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The Naked Civil Servant

4.07  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,388 Ratings  ·  100 Reviews
A comical and poignant memoir of a gay man living life as he pleased in the 1930s

In 1931, gay liberation was not a movement—it was simply unthinkable. But in that year, Quentin Crisp made the courageous decision to "come out" as a homosexual. This exhibitionist with the henna-dyed hair was harrassed, ridiculed and beaten. Nevertheless, he claimed his right to be himself—wh
Paperback, 212 pages
Published May 1st 1997 by Penguin Classics (first published 1968)
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Petra X
Jun 20, 2015 Petra X rated it it was amazing
There are many people famous for doing nothing or very little, who command high salaries for their appearances. Some have done nothing at all, like the entire money and fame-mad Kardashian family (but in this time of recession they are definitely doing their bit to keep the cosmetics industry afloat). Some have done just a little but their train-wreck life style continues to fascinate, like Lindsey Lohan. When interviewed they fall flat, they have nothing to say that hasn't been scripted, they h ...more
Oct 13, 2008 Jessica rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: self-loathing narcissists, homophobic horror fans
Recommended to Jessica by: bookster paul
Reading this book makes me happy and sad at the same time, which feels a bit like how I imagine mixing uppers and downers must: discombobulated, and a bit ill.

In other words, I'm really enjoying it!

So far I'd recommend this to anyone, though I have to warn those who are afraid of homosexuals that they will probably be unable to sleep for weeks after reading this book. So if you are one of the many people frightened by homosexuals, I'd only recommend it if you are also a fan of terror.

Kelly H. (Maybedog)
Quentin Crisp is a delightful, smart and engaging man and his book is an entertaining, funny as well as tragic, insight into what it was like to be flamboyantly gay in the early part of the twentieth century. It's a fabulous story of a very brave man who stuck by his ideals and refused to be anything but who he was.

I was very fortunate to meet the man while in college. He came to Seattle for a book signing and took the time to meet with the GBLT Alliance at the University of Washington of which
Feb 24, 2015 Mariel rated it liked it
Recommends it for: carry on
Recommended to Mariel by: the thing
Only a lifetime of receiving the confidences of unhappily married middle-aged women brought me to the realization that in time, even for heterosexuals, sex is reduced to an indoor sport. This was consoling. It is nice to be in the same boat as one's betters, especially if it is sinking.

He was the person that lashes what they are afraid you are thinking. Before you get the chance they will wield the martyr, and the whiplash is from turning their neck too fast to get the full effect. Because he fr
Feb 14, 2008 David rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2008
“When the telegram announcing my father’s death arrived, I felt nothing except irritation at the thought of having to go home, attend the funeral, and come back.”

Quentin Crisp is not a likeable human being. About one quarter way into this book, I was tempted to throw it aside for good. But given its generally favorable reviews, I felt I should give it another chance. And a peculiar thing happened. Although Crisp does nothing to present himself in a more favorable light – if anything, he goes out
I first became aware of Crisp from his appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson back in the days of my tender youth, the 1970s and 1980s. I found this old flamboyant, colorfully dressed and mascara-and-rouge-laden British queen and his tales to be mesmerizing. Then I read his autobiography, The Naked Civil Servant, which proved that he was quite a bold subversive in his day; he chose to live "out," and outrageously so, in a time (1930s, '40s and '50s) when it was extremely dangerous to ...more
Aug 19, 2015 Shadowdenizen rated it it was amazing
An amazing look into a bygone-era, and into one of the personages that began laying the fundamental brickwork to change society as it was known forever.

(Though, to be fair, let it be said that Quentin Crisp [though he paints himself in a primarily positive light], was NOT the nicest or most-likable of people, and yet [even though he claims to effectively "Not give a damn" about people's opinions] it's still hard not to truly empathize with him and his plight.)

It's difficult to imagine the courag
Aug 22, 2007 Ellen added it
Shelves: just-read
Quentin Crisp didn't really come out of the closet; he just decided to do exactly what he liked (wear eyeliner and women's shoes, grow out his fingernails) and deal with the consequences of being openly gay in 1931. He got beat up a lot, but became a kind of cult figure as an eccentric (he was also an art-school model) and, eventually, the star of his own documentary. Crisp seems determined to reveal the worst parts of his own nature, but he comes off as an oddly cuddly old man. I'm sure he's ro ...more
Christopher Roth
Feb 23, 2013 Christopher Roth rated it it was amazing
Brilliant. I had no idea what to expect and so was blown away by the lucid psychological insight. This is an especially rich vein of material for anyone wanting to understand the co-creation of "queer culture" by social, psychological, and cultural forces. There is a huge amount to digest in here. Plus, it's hilariously funny throughout and also deeply inspiring. This dude realized he was gay at an early early age and decided very early that he would never be hypocritical about it and would neve ...more
Mar 16, 2012 Megan rated it it was amazing
This should be required reading for students of politics, sociology, creative writing, journalism, twentieth century history,and philosophy. And probably a few others.

To a twenty-first century reader, Crisp initially feels like a caricature of a drag queen, with his made up face, gossipy tone, and outlandish fashion. But when you recall that he was born in 1908 and the book was originally published in 1968, you quickly understand that he was the forefather of the beloved stereotype of the bitchy
Jan 19, 2010 F.R. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There’s an old English expression: “he does go on about the price of fish.” Basically it means someone is holding long discourse on a subject that no one else is particularly interested in. It’s a phrase which came to mind as I read Quentin Crisps’s autobiography, his great subject being himself and his distance from the rest of mankind.

The tale of how he became one of the great characters of Soho – and “the stately homo of England” – should be a fascinating one, but it’s page 90 before he’s fo
Jul 30, 2012 Jenevieve rated it really liked it
A friend recommend this to me as I was looking for an author whose name (first or last) began with Q for a challenge. It looked interesting so I picked it up not quite sure what I was in for but trusting that it would, at least, be an interesting read.

It was an amazing read. Witty, insightful, humorous at times, poignant, and unfortunately also a sad commentary on the human race as a whole in how we treat those who are different especially if they are true to themselves instead of hiding it away
Caroline Taggart
Sep 14, 2014 Caroline Taggart rated it it was amazing
I recently saw Mark Farrelly do a one-man show based on the life and works of Quentin Crisp –it was so brilliant it set me scouring the shops next day for a copy of Crisp’s first memoir, The Naked Civil Servant. (Well done, Waterstone's in Trafalgar Square, for having it in stock some 45 years after it was first published.)

I find it hard to imagine what it must have been like to be homosexual in the days when that was illegal; Quentin Crisp, born in 1908, was from an early age aware that his ver
Jul 31, 2009 Jesse rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2009
Delightfully nasty memoir of Crisp's growing up flamboyantly, confrontationally queer in England before and after the second world war. Virtually every page has something worth reading aloud to friends, be it about his contempt for policemen ("I was apprehended by two policemen disguised as human beings"), his relations with his peers and fellow eccentrics, or the state of being "a stately homo" in general. Definitely recommended.
Jan 28, 2008 Jack rated it it was amazing
A brilliant and inspiring story of a man who lived life on his terms no matter the odds. I had the honor of having lunch with Mr. Crisp back in 1997. He was a true revolutionary, in the most ordinary way possible. If you haven't read it, run out and get a copy. Touching and very, very funny.
Jakey Gee
Jan 07, 2015 Jakey Gee rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
Pretty funny and one to add to anyone’s London / Soho collection.

Firstly, he’s pretty admirable for his sheer resilience and not-give-a-fuckery - and his whole late-in-life success is in itself a charming story (something he’d no doubt call ‘Rags to Bitches’, or suchlike). He’s also very honest: never claiming to have much in the way of talent (though he has far more than he gives himself credit for and can write very well. There are many funny lines) .

What is intriguing is that while one assu
Oct 13, 2008 Tosh rated it liked it
For years I have put off reading "The Naked Civil Servant" till now for some reason. Well, I know the reason. I am reading everything possible about Soho London. And Quentin Crisp is nothing else is sort of the spirit of 40's Soho. But saying that I found this memoir kind of dry. Not terrible by any means, but I read it with not great joy or interest.

And it can be totally my fault not getting into the book for some reason. He's an interesting man who lived in an interesting time - but he's also
Aug 04, 2015 Billy rated it it was ok
this was so English. I mean ENGLISH-ENGLISH. it was so boring which I find strange because Crisp spent his life on the outskirts: running from the cops; befriending male prostitutes; visiting asylums for the mentally insane and ultimately the story (a la Crisp) was boring and as dull as algebra homework. he had some good lines though:

"In an expanding universe, time is on the side of the outcast."

"Only a lifetime of receiving the confidences of unhappily married middle-aged women brought me to th
Danny Kroha
Nov 15, 2007 Danny Kroha rated it it was amazing
This book is chock full of extremely witty, wise, wry, and dryly hilarious observations on life and living from the perspective of a man who was totally "out" in 1930's/40's London.
The story more or less begins with this quote from page two, "In an expanding universe, time is on the side of the outcast. Those who once inhabited the suburbs of human contempt find that without changing their address they eventually live in the metropolis. In my case this took a very long time". And what a time
Andrew Fairweather
Jul 16, 2015 Andrew Fairweather rated it liked it
'Life was a funny thing that happened to me on the way to the grave'.

This is a strange account of a man who aspired to... well, not much. Apart from some odd jobs in commercial art and modeling for life drawing, Quentin Crisp seems to spend a whole lot of time doing nothing but being 'seen'. Was Crisp, as a homosexual, interested in being 'accepted' by society at large? Heavens no! Rather, he is quite adamant in his belief that,

'[...] that health consists of having the same diseases as one's nei
Mediumly Social
A bit underwhelmed by this. I’ve heard so much about this book, and I really thought it was going to be something else. Crisp comes across so very narcissist, a master of his own misery by treating the world as a stage, and himself as a constant performer, and then sounding very bored by the whole thing. Even so, despite how utterly tittish I found him at times, I begrudgingly admired him for not compromising an ounce of his identity during a time where outward displays of homosexuality were mor ...more
Dec 24, 2009 Jen rated it really liked it
This book was full of little one sentence gems.

p.s. I wouldn't mind spending an hour or two rooting through Quentin's ascot collection. I imagine that it would be museum worthy but smell offensive.

p.p.s. Don't watch the movie.
Nov 21, 2007 Alvin rated it it was amazing
Fun, funny, perspicacious, enlightening, ribald, triste, and more. Don't you even THINK of giving this one a pass. Read it!!!
Apr 13, 2013 Lynda rated it really liked it
Have a signed copy of this one, signed with a flourish by Quentin in a dusty church hall at the Edinburgh Festival.
Jim Bilbro
The writing in this memoir is some of the best that I've encountered. His style reminds me of Tacitus, weirdly enough (if Tacitus had written with his tongue placed firmly in cheek). Both authors lay out successive scenarios in vivid language and tie each section up at the end with a summarizing comment which is by turns hilarious, poignant, ironic - often all three at once - and is always thoughtful, philosophic, and quotable as hell! If you are looking for delicious writing about audacious liv ...more
Sharon Thomson
I started this book with high hopes. I vaguely remember seeing Quentin Crisp on TV when I was younger and I was intrigued to read his autobiography.

It's no it a very long book, only a couple of hundred pages, but 2/3rds of the way through I felt like giving up. It had become very more of the same. I was beginning to wonder if it was going anywhere. I realised at the end that there were more books to come, telling more about how he became 'famous' but I haven't got the will to read them.

The book
Jul 06, 2015 Darren rated it really liked it
What I expected - a very funny book, with well turned phrases and a glorious combination of ego, contrariness and self-deprecation.

Because the focus is Crisp himself, he doesn't take much of a wide view of British society pre-and-post wars, its attitudes and values. That's heavily hinted at, because naturally the reactions he receives, and the way he is treated, tell you something about attitudes to homosexuality and the rejection of norms.

It's a self-centred book, but of course it is. It's by

His hair and his whole body were covered with cod-liver oil. He explained that, if, taken internally, it was salubrious, then it must likewise be good for the skin. Also, as I was for myself, it turned his hair gold. This he felt made him look younger and more desirable. Until this moment it had always puzzled me that fish did not bother with propinquity but, instead, conducted the business of procreation by remote control. I understood them now.

Autobiography of an extremely interesting, acerb
Jan 03, 2015 Dominique rated it did not like it
Shelves: biography
"All this at last I dimly saw, but an autobiography is an obituary in serial form with the last instalment missing. We think we write definitively of those parts of our nature that are dead and therefore beyond change, but that which writes is still changing - still in doubt. Even a monotonously undeviating path of self-examination does not necessarily lead to a mountain of self-knowledge. I stumble towards my grave confused and hurt and hungry...." (Crisp 222)
By reading the last paragraph of Qu
Apr 03, 2013 Mark rated it it was ok
I've seen Quentin Crisp on documentaries and, of course, the famous portrayal by John Hurt and, quite frankly I expected something more witty and amusing. There are some things that you can relate to; Quentin's extraordinary appearance was really just his time's equivalent of my never leaving the house without my jacket covered in badges proclaiming, "Closets are for Clothes - Not People" and "Gay and Proud", when I first came out, having been bullied all my childhood for being a "puff", I was n ...more
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Quentin Crisp, born Denis Charles Pratt, was an English writer, artist's model, actor and raconteur known for his memorable and insightful witticisms. He became a gay icon in the 1970s after publication of his memoir, The Naked Civil Servant, brought to the attention of the general public his defiant exhibitionism and longstanding refusal to remain in the closet.
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“If a man were to look over the fence on one side of his garden and observe that the neighbor on his left had laid his garden path round a central lawn; and were to look over the fence on the other side of his garden and observe that the neighbor on his right had laid his path down the middle of the lawn, and were then to lay his own garden path diagonally from one corner to the other, that man's soul would be lost. Originality is only to be praised when not prefaced by the look to right and left.” 27 likes
“A fair share of anything is starvation diet to an egomaniac.” 6 likes
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