ellis's book is a masterpiece of police stupidity and magisterial ignorance....

My own attention was called to the subject many years ago by the passing of a sentence of twenty years' penal servitude on a harmless elderly gentleman who had been ill-advised enough to plead guilty to a piece of folly which involved no danger whatever to society. At that time I was as ignorant as most people are on the subject; but the sentence so shocked my common humanity that I made an attempt to get the press to protest. I then discovered that the fear of becoming suspected of personal reasons for desiring a change in the law in this matter, makes every Englishman an abject coward, truckling to the vilest vulgar superstitions, and professing in public and in print views which have not the slightest resemblance to those which he expresses in private conversation with educated and thoughtful men. This hypocrisy is much more degrading to the public than the subject of Mr. Havelock Ellis's book can possibly he, because it is universal instead of being accidental and peculiar. In Germany and France the free circulation of such works as the one of Mr. Havelock Ellis's now in question has done a good deal to make the public in those countries understand that decency and sympathy are as necessary in dealing with sexual as with any other subjects. In England we still repudiate decency and sympathy and make virtues of blackguards and ferocity...

It is fortunate that the police have been silly enough to select for their attack a writer whose character stands so high as that of Mr. Havelock Ellis; and I have no doubt that if we do our duty in the matter, the prosecution, by ignominiously failing, will end by doing more good than harm.

(4) Havelock Ellis, statement on Sexual Inversion (1898)

The said book was written by me as the result of many years scientific study, investigation and observation and was written purely in the interests of science and scientific investigation and to the best of my ability in a scientific spirit. He said work is the first volume of a series of works which I am engaged in writing being studies in the psychology of sex. It deals with the subject of sexual abnormalities and in order to properly treat of these matters from a Scientific point of view and to arrive at a conclusion with regard to the remedies for the practises dealt with (which frequently lead to crime disease and insanity) it has been necessary to instance cases which have actually occurred. The matter has been treated to the best of my ability in the least possible objectionable manner and with the sole object of elucidating the truth and arriving at a satisfactory conclusion as to remedial treatment. The general scope and objects of the book appears from the prefaces and also from the concluding chapter and I crave to refer to those portions of the book on those points.

(5) Havelock Ellis, My Life (1940)

I still went to the Fellowship's meetings from time to time and I rarely failed to join in its occasional excursions into the country. It was on one of these that I first saw Edith Lees. She, it appears, asked Chubb who that man was. "That is Havelock Ellis," he replied impressively. But she was not impressed; it seemed to her that my clothes were ill-made, and that was a point on which she always remained sensitive. We were, however, introduced and walked along together for a few minutes, talking of indifferent subjects. She was a small, compact, active person, scarcely five feet in height, with a fine skin, a singularly well-shaped head with curly hair, square, powerful hands, very small feet, and - her most conspicuous feature on a first view - large rather pale blue eyes. I cannot say that the impression she made on me on that occasion was specially sympathetic; it so happens that the dominating feature of her face, the pale blue eyes, is not one that appeals to me, for to me green or grey eyes (I believe because one is drawn to those of one's own type) are the congenial eyes, and I never grew really to admire them, though to many they were peculiarly beautiful and fascinating, "pools of blue-bells," as one friend wrote after her death, "between the gold of the furze in flower"; it was always her beautiful voice that most appealed to me, and when I came to know her more intimately the lovely expressiveness of her eloquent under-lip, as I used to call it. On her side, as I say, the impression was also not specially favourable, if not indeed unfavourable. It so happened that in the course of our walk through a remote district we came upon a little chapel which we entered. In a playful mood I began to toll the bell. This, it appears, rather jarred on her serious humour - more serious than in later life - and she regarded it as a feeble joke in bad taste. We had no further conversation that I recall. Indeed, during the next two or three years I came little in personal contact with her. I remember once going up to shake hands with her just before a meeting of the Fellowship of which she became the secretary in 1889, but nothing more. No doubt I was drifting further and further away from the Fellowship.

(6) Bertrand Russell, letter to Ottoline Morrell (1916)

I have read a good deal of Havelock Ellis on sex. It is full of things that everyone ought to know, very scientific and objective, most valuable and interesting. What a folly it is the way people are kept in ignorance on sexual matters, even when they think they know every-thing. I think almost all civilized people are in some way what would be thought abnormal, and they suffer because they don't know that really ever so many people are just like them.

(7) Havelock Ellis, Erotic Symbolism, The Mechanism of Detumescence (1906)

There is ample evidence to show that, either as a habitual or more usually an occasional act, the impulse to bestow a symbolic value on the act of urination in a beloved person, is not extremely uncommon; it has been noted of men of high intellectual distinction; it occurs in women as well as men; when existing in only a slight degree, it must be regarded as within the normal limits of variation of sexual emotion.

(8) Havelock Ellis, My Life (1940)

It may seem to some that the spirit in which we approached marriage was not that passionate and irresistible spirit of absolute acceptance which seems to them the ideal. Yet we both cherished ideals, and we seriously strove to mould our marriage as near to the ideal as our own natures and the circumstances permitted. It was certainly not a union of unrestrainable passion; I, though I failed yet clearly to realise why, was conscious of no inevitably passionate sexual attraction to her, and she, also without yet clearly realising why, had never felt genuinely passionate sexual attraction for any man. Such preliminary conditions may seem unfavourable in a romantic aspect. Yet in the end they proved, as so many conventionally unpromising conditions in my life have proved, I of inestimable value, and I can never be too thankful that I escaped a marriage of romantic illusions. Certainly, I was not a likely subject to fall victim to such a marriage.

The union was thus fundamentally at the outset, what later it became consciously, a union of affectionate comradeship, in which the specific emotions of sex had the smallest part, yet a union, as I was later to learn by experience, able to attain even on that basis a passionate intensity of love. It was scarcely so at the outset, although my letters to her in the early years are full of yearning love and tender solicitude. We were neither of us in our first youth. I was able to look on marriage as an experiment which might, or might not, turn out well. On her part it was, and remained to the end, a unique and profound experience which she never outgrew. Yet had anything happened to prevent the marriage it is not likely that either of us would then have suffered from a broken heart. The most passionate letters I wrote her were, as she realised, not written until some years after marriage. I can honestly say that by a gradual process of increased knowledge and accumulated emotional experience I am far more in love with her to-day than twenty-five years ago.

Yet to both of us our marriage seemed then a serious affair, and with the passing of the years it became even more tremendously serious. She, at heart distrustful of her own powers of attraction, would from time to time be assailed by doubts - though such doubts were in conflict with her more rooted convictions - that she was not my fit mate, that I realised this, and that it might be best if we separated in order to enable me to marry someone else. This was never at any moment my desire. Much as each of us suffered through marriage I have never been convinced that our marriage was a mistake. Even if in some respects it might seem a mistake, it has been my belief, deepened rather than diminished, that in the greatest matters of life we cannot safely withdraw from a mistake but are, rather, called upon to conquer it, and to retrieve that mistake in a yet greater development of life. It would be a sort of blasphemy against life to speak of a relationship which like ours aided great ends as a mistake, even if, after all, it should in a sense prove true that we both died of it at last.

(9) Havelock Ellis, letter to Margaret Sanger (5th January, 1915)

What I felt, and feel, is that by just being your natural spontaneous self you are giving me so much more than I can hope to give you. You see, I am an extremely odd, reserved, slow undemonstrative person, whom it takes years and years to know. I have two or three very dear friends who date from 20 or 25 years back (and they like me better now than they did at first) and none of recent date. I'm not the least good for gobbling up rapidly - really don't repay the trouble! And I don't feel a bit anxious to be gobbled up, while the gobbler is already unwinding her scarf to wave to someone else! I fear this sounds very rude and horrid and not at all as it is meant.

(10) Havelock Ellis, My Life (1940)

That was the first and last time in our life together that any cloud arose from doubt on my part as to her love. I had not been in the faintest degree jealous of Claire, but, rightly or wrongly, as I have said, I had felt that Edith's love for Claire involved a diminished tenderness for me. If it was so my outburst had itself restored my position. I never repeated it, or felt the slightest impulse to repeat it. Thereafter Edith had a succession of intimate women friends, at least one of whom meant very much indeed to her. I never grudged the devotion, though it was sometimes great, which she expended on them, for I knew that it satisfied a deep and ineradicable need of her nature. The only test I applied to them was how far they were good for her. If they suited her - and her first intuitions were not always quite sound - I was not only content but glad. I never had a quarrel with one of them and some of them have been - now more than ever in our community of loss - my own dear friends. It must not, however, for a moment be supposed that these special friends with whom she had had for a time an intimate relationship such as one side of her nature craved were more than few in number. There was a succession of them but each relationship was exclusive while it lasted, which was usually for years, and would have been permanent had circumstances allowed. She was always relentlessly true to her ideals; she loathed promiscuity; she was attracted to purity of character, though by no means to puritanism; any touch of coarseness or of vice was fatal, and produced in her a revulsion of feeling which nipped in the bud one or two relationships.

(11) Havelock Ellis, letter to Margaret Sanger (13th January, 1915)

I think we should agree, Dear Twin, on the subject of love. I think that passion is mostly a disastrous thing, and certainly ruinous to work for it makes all work seem of less than no account. And then, too, it's always felt for the wrong person. Indeed its very intensity seems due to a sort of vague realisation of the fact that there's nothing there! But I cannot say that I think that love is anything but good, and good for everything, including work. I mean by love something that is based on a true relationship and that has succeeded in avoiding the blind volcano of passion (or has contrived to pass safely through that stage). To secure the peaceful joyous and consoling and inspiring elements of love - and to escape the others - seems to me a very desirable & precious thing. Do you agree? As you say, the average man and woman usually only knows passion - and not or very often even that!

(12) Rebecca Jennings, A Lesbian History of Britain (2007)

The idea that sexological categories were imposed on unwilling women by a hostile body of "experts" has also been challenged by recent research. Work on the biographical backgrounds of many leading sexologists has suggested a much closer interaction between individual figures and a homosexual or lesbian culture than was previously thought, so that it is difficult to argue that sexological notions of homosexual identity originated with sexologists and not with the homosexual men and women with whom they came into contact. The relationship between sexologist Havelock Ellis and his wife, Edith Lees Ellis, whom he included amongst his case studies of female inverts, has been one focus of discussion on this issue....

However, Liz Stanley has challenged this view, arguing that Havelock Ellis' account cannot be relied upon because of tensions within the marriage and that Edith Lees Ellis's own papers suggest that the category of inversion was not imposed on her unwillingly. In a letter to the sexologist Edward Carpenter, Edith Lees Ellis recounted a conservation she had had with Carpenter's sister, Alice, concerning Edith's sexuality, in which Alice had informed her that there was some debate amongst their acquaintances on the subject.

Edith apparently responded by including a statement on the subject of her own inversion in a public lecture she was giving that week, something which she also did during her 1914 lecture tour of America. Her willingness to discuss her sexuality in the public domain, in terms of inversion, suggests that Edith Lees Ellis was comfortable with this interpretation of her sexuality and, in a subsequent letter to Edward Carpenter, she discussed her feelings for a woman she had been overwhelmingly in love with. This evidence, Stanley argues, demonstrates not only that Edith Lees Ellis found the concept of inversion helpful in making sense of her feelings for other women, but also that she considered another sexologist, Edward Carpenter, himself a homosexual, a supportive friend and coefficient.

(13) Lillian Faderman, Surpassing the Love of Men (1985)

Ellis's wife, Edith Lees, seems to have been a victim of his theories. From his own account, Ellis apparently convinced her that she was a congenital invert, while she believed herself to be only a romantic friend to other women. He relates in My Life that during the first years of their marriage, she revealed to him an emotional relationship with an old friend who staved with her while she and Ellis were apart... He thus encouraged her to see herself as an invert and to regard her subsequent love relations with women as a manifestation of her inversion.

(14) Françoise Lafitte-Cyon, letter to Havelock Ellis (2nd April, 1918)

I am going to write to you a very difficult letter yet it must be written if I want to find peace of mind.

The truth Havelock Ellis is that I love you and that I must say so.

I shall try to set down facts as I have done for the dreams; it will be clearer to you and the most easy way for me...

So friend, let hear your advice. The thing I want above all is to retain your friendship, whatever cost, even if this means never seeing you again. If you think this the best course I shall do as you wish me to, but I must know before facing you again.

(15) Havelock Ellis to Françoise Lafitte-Cyon (3rd April, 1918)

I had your letter this morning. It is very, very beautiful, & I am glad you wrote it, because it will help us to understand things & to have everything clear & right. I wanted to put my arms around you when you lay on the sofa half asleep, but I did not want to do anything you might misunderstand, & I should be sorry for you to do anything that you might feel afterwards was not right & that might make you unhappy. I would like to soothe you & comfort you & help you, & it is very good for me, too, to be near you, & I felt much better for your visit. I am sure we could be loving friends, real affectionate & intimate friends. But I wouldn't be any good as a passionate lover or husband. You must remember I am much older than you, & in some ways older than my years, as I have had a great deal to suffer & go through. I am not a bit like the virile robust men of the people in your dreams! I have several dear loving women friends, married & unmarried, (most of them just now scattered in various parts of the world, so that I cannot see them), & with some of them I am very close & intimate friends, so that we can be perfectly free & natural & like children together. But there is not one to whom I am a real lover. I don't ever want to be, & if they had a proper lover I should not feel that I had any right to be jealous. That is how I would like to be with you. I feel sure that I am good for you, & I am sure that you suit me. But as lover or a husband you would find me very disappointing. When you know me more you will feel that as an affectionate friend, as close as you like, someone whom you can be perfectly natural & yourself with, you will have all the best that I can give. It may be all the better for beginning just as it has begun, for that has happened with one or two friends who are very dear.

But there is nothing in all this to prevent you from being a good & faithful wife. I should be very sorry to do anything that was not fair to your husband, & I should be very sorry for you to have any sort of guilty thoughts. I would like you to feel that the love you have for me is not a love that you feel the least bit ashamed of, or that you have any need to be ashamed of. If you feel that this kind of affectionate friendship is not possible, then it would be best for us not to meet. But I think it is possible, & that you will find it quite easy & beautiful & natural & helpful. It would be all that to me too. I am, in some ways, understanding, as you say, but I am also like a child, & it is lovely to me to be able to be like a child.

Write very soon & tell me what you feel about it.

That was a lovely dream you had and I am glad you felt quiet and happy after it; that is how I would like to make you feel. Impressions and Comments is my favourite among my books because there is most of me in it. If you like the book, then you like the real me!

You had better destroy this letter, for it would be misunderstood if anyone saw it.

(16) Françoise Lafitte-Cyon, letter to Havelock Ellis (6th April, 1918)

You are the first man who has ever made me feel ever so small. That is why I love you. I have been small in front of the woods, the sea, the moors & the plains, but seldom in front of a man. Men have sometimes been my equals, often I have felt them smaller. But you, you are like in my dream; you stand by me & dominate me, the pathetic little figure in green. Yet you have love & tenderness to give me & I love you.

(17) Havelock Ellis to Françoise Lafitte-Cyon (3rd April, 1918)

It was a joy to have your letter this morning, Dear Friend, and to be able to feel quite assured that we understand each other, & on the day after you were here (before I received your beautiful letter which I am so thankful you wrote, & I just worship your lovely courage in doing it, & doing it so well) I felt very happy & was able to work much better than usual. But you must not be too enthusiastic about me before you know me well. It is better to begin with a small love that grows big than with a big love - that grows small! A propos of being small, there is no need for you to feel small, but I am glad you are small in size, for it is a funny thing that though I admire large women (& when I was quite young have fallen in love with them - at a distance) I have never been able to feel close and intimate friends except with small women. So that if you were a large woman I should have to say: "I am very sorry; I like & admire you very much, but I know we shall never be very dear friends - because you are so big!" I don't know why it is, because - in the abstract - I quite like big women ever so much better!

(18) Havelock Ellis to Françoise Lafitte-Cyon (16th October, 1920)

I have for a very long time been reconciled to the idea of her (Olive Schreiner) death for I knew for many years her health had been undermined and how much she suffered. I am sure she was quite reconciled herself, though still so full of vivid interest in life, that she went back to Africa to die... It is the end of a long chapter in my life & your Faun will soon be left alone by all the people who knew him early in life.

(19) Havelock Ellis, Love and Virtue (1922)

A woman may have been married once, she may have been married twice, she may have had children by both husbands, and vet it may not be until she is past the age of thirty and is united to a third man that she attains the development of erotic personality and all that it involves in the full flowering of her whole nature...

She feels more mentally alert, and she finds that she is more alive than before to the influences of nature and of art. Moreover, as others observe, however they may explain it, a new beauty has come into her face, a new radiancy into her expression, a new force into all her activities.

© John Simkin, April 2013