The Naked Civil Servant by Quentin Crisp
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This was my second reading of this book, first reading for was a few years ago. I came back to it because I have been craving more queer voices and I have a great love for the early to mid twentieth century queers whose struggles we all need to remember are close to being our own but for a few decades.
The book is beautiful for its directness and its voice. It’s an almost chatty spoken narrative that vaguely moves in chronological order from the 1930s through the Second World War to the sixties and seventies.
It’s clear that Crisp had an incredible gift for the quip and for the non sequitur. The book is full of very quotable standout lines and often uses his experiences to delves into discussions of issues like homophobia in the streets, equal rights for LGBTQ people, the idea of the great dark man, a masculine archetype that he desires to find. Crisp’s opinions though interesting are sometimes a little old fashioned for us now in this age.
There are a few other characters in the book who act more as foils for Crisp’s own anecdotes, this does not bother too much, as we know we are here for Quentin Crisp and no one else, but I have a lingering sense of unease, especially about his friend known only as The Czech who struggled with serious mental health issues and was institutionalised. At one point Crisp bemoans having to visit him “six times a year”. Crisp isn’t the most sympathetic of people. At the close of the book he strangely dreams of a world where the government enforces mandatory euthanasia for those over sixty years old… he then moves on to discuss his plans to murder a policeman. One wonders whether the editors and lawyers at the publishers had given up at this point and just let him write anything he wanted.
This book is important as a testimony. It has faults and quirks, Crisp himself holds some opinions which are at best taboo these days. But I am glad we have this record from this time in history of the struggle and eventual happiness (?) of a flamboyant homosexual living in London in the middle of the twentieth century.