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Quentin Crisp

Quentin Crisp: Review

Quentin Crisp The Profession of Being
Quentin Crisp The Profession of Being

The following review appeared on Amazon on March 17 2016.

Read the reviw on the website here.


I am grateful to author and biographer Nigel Kelly for giving me more information and insight into Quentin Crisp than I had before, even though I’d read Quentin Crisp’s autobiography “The Naked Civil Servant” twice and had seen the movie made of it twice and had read “Manners from Heaven,” “How to Become a Virgin,” “How to Go the Movies,” “How to Have a Lifestyle,” and “Doing It With Style.” Heck, I’d even tried to slog through “Chog,” Crisp’s only novel, but I wanted more knowledge of Quentin Crisp than he ever revealed in his own books, and I got that in Nigel Kelly’s biography and a whole lot more. I got not only to learn about his childhood years in school, but I also got to learn what happened to him once he became famous.

I can say that the middle of the biography became tedious for a brief spat when nearly every performance Quentin Crisp gave around the world is minutely listed and described with unvarying praiseworthy repetition by the biographer, but that is the worst complaint this reader can make about this otherwise utterly praiseworthy book. Nigel Kelly’s writing here reads so smoothly, so absorbingly, so sagaciously and temperately, I wanted the book to go on and on much as many of Quentin Crisp’s friends in his own life wanted his life to go on and on. It’s hard to believe this is Nigel Kelly’s first book (although as a first book, and in paperback, the book’s price is excessive). (For the price of $45,the book ought to be without imperfections and have no typographical errors whatsoever, which just happens not to be the case. What was Quentin Crisp’s famous adage quoted more than once within these pages? “Money is for saving, not for spending.”)

I will quibble with the biographer for quoting John Hurt — twice — for stating that in John Hurt’s estimation, Quentin Crisp is the greatest philosopher of the 20th century. For an actor to assess the state of the art in philosophy is no different from a baseball player doing the same for physics. It sounds wonderful, but it’s hardly a persuasive statement.

I respect that the biographer makes an effort to distinguish Quentin Crisp as a kind of thinker or philosopher and the biography does provide evidence for Quentin Crisp having a philosophy called “Crisperanto.” While at various points within the biography Quentin Crisp is described as a Stoic, an atheist, a Buddhist, to this reader he might also qualify as a follower of Thomas Hobbes as well for Quentin’s view of life, in general, is brutish: “I think you fall out of your mother’s womb, you crawl across open country under fire, you grab at what you want, if you don’t get it go without, and you flop into your grave.”

But did Quentin Crisp have a philosophy per se or was it merely the patina of having one because having just enough of what might pass for philosophy was just another means of survival and defense? I ask this question because one of the things that became apparent to this reader when learning of the various aspects of Quentin Crisp’s philosophy from the biographer’s perspective was that Quentin Crisp was not without contradictions in his “philosophy.” That is, while he espoused openness and going with the flow, he was also fond of camouflage and the saving lie, both of which were tools in his arsenal for survival however much they contradicted what he said he was or was about. I do not blame Quentin Crisp for any of these contradictions.
Quentin Crisp did not make the assertion at all that he was a philosopher. It is the biographer who does.

Nonetheless, this memorable, well-written book wholly touched me and gave me many hours of genuine pleasure and thought. This work also contains a lot of reference material for future research on Quentin Crisp, and I look forward to reading Quentin Crisp’s posthumous final autobiography, “Dusty Answers.”‘

GCS