Havelock Ellis

Havelock Ellis

Ellis in 1913
Born (1859-02-02)2 February 1859
Croydon, Surrey, England
Died 8 July 1939(1939-07-08) (aged 80)
Hintlesham, Suffolk, England
Nationality British
Alma mater King's College London
Spouse(s) Edith Ellis

Henry Havelock Ellis, known as Havelock Ellis (2 February 1859 – 8 July 1939), was an English physician, writer, progressive intellectual 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, as well as 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.[1]

Early life and teaching career

Ellis, son of Edward Peppen Ellis and Susannah Mary Wheatley, was born in Croydon, Surrey (now part of Greater London). He had four sisters, none of whom married. His father was a sea captain, his mother the daughter of a sea captain, and many other relatives lived on or near the sea. When he was seven his father took him on one of his voyages, during which they called at Sydney, Callao and Antwerp. After his return, Ellis attended the French and German College near Wimbledon, and afterward attended a school in Mitcham.

In April 1875, Ellis sailed on his father's ship for Australia; soon after his arrival in Sydney, he obtained a position as a master at a private school. After the discovery of his lack of training, he was fired and became a tutor for a family living a few miles from Carcoar. He spent a year there 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 unsuccessful.

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, near Scone, New South Wales and the other at Junction Creek. He lived at the school house on Sparkes Creek for a year. He wrote in his autobiography, "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."[2]

Medicine and psychology

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 physician. He studied at St Thomas's Hospital Medical School now part of King's College London, but never had a regular medical practice. His training was aided by a small legacy[3] and also income earned from editing works in the Mermaid Series of lesser known Elizabethan and Jacobean drama.[3] He joined The Fellowship of the New Life in 1883, meeting other social reformers Eleanor Marx, Edward Carpenter and George Bernard Shaw.

The 1897 English translation of Ellis's book Sexual Inversion, co-authored with John Addington Symonds and originally published in German in 1896, was the first English medical textbook on homosexuality.[4] It describes the sexual relations of homosexual males, including men with boys. Ellis wrote the first objective study of homosexuality, as he did not characterise it as a disease, immoral, or a crime. The work assumes that same-sex love transcended age taboos as well as gender taboos.

In 1897 a bookseller was prosecuted for stocking Ellis's book. Although the term homosexual is attributed to Ellis, he wrote in 1897, "'Homosexual' is a barbarously hybrid word, and I claim no responsibility for it."[5]

Ellis may have developed psychological concepts of autoerotism and narcissism, both of which were later developed further by Sigmund Freud.[6] Ellis's influence may have reached Radclyffe Hall, who would have been about 17 years old at the time Sexual Inversion was published. She later referred to herself as a sexual invert and wrote of female "sexual inverts" in Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself and The Well of Loneliness. When Ellis bowed out as the star witness in the trial of The Well of Loneliness on 14 May 1928, Norman Haire was set to replace him but no witnesses were called.[7]


Ellis studied what today are called transgender phenomena. Together with Magnus Hirschfeld, Havelock Ellis is considered a major figure in the history of sexology to establish a new category that was separate and distinct from homosexuality.[8] Aware of Hirschfeld's studies of transvestism, but disagreeing with his terminology, in 1913 Ellis proposed the term sexo-aesthetic inversion to describe the phenomenon. In 1920 he coined the term eonism, which he derived from the name of a historical figure, Chevalier d'Eon. Ellis explained:[9]

On the psychic side, as I view it, the Eonist is embodying, in an extreme degree, the aesthetic attitude of imitation of, and identification with, the admired object. It is normal for a man to identify himself with the woman he loves. The Eonist carries that identification too far, stimulated by a sensitive and feminine element in himself which is associated with a rather defective virile sexuality on what may be a neurotic basis.

Ellis found eonism to be "a remarkably common anomaly", and "next in frequency to homosexuality among sexual deviations", and categorized it as "among the transitional or intermediate forms of sexuality." As in the Freudian tradition, Ellis postulated that a "too close attachment to the mother" may encourage eonism, but also considered that it "probably invokes some defective endocrine balance".[9]


In November 1891, at the age of 32, and reportedly still a virgin, Ellis married the English writer and proponent of women's rights, Edith Lees. From the beginning, their marriage was unconventional, as Edith Lees was openly lesbian. At the end of the honeymoon, Ellis went back to his bachelor rooms in Paddington. She lived at Fellowship House. Their "open marriage" was the central subject in Ellis's autobiography, My Life.

According to Ellis in My Life, his friends were much amused at his being considered an expert on sex. Some knew that he suffered from impotence until the age of 60. He then discovered that he could become aroused by the sight of a woman urinating. Ellis named this "undinism". After his wife, Edith Lees, died, Ellis formed a relationship with a French woman called Françoise Lafitte.


Ellis was a supporter of eugenics, in line with many others of that era. He served as vice-president to the Eugenics Education Society and wrote on the subject, among others, 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.
The superficially sympathetic man flings a coin to the beggar; the more deeply sympathetic man builds an almshouse for him so he need no longer beg; but perhaps the most radically sympathetic of all is the man who arranges that the beggar shall not be born.

Ellis resigned from his position of Fellow of the Eugenics Society over their stance on sterilization in January 1931.[10]

Ellis spent the last year of his life at Hintlesham, Suffolk, where he died in July 1939.[11]


Inmate of Elmira Reformatory showing four views of head The Criminal (1890)


  1. Grosskurth, Phyllis (1980), Havelock Ellis : a biography, A. Lane, ISBN 978-0-7139-1071-1, p. 412
  2. Ellis, Havelock (1967), My life (New ed.), Spearman, retrieved 14 April 2013, p. 139
  3. 1 2 Thomson, Robert (1968). The Pelican History of Psychology (First ed.). Pelican. p. 463. ISBN 0-14-020904-2.
  4. Das Konträre Geschlechtsgefühle. Leipzig, 1896. See White, Chris (1999). Nineteenth-Century Writings on Homosexuality. CRC Press. p. 66.
  5. Online Etymology Dictionary at www.etymonline.com
  6. The Language of Psycho-analysis - Jean Laplanche, Jean-Bertrand Pontalis - Google Boeken. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2014-05-15.
  7. Souhami, Diana (1998), The trials of Radclyffe Hall, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, ISBN 978-0-297-81825-0 p. 197
  8. Richard Ekins, Dave King, The transgender phenomenon, SAGE, 2006, ISBN 0-7619-7163-7, pp. 61–64
  9. 1 2 Ellis, Albert. Psychology of Sex.
  10. Wyndham, Diana; Kirby, M. D. (Michael Donald), 1939– (2012), Norman Haire and the study of sex, Sydney University Press, ISBN 978-1-74332-006-8, p. 242.
  11. "The Times from Hammond, Indiana · Page 35". Newspapers.com.
  12. Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Volume 2 by Havelock Ellis at Project Gutenberg
  13. Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Volume 1 by Havelock Ellis at Project Gutenberg
  14. Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Volume 3 by Havelock Ellis at Project Gutenberg
  15. Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Volume 4 by Havelock Ellis at Project Gutenberg
  16. Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Volume 5 by Havelock Ellis at Project Gutenberg
  17. Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Volume 6 by Havelock Ellis at Project Gutenberg
  18. Impressions and Comments by Havelock Ellis at Project Gutenberg
  19. Essays in War-Time by Havelock Ellis at Project Gutenberg
  20. http://www.gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0300801.txt
  21. http://www.gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0300671.txt
  22. Views and Reviews at www.gutenberg.net.au

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