Quentin Crisp

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Life was a funny thing that happened to me on the way to the grave.

Quentin Crisp (December 25, 1908November 21, 1999), born Denis Charles Pratt, was an English writer, artist's model, actor and raconteur who was 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 conceal his homosexuality.

Sourced[edit]

  • A pinch of notoriety will do.
    • How to Go to the Movies (1988), part I: The New Hollywood
  • I have come to think that both sex and politics are a mistake and that any attempt to establish a connection between the two is the greatest error of all.
    • Foreword by Quentin Crisp to Conversations with my Elders by Boze Hadleigh (1986)
  • Fashion is a way of not having to decide who you are. Style is deciding who you are and being able to perpetuate it.
    • Speech, 29 October 1980.

The Naked Civil Servant (1968)[edit]

Exhibitionism is like a drug. Hooked in adolescence I was now taking doses so massive they would have killed a novice.
Even a monotonously undeviating path of self-examination does not necessarily lead to self-knowledge. I stumble towards my grave confused and hurt and hungry.
  • Keeping up with the Joneses was a full-time job with my mother and father. It was not until many years later when I lived alone that I realized how much cheaper it was to drag the Joneses down to my level.
    • Ch. 1
  • In an expanding universe, time is on the side of the outcast.
  • The rest of the world in which I lived was still stumbling about in search of a weapon with which to exterminate this monster [homosexuality] whose shape and size were not yet known or even guessed at. It was thought to be Greek in origin, smaller than socialism but more deadly, especially to children.
    • Ch. 3
  • Exhibitionism is like a drug. Hooked in adolescence I was now taking doses so massive they would have killed a novice.
    • Ch. 7
  • Sometimes I wore a fringe so deep it obscured the way ahead. This hardly mattered. There were always others to look where I was going.
    • Ch. 7
  • To my disappointment I now realized that to know all is not to forgive all. It is to despise everybody.
    • Ch. 9
  • I take it to be axiomatic that people are revolted by witnessing the shameless gratification of an appetite they do not share.
    • Ch. 11
  • I started to shed the monstrous aesthetic affectation of my youth so as to make room for the monstrous philistine postures of middle age, but it was some years before I was bold enough to decline an invitation to "Hamlet" on the grounds that I knew who won.
    • Ch. 12
  • I acquiesced in this on the grounds that the most anyone can expect from a holiday is a change of agony.
    • Ch. 12
  • As someone remarked, when told the new atomic bombs would explode without a bang, "they can’t leave anything alone."
    • Ch. 13
  • The distinction between indoors and outdoors, which in England is usually so marked, was temporarily suspended in a hot gauzy haze.
    • Ch. 13
  • The proprietor had hair so red that pigmentation had flowed out into every visible inch of his skin and even into the pinks of his eyes, as the colour of flowering cherry trees stains their leaves.
    • Ch. 13
  • I never saw Portsmouth by day.
    • Ch. 13
  • All liaisons between homosexuals are conducted as though they were between a chorus girl and a bishop. In some cases both parties think they are bishops.
    • Ch. 14
  • I was amazed to receive later a substantial sum for sitting in my room and talking about myself. If only I could get some of the back pay!
    • Ch. 15
  • There was no need to do any housework at all. After four years the dirt doesn’t get any worse.
    • Ch. 15
  • The measure of woman’s distaste for any part of her life lies not in the loudness of her lamentations (these are only an attempt to buy a martyr’s crown at a reduced price) but in her persistent pursuit of that occupation of which she never ceases to complain.
    • Ch. 15
  • God, from whose territory I had withdrawn my ambassadors at the age of fourteen. It had become obvious that he was never going to do a thing I said.
    • Ch. 16
  • The consuming desire of most human beings is deliberately to place their entire life in the hands of some other person. For this purpose they frequently choose someone who doesn’t even want the beastly thing.
    • Ch. 16
  • "You'll never be wanted," [a draft board official] said, and thrust at me a smaller piece of paper. This described me as being incapable of being graded in grades A, B, etc., because I suffered from sexual perversion. When the story of my disgrace became one of the contemporary fables of Chelsea, a certain Miss Marshall said, "I don't much care for the expression 'suffering from.' Shouldn't it be 'glorying in'?"
    • Ch. 16
  • When a third wave of poverty overwhelmed me, I knew with even greater certitude than when I lived in Clerkenwell that the only complete solution to my problems was suicide. I never brought it off. I was afraid... Hopelessness was thinly spread like a drizzle over my whole outlook. But, in an emergency, I could not find a puddle of despondency deep enough to drown in.
    • Ch. 16
  • Life was a funny thing that happened to me on the way to the grave.
    • Ch. 18
  • If I have any talent at all, it is not for doing but for being.
    • Ch. 18
  • Posing was the first job I did in which I understood what I was doing.
    • Ch. 19
  • Michelangelo worked from within. He described not the excitements of touching or seeing a man but the excitement of being Man.
    • Ch. 19
  • When stripped, I looked less like "Il David" than a plucked chicken that died of myxomatosis.
    • Ch. 19
  • The young always have the same problem — how to rebel and conform at the same time. They have now solved this problem by defying their elders and copying each other.
    • Ch. 19
  • There are girls who do not like real life... Some of these girls are innocent enough to think that these unreal friendships [with homosexuals] will lead to true love — a kind of sexual intercourse that will happen to them without their having to take too horribly much notice. Even those who are sufficiently sophisticated to know that this will not be so persist in these relationships. They provide an opportunity to lavish emotion on a pseudo-man without paying the price that in heterosexual circumstances would be inevitable.
    • Ch. 19
  • I found that I had become so spinsterish that I was made neurotic not only by my life of domesticity but by the slightest derangement of my room. I would burst into a fit of weeping if the kettle was not facing due east.
    • Ch. 21
  • Health consists of having the same diseases as one’s neighbours.
    • Ch. 21
  • I became one of the stately homos of England.
    • Ch. 23
  • I now know that if you describe things as better as they are, you are considered to be romantic; if you describe things as worse than they are, you are called a realist; and if you describe things exactly as they are, you are called a satirist.
    • Ch. 24
  • The simplest comment on my book came from my ballet teacher. She said, "I wish you hadn’t made every line funny. It’s so depressing."
    • Ch. 24
  • The low dive had set a standard that only middle-aged hooligans could remember and to which they looked back as Mrs Lot at Sodom.
    • Ch. 26
  • Even hooligans marry, though they know that marriage is for a little while. It is alimony that is for ever.
    • Ch. 26
  • Many [hooligans] discover to their shame that they have scruples; they have roots and, greatest disadvantage of all, they have hope. The fathers superior of the order do not try to influence their children in Satan; they merely shake their heads in sorrow. They know that the apostate must work out his own damnation.
    • Ch. 26
  • Another friend began to say, "Well, Quentin has a problem of adjusting himself to society and he..." This sentence was never finished. The ballet teacher expostulated, "I don't agree. Quentin does exactly as he pleases. The rest of us have to adapt ourselves to him."
    • Ch. 27
  • He explained to me that he wanted a simple boy-meets-girl story with lyrics. This I felt was quite beyond my capabilities. I did not know any boys who met girls.
    • Ch. 27
  • I never understood music. It seemed to me to be the maximum amount of noise conveying the minimum amount of information.
    • Ch. 27
  • [To read a novel or see a play was to drink life through a straw — to smoke it through a filter-tip. If we were not afraid of blackening our teeth or riddling our lungs with cancer — if we were a dauntless race of men with strong digestions — we would be able to devour life without the aid of these over-civilized devices.
    • Ch. 27
  • To minimize my guilt at going to the pictures — to call this wanton pursuit of an effete pleasure by another name — I needed movie companions as drunkards need drinking partners. If I entered a cinema alone, God might plunge his arm through the roof of the auditorium booming in a stereophonic voice, "And you, Crisp, what are you doing here?" I would never have dared reply, "I’m just enjoying myself, Lord." I remembered too well what happened to Mr and Mrs Adam. A commissionaire with a flaming sword came and asked them to leave.
    • Ch. 27
  • It would be impossible to get through the kind of life that I have known without accumulating a vast unused stockpile of rage. Retaliation, though, was a luxury I could never afford. On the physical level I was too feeble. On any other I was not rich enough. I never dared to be rude to anyone. I never knew that I might not need him later. Long after fantasies of sexual excess had ceased to torment me, my imagination was inflamed by lurid day-dreams of having my revenge on the world.
    • Ch. 29
  • Mass-murderers are simply people who have had ENOUGH.
    • Ch. 29
  • An autobiography is obituary in serial form with the last installment missing.
    • Ch. 29
  • Even a monotonously undeviating path of self-examination does not necessarily lead to self-knowledge. I stumble towards my grave confused and hurt and hungry.
    • Closing words

How to Become a Virgin (1981)[edit]

  • Bit by bit, I was becoming the almost acceptable face of homosexuality.
    • Ch. 6

How to Have a Life-Style[edit]

  • 'You talk for talking’s sake,' she hissed. I asked if that was bad. 'I mean it,' the girl replied. 'You talk for talking’s sake.' I had heard her the first time and had understood the words but not the contempt with which they were charged. 'Would you be equally annoyed,' I asked, 'if I danced for dancing’s sake? […] I should have said, 'Would you hate me if I lived for living’s sake?' This would have been the total question — the one to which a full reply could have saved the world.

Attributed[edit]

  • When I told the people of Northern Ireland that I was an atheist, a woman in the audience stood up and said, 'Yes, but is it the God of the Catholics or the God of the Protestants in whom you don't believe?
    • Quoted in The Wit and Wisdom of Quentin Crisp

Quotes about Crisp[edit]

External links[edit]

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