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The Naked Civil Servant

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  2,190 ratings  ·  189 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 harassed, ridiculed and beaten. Nevertheless, he claimed his right to be himself—wha
Paperback, 212 pages
Published May 1st 1997 by Penguin Classics (first published 1968)
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Average rating 4.05  · 
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Petra eXpects nothing & so won't be disappointed
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 are going to exploit their name and connections, like the Prince Harry and Megan Markle. Some have done just a little but their train-wreck life style continues to fascinate, like Lindsey Loha ...more
Paul Bryant
Jan 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs
My father hated me chiefly because I was revolting but also because I was expensive.

Dates are important, ask any camel. Quentin Crisp was born in 1908. This funny and truly outrageous autobiography was published in 1968. Quentin was the Oscar of his day, and this book is stuffed with Wildeish observations –

I did not know that a reputation for wit is earned not for making jokes but by laughing at the pleasantries of others

Or – here he is recalling a conversation from the 1930s between a landlord
Mar 17, 2018 rated it really liked it

Sting [Gordon Sumner] dedicated his song "Englishman in New York" (1987) to Crisp. He had remarked jokingly "that he looked forward to receiving his naturalisation papers so that he could commit a crime and not be deported." In late 1986 Sting visited Crisp in his apartment and was told over dinner – and the next three days – what life had been like for a homosexual man in the largely homophobic Great Britain of the 1920s to the 1960s. Sting was both shocked and fascinated and decided to write t
Oct 12, 2007 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 23, 2015 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 06, 2008 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 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
Jake Goretzki
Jan 07, 2015 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
Bryan Schwartz
Mar 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Crisp I think a brief explanation may be in order. In my estimation, Mr. Crisp was the modern "reincarnation" of Oscar Wilde. And I should note that the comparison does not stop with their dandyism and homosexuality. Beyond those superficial similarities, Mr. Crisp unconsciously (possibly consciously) replicated Mr. Wilde's quick and seemingly effortless wit. Crisp, however, drifts into the melancholy corners of rejection, disenfranchisement, and homophobia. ...more
Jan 18, 2010 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
Aug 14, 2007 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
Feb 14, 2013 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
Christopher Roth
Feb 16, 2013 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
Apr 09, 2012 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
Feb 28, 2012 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
Joy H.
Nov 17, 2016 marked it as watched-film-only
Added 11/17/16. (first published 1968)

I watched the film adaptation via a Netflix DVD:
"The Naked Civil Servant" (1975)
"John Hurt collected a Best Actor BAFTA for his flawless portrayal of gay icon Quentin Crisp, a flamboyant performer and pop-culture personality who railed against the rigid social mores of pre-World War II Britain, where homosexuality was illegal."
"The life and times of Quentin Crisp, an outrageous
Mar 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, memoir, britain
"My greatest fear was that here I might live and die and not matter. Just how distasteful my life was at this time cannot have been apparent to others. A friend of my sister, rushing in where devils would have feared to tread, remarked, 'I wonder what you'd have been like if you'd been a woman. I suppose you'd have lived in the country and kept a dog and played bridge.' I was too choked with fury to be able to defend myself against this charge. Among other objections to this image of me was the ...more
May 26, 2009 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. ...more
Jan 28, 2008 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. ...more
Jack Bates
Oct 19, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Marvellous and fascinating and worth reading just for Quentin's views on housework. ...more
May 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Coming out is a right of passage in the LGBTQ community, and some of us have harder times than others. It's not uncommon to hear horror stories of people being thrown out and virtually erased from a families sphere after coming out as trans or gay or inter-sex or pansexual. But the community is more open and more free to be themselves and so the benefit of being queer today is that there are resources and it does get better. That is why the reader who takes the time to read Quentin Crisp's biogr ...more
Jun 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, lgbt
The title is misleading: there aren't any civil servants at all in this book. There is some nudity though.

Born in 1908, Quentin Crisp knew he was gay from a young age, and was drawn to wearing feminine clothes and experimenting with make-up. This book covers his life from 1908 to its publication in 1968 -- after which he experienced considerably more success in the form of TV shows and films. The memoir is compelling both as an account of gay life in London from the 1930s onwards, and as an acc
Daniel Polansky
The autobiography of Quentin Crisp, a famed member of the homosexual London underworld for much of the 20th century, recollections of his misadventures and thoughts about life and society. I am in rough awe of this book. I was impressed with it in a way which makes me almost not want to praise the thing too highly, for fear that today’s exhilaration will give way to tomorrow’s regret. On the other hand, who gives a shit what I think, so what I think is that this is a straight masterpiece. Crisp ...more
George K. Ilsley
The humour here is of the sort where one laughs at adversity. One defies the bullies and the bigots by making jokes. One survives by being stronger, and than can mean acting the fool. Crisp was a clown, a jester, but also was a wise village elder. Even so, there are gruelling segments about how to get home without getting beaten up. Personal safety was a big concern (and sadly it still is for many in the world). The result is brutal and funny, sharp, scathing and bitchy.
Lou Last
Jun 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non

A favorite Crisp interview - such dust! and more besides:
Christopher Jones
Oct 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A truly amazing BRILLIANT classic must read for one and all, I savoured every word ♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️
Piers Haslam
Crisp is an enigma. I came across the 1975 film with John Hurt a few years ago, and I didn't even intend to watch it but I was hooked from the very beginning. It's only now that I've actually gotten round to reading the original.

I've discussed at length with a friend about how exactly Quentin Crisp would have perceived himself if he was a young person today; it's striking how his descriptions of adolescence read exactly like testimonies of transgender people in more recent times. This raises qu
Oct 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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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. ...more

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