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Quentin Crisp


Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Quentin Crisp belonged to the fine tradition of British eccentrics. Born in 1908, he was a self-described effeminate homosexual who flaunted his nature openly at a time when homosexuality was still outlawed in Britain. He dyed his long hair crimson, painted his face and fingernails, and wore sandals so that his painted toenails should be visible. This choice exposed him to much verbal and occasionally physical abuse in the streets but he never compromised.

This autobiography was published when Crisp was sixty, though he still had thirty years of life left to him (he died in 1999). It is written with considerable verve and wit and is never dull. Although he is quite open about his sexuality he is never militant about it and describes his sexual orientation as a "predicament".

The book is in no sense titillating. Much of the narrative is concerned with Crisp's attempts to earn a living. He represents himself as lacking any sort of aptitude and surviving by his wits, but in fact he appears to have had a fair amount of drawing ability and later in life was successful on the stage and in television and film, though this was after the period covered by this autobiography. The title refers to the decades in which he earned a living by working as an artists' model. (Fortunately for Crisp, life drawing was still a common practice for artists at this time.)

The picture he paints of himself is unflattering and uncompromising, yet he was evidently a likeable man. He had many friends of both sexes and, when he was falsely accused of soliciting in a London street, many of them rallied round to testify to his good character and he was acquitted. Amusing though the book is, there is an undertone of sadness running through it. "I clearly see that my life was only an imprudent dash between the cradle and the tomb across open country and under fire."

19 June 2010

%T The Naked Civil Servant
%A Crisp, Quentin
%I Jonathan Cape
%C London
%D 1968
%K biography

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