"Quentin & Philip: A Double Portrait" by Andrew Barrow (Pan,2002) has got me reading again unexpectedly. As the title suggests it's a combined biography, its subjects Quentin Crisp (who probably needs so explanation) and poet Philip O'Connor, infamous crazed bohemian and author of "Memoirs of a Public Baby".
I bought Barrow's book because a) it was attractively cheap and b) I have an interest in O'Connor following my early reading of "Baby" and his appearance in "Children of Albion". But Crisp's story engages just as much as O'Connor's. The whole book, in fact, is a compelling insight into the bohemian world of England before the 1960s, when underground/ alternative lifestyles are supposed to have begun in earnest but--if the evidence of this biography and Nigel Richardson's brilliant "Dog Days in Soho" is to be believed, which I think it is--everything actually started to get a little bit tame.
I always found Crisp an irritating so-and-so watching him on television before his death, but what an important trail he blazed for homosexuals in this country. Though I'm no expert, the openly gay, unapologetically camp men on our tv screens today like Graham Norton or Richard (last name unkown) the "sexual terrorist" on this year's Big Brother, seem almost lineal descendents of the primped and painted creation Crisp took into the streets of London in the 1930s. If they have any freedom at all to be themselves today--and I imagine they have some--isn't it thanks in part to the many, many beatings Crisp had from ignorant Londoners back then, who took it upon themselves to punish him for his presumptuous freedom?(and succeeded only in making this perversely stubborn man even more determined to be beautiful.)
Maybe if there are any gay readers out there, you can tell me what you think. I don't want to put myself in the position of telling you about your lives, since I barely understand my own.