Havelock Ellis  

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"I regard sex as the central problem of life. And now that the problem of religion has practically been settled, and that the problem of labor has at least been placed on a practical foundation, the question of sex--with the racial questions that rest on it--stands before the coming generations as the chief problem for solution."--Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Volume 1 (1897) by Havelock Ellis

What we call "Progress" is the exchange of one nuisance for another nuisance --Havelock Ellis

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Havelock Ellis (1859 – 1939), was a British physician, writer, and social reformer who studied human sexuality. He was co-author of the first medical textbook in English on homosexuality in 1897, and also published works on a variety of sexual practices and inclinations, including transgender psychology. He is credited with introducing the notions of narcissism and autoeroticism, later adopted by psychoanalysis. He served as president of the Galton Institute and, like many intellectuals of his era, supported eugenics.

He is best-known for his seven volume Studies in the Psychology of Sex (1896 -1928) and for the preface to the English translation of Against the Grain by Joris-Karl Huysmans.

His life is briefly sketched in The Misfits: A Study of Sexual Outsiders (1988) by Colin Wilson.



According to Ellis in My Life, his friends were much amused at his being considered an expert on sex, what with the fact that he suffered from impotence until the age of 60, when he discovered that he was able to become aroused by the sight of a woman urinating. Ellis named the interest in urination "Undinism" but it is now more commonly called Urolagnia.

His book Sexual Inversion, the first English medical text book on homosexuality, co-authored with John Addington Symonds, described the sexual relations of homosexual men and boys, something that Ellis did not consider to be a disease, immoral, or a crime. The work assumes that same-sex love transcended age-taboos as well as gender-taboos, as seven of the twenty-one examples are of intergenerational relationships. A bookseller was prosecuted in 1897 for stocking Ellis' book. Although the term homosexual itself is attributed to Ellis, he wrote in 1897, “‘homosexual’ is a barbarously hybrid word, and I claim no responsibility for it,” the hybridity in question being the word's mix of Greek and Latin roots. Other psychologically important concepts developed by Ellis include autoerotism and narcissism, both of which were later taken up by Sigmund Freud.

The sexologist and writer Havelock Ellis "looked like a tripartite cross between Tolstoy, Rasputin, and Bernard Shaw; was one of the many semi-pagan ideological nudists that England produced at the end of the nineteenth century; and never achieved full sexual arousal until his second wife urinated on him in his late middle age." (Our Culture, What's Left of it by Theodore Dalrymple)


Ellis was a supporter of eugenics. He served as vice-president to the Eugenics Education Society and wrote on the subject a.o. in The Task of Social Hygiene.

"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."


Early life

Ellis, son of Edward Peppen Ellis and Susannah Mary Wheatley, was born in Croydon, then a small town south of London. His father was a sea captain, his mother the daughter of a sea captain, and many other relatives lived on or near the sea. At seven years of age, his father took him on one of his voyages, during which he called at Sydney, Callao and Antwerp. After his return, Ellis went to a fairly good school, the French and German College near Wimbledon, and afterward attended a school in Mitcham.


In April 1875, Ellis left London on his father's ship for Australia, and soon after his arrival in Sydney, he obtained a position as a master at a private school. It was discovered that he had had no training for this position, and so he became a tutor for a family living a few miles from Carcoar. He spent a year there, doing a lot of reading, and then obtained a position as a master at a grammar school in Grafton. The headmaster had died and Ellis carried on the school for that year, but was too young and inexperienced to do so successfully.

At the end of the year, he returned to Sydney and, after three months' training, was given charge of two government part-time elementary schools, one at Sparkes Creek and the other at Junction Creek. He lived at the school house on Sparkes Creek for a year, which turned out to be the most eventful year of his life up to that point, as he called it afterwards. In his own words, "In Australia, I gained health of body, I attained peace of soul, my life task was revealed to me, I was able to decide on a professional vocation, I became an artist in literature . . . these five points covered the whole activity of my life in the world. Some of them I should doubtless have reached without the aid of the Australian environment, scarcely all, and most of them I could never have achieved so completely if chance had not cast me into the solitude of the Liverpool Range."


Ellis returned to England in April 1879. He had decided to take up the study of sex, and felt his first step must be to qualify as a medical man. He studied at Saint Thomas's Hospital Medical School, but never had a regular medical practice. He joined The Fellowship of the New Life in 1883, meeting other social reformers Edward Carpenter and George Bernard Shaw.


In November 1891, at the age of 32, and still a virgin, Ellis married the English writer and proponent of women's rights, Edith Lees (none of his four sisters ever married). From the beginning, their marriage was unconventional; Edith Ellis was openly lesbian, and at the end of the honeymoon, Ellis went back to his bachelor rooms in Paddington, while she lived at Fellowship House. Their 'open marriage' was the central subject in Ellis's autobiography, My Life.


  • The Criminal (1890)
  • The New Spirit (1890)
  • The Nationalisation of Health (1892)
  • Man and Woman: A Study of Secondary and Tertiary Sexual Characteristics (1894) (revised 1929)
  • Sexual Inversion (1897) (with J.A. Symonds) [1]
  • Affirmations(1898)
  • The Evolution of Modesty, The Phenomena of Sexual Periodicity, Auto-Erotism, (1900) [2]
  • The Nineteenth Century, (1900)
  • Analysis of the Sexual Impulse, Love and Pain, The Sexual Impulse in Women, (1903) [3]
  • A Study of British Genius (1904)
  • Sexual Selection in Man (1905) [4]
  • Erotic Symbolism, The Mechanism of Detumescence, The Psychic State in Pregnancy (1906) [5]
  • The Soul of Spain (1908)
  • Sex in Relation to Society (1910) [6]
  • The Problem of Race-Regeneration (1911)
  • The World of Dreams (1911)
  • The Task of Social Hygiene (1912)
  • Impressions and Comments (1914-1924) (3 vols.) [7]
  • Essays in War-Time (1916) [8]
  • The Philosophy of Conflict (1919)
  • On Life and Sex: Essays of Love and Virtue (1921)
  • Kanga Creek: An Australian Idyll (1922) [9]
  • Little Essays of Love and Virtue (1922)
  • The Dance of Life (1923) [10]
  • translator: Germinal (by Zola) (1924)
  • Sonnets, with Folk Songs from the Spanish (1925)
  • Eonism and Other Supplementary Studies (1928)
  • The Art of Life (1929) (selected and arranged by Mrs. S. Herbert)
  • The Revaluation of Obscenity (1931)
  • More Essays of Love and Virtue (1931)
  • ed.: James Hinton: Life in Nature (1931)
  • Views and Reviews (1932) [11]
  • Psychology of Sex (1933)
  • ed.: Imaginary Conversations and Poems: A Selection, by Walter Savage Landor (1933)
  • Chapman (1934)
  • My Confessional (1934)
  • Questions of Our Day (1934)
  • From Rousseau to Proust (1935)
  • Selected Essays (1936)
  • Poems (1937) (selected by John Gawsworth; pseudonym of T. Fytton Armstrong)
  • Love and Marriage (1938) (with others)
  • My Life (1939)
  • Sex Compatibility in Marriage (1939)
  • From Marlowe to Shaw (1950) (ed. by J. Gawsworth)
  • The Genius of Europe (1950)
  • Sex and Marriage (1951) (ed. by J. Gawsworth)
  • The Unpublished Letters of Havelock Ellis to Joseph Ishill (1954)

Works (selected)


Linking in as of 2022

A Hand of Bridge, A Study of British Genius, Abortion-rights movements, Ada Elizabeth Chesterton, Agnes Mary Frances Duclaux, Alexander von Humboldt, Algolagnia, Alice Bunker Stockham, Amelia Edwards, American Gymnosophical Association, Anarchism and issues related to love and sex, Armpit fetishism, Atmavrittanta, Austin Osman Spare, Autoeroticism, Autosadism, Benito Pérez Galdós, Blanchard's transsexualism typology, Blanchard's transsexualism typology, Blanchard's transsexualism typology, Bluestocking (magazine), Book League of America, British Psychological Society, British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology, Brixton, Carcoar, New South Wales, Caroline Haddon, Céline Renooz, Charles Vickery Drysdale, Charlotte Wilson, Chevalier d'Éon, Coitus reservatus, Cross-dressing, Croydon, Cultural history of the buttocks, Death of Starr Faithfull, Die Sexualität im Kulturkampf, Dignity in Dying, E. L. Grant Watson, Edith Ellis, Edward Carpenter, Élie Faure, Élie Reclus, Ellen Key, Ellis, Émile Zola, Ernst Jentsch, Erotic literature, Ethical movement, Fabian Society, Fellowship of the New Life, Foot fetishism, François Bertrand, Free love, Freud, Biologist of the Mind, Galton Institute, Gender roles in non-heterosexual communities, George Bedborough, George Cecil Ives, George Orwell bibliography, Germinal (novel), Gilbert Van Tassel Hamilton, GKT School of Medical Education, Golders Green Crematorium, Grafton, New South Wales, Greek love, Gynophobia, Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, Havelock, Henry Stephens Salt, Herman Bernstein, Herne Hill, Hildegart Rodríguez Carballeira, Hintlesham, History of abortion, History of eugenics, History of homosexuality, History of masturbation, History of narcissism, History of transgender people in the United Kingdom, Homoeroticism, Homosexuality and psychology, Homosexuality, Hubert Bland, Hugh de Sélincourt, Hugh Kingsmill, Hugh Northcote, Human sexuality, Hypnagogia, Isaac Goldberg, J. D. Beresford, James Burnett, Lord Monboddo, James Hinton (surgeon), Jennie June (autobiographer), John Addington Symonds, John Dicks (publisher), John Stewart Collis, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Joseph Ishill, Joseph Wortis, July 1939, July 8, Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji, Kibbo Kift, Legitimation League, Leo Jung, Les Rougon-Macquart, Lesbian, LGBT history in Latvia, LGBT history, LGBT movements, LGBT rights opposition, List of 20th-century writers, List of alumni of King's College London, List of books banned in New Zealand, List of names in A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists, List of non-fiction writers, List of people associated with the University of London, List of people from the London Borough of Croydon, List of physicians, Literary Taste: How to Form It, Lorine Pruette, Louise Cripps Samoiloff, Louise Stevens Bryant, Margaret Mitchell, Margaret Sanger, Marguerite Agniel, Marie Mattingly Meloney, Marie Stopes, Martin Schurig, Masturbation, Masturbation, Maxim Lieber, Mermaid Series, Mescaline, Miss Marx, Mumtaz Mufti, Nancy Cunard, Narcissism, Narcissistic personality disorder, Necrophilia, Non-reproductive sexual behavior in animals, Norman Haire, Olive Schreiner, Order of Woodcraft Chivalry, Peau d'Espagne, Pederasty in ancient Greece, Pederasty, Percy Edward Pinkerton, Perversion, Phallos (novella), Phyllis Grosskurth, Physician writer, Pissing contest, Pool Group, Pornography in the United Kingdom, Post-coital tristesse, Psychoanalysis, Psychosexual disorder, Radclyffe Hall, Remy de Gourmont, Roaring Twenties, Robert Herring (poet), Ronald Kidd, Sadomasochism, Sailor tattoos, Sándor Vay, Scientology and sexual orientation, Secret Court of 1920, Sex therapy, Sexology, Sex-positive feminism, Sexual fetishism, Sexual inversion (sexology), Sexual inversion, Sexual orientation, Sexual Preference (book), Sexuality and Its Discontents, Sheffield Archives, Sigmund Freud's views on homosexuality, Social degeneration, Socialism and LGBT rights, St Thomas's Hospital Medical School, Stars in Battledress (band), Stella Browne, Studies in the Psychology of Sex Vol. 2, Studies in the Psychology of Sex Vol. 7, Studies on Hysteria, Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, Terminology of homosexuality, The Criminal (Havelock Ellis), The Doors of Perception, The End of the World News: An Entertainment, The Lady's Trial, The Lost Childhood and Other Essays, The Misfits: A Study of Sexual Outsiders, The New Age, The Well of Loneliness, Thinker's Library, Third gender, Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, Tickling, Timeline of LGBT history in the United Kingdom, Timeline of psychology, Travesti (gender identity), Una Vincenzo, Lady Troubridge, Urolagnia, Vanguard Press, Variability hypothesis, Victorian era, Victorian erotica, Vincent Brome, Vita Sackville-West, Wallace Thurman, Walter M. Gallichan, West Drayton, William James Chidley, World Committee Against War and Fascism, Wyldes Farm, Zhou Zuoren

See also

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