, Volume 44, Issue 1, pp 199–215 | Cite as

Violence, dandyism and the literary self-portraiture of Quentin Crisp

  • Bill HarrisonEmail author


This essay argues that, although he is often characterized as aristocratic and defiant, the literary dandy fundamentally is the object of the types of violence identified by Galtung: direct, structural, and cultural. These three kinds can be traced throughout dandyism’s history, from the historical rise of “Beau” Brummell to more contemporary literary theorizing, as matters of acknowledging direct violence’s common proximity to the dandy, noting the dandy’s strong structural connection to his modern celebrity analogue, and understanding how the dandy transforms the economic and cultural relations of the commodity. Each of these aspects serve to reduce the literary dandy to a state of abjection. As a result of this antagonism, author and literary dandy Crisp adopts a form of life-writing in his memoir The Naked Civil Servant that can be identified as the literary self-portrait, a confessional and contrarian sub-genre theorized by Beaujour. The authorship of the self-portrait, then, serves as a defensive tactic that rewrites and reinterprets the violence of the dandy’s opponents.


Dandy Dandyism Quentin Crisp Self-portrait Michel Beaujour Gay and lesbian studies 


  1. Agamben, G. (1993). Stanzas: Word and phantasm in Western culture. R. L. Martinez (Trans.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. (Original work published in 1977).Google Scholar
  2. Amann, E. (2015). Dandyism in the age of revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bamyeh, M. A. (2007). Of death and domination: The existential foundations of governance. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Barbey d’Aurevilly, J. (1988). Dandyism. D. Ainslie (Trans.). New York: PAJ Publications. (Original work published in 1845. Translation first published in 1897).Google Scholar
  5. Barthes, R. (2006). Dandyism and fashion. In A. Stafford & M. Carter (Eds.), A. Stafford (Trans.), The language of fashion (pp. 65–69). Oxford: Berg. (Original work published in 1962).Google Scholar
  6. Beaujour, M. (1991). Poetics of the literary self-portrait. Y. Milos (Trans.). New York: New York University Press. (Original work published in 1980).Google Scholar
  7. Bell, D. A. (2014). The first total war: Napoleon’s Europe and the birth of warfare as we know it. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.Google Scholar
  8. Britton, A. (1999). For interpretation: Notes against camp. In Cleto, F. (Ed.), Camp: Queer aesthetics and the performing subject. A reader (pp. 136–42). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. (Original work published in 1978-9).Google Scholar
  9. Bronfen, E. (2002). Celebrating catastrophe. Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, 7(2), 175–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Camus, A. (1954). The Rebel. New York: Knopf. [H. Read (Trans.)].Google Scholar
  11. Connolly, C. (1938). The enemies of promise. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  12. Connor, S. (2010). Defiling celebrity. In A. Jaffe & J. Goldman (Eds.), Modernist star maps: Celebrity, modernity, culture (pp. 221–235). Farnham: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  13. Crisp, Q. (1997). The naked civil servant. London: Penguin. (Original work published 1968).Google Scholar
  14. Cucullu, L. (2010). Adolescent Dorian Gray: Oscar Wilde’s proto-picture of modernist celebrity. In A. Jaffe & J. Goldman (Eds.), Modernist star maps: Celebrity, modernity, culture (pp. 19–36). Farnham: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  15. Eisner, E. (2009). Nineteenth-century poetry and literary celebrity. Basingstoke: Palgrave.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Feldman, J. R. (1993). Gender on the divide: The dandy in modernist literature. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Flinn, C. (1999). The deaths of camp. In F. Cleto (Ed.), Camp: Queer aesthetics and the performing subject. A reader (pp. 433–457). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  18. Fremont-Smith, E. (1977). Muscles and mascara: The politics of gay representation. The Village Voice, pp. 80–82. (Review of The Naked Civil Servant, by Q. Crisp, & The Sexual Outlaw: A Documentary, by J. Rechy).Google Scholar
  19. Galtung, J. (1969). Violence, peace, and peace research. Journal of Peace Research, 6(3), 167–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Galtung, J. (1990). Cultural violence. Journal of Peace Research, 27(3), 291–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Garelick, R. K. (1988). Rising star: Dandyism, gender, and performance in the fin de siècle. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Girard, R. (1972). Violence and the sacred. P. Gregory (Trans.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Glick, E. (2009). Materializing queer desire: Oscar Wilde to Andy Warhol. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  24. Gray, S. (1968). Suffragette. The Listener, 119. (Rev. of The Naked Civil Servant, by Q. Crisp).Google Scholar
  25. Inglis, F. (2010). A short history of celebrity. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Irvin, K., & Brewer, L. A. (Eds.). (2013). Artist, rebel, dandy: Men of fashion. New Haven: Yale University Press-Museum of Art-Rhode Island School of Design.Google Scholar
  27. Jesse, W. (1844). The life of George Brummell, esq., commonly called Beau Brummell (Vol. 1). London: Saunders & Otley.Google Scholar
  28. Kelly, I. (2006). Beau Brummell: The ultimate man of style. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  29. Kelly, N. (2011). Quentin Crisp: The profession of being. A biography. Jefferson: McFarland.Google Scholar
  30. Kojève, A. (1980). Introduction to the reading of Hegel: Lectures on “The Phenomenology of Spirit.” 1947. A. Bloom (Ed.), J. H. Nichols, Jr. (Trans.). Ithaca: Cornell University Press. (Original work published in 1947. Translation first published in 1969).Google Scholar
  31. Kojève, A. (1997). The latest new world. D. Macey (Trans.), Parallax 3(1), 23–27. (Original work published in 1956).Google Scholar
  32. Kristeva, J. (1982). Powers of horror: An essay on abjection. L. S. Roudiez (Trans.). New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Lyotard, J. (2013). The libidinal economy of the dandy. In H. Parret (Ed.), R. Bowlby, J. Bouniort, & P. W. Milne (Trans.), The assassination of experience by painting, Monory (pp. 58–155). Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2013. (Original work published in 1984).Google Scholar
  34. Marshall, D. P. (1997). Celebrity and power: Fame in contemporary culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  35. Medwin, T. (1824). Journal of the conversations of Lord Byron. In: D. H. Radcliff (Ed.), London: Henry Colburn. Retrieved 3 Nov. 2015 from
  36. Miller, M. (2009). Slaves to fashion: Black dandyism and the styling of black diasporic identity. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Moers, E. (1960). The dandy: Brummell to Beerbohm. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.Google Scholar
  38. Sorel, G. (2004). Reflections on violence. J. Jennings (Ed.), T. E. Hulme & J. Jennings (Trans.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Original work published 1908).Google Scholar
  39. Sullivan, G. (1990). Discrimination and self-concept of homosexuals before the gay liberation movement: A biographical analysis examining social context and identity. Biography, 13(3), 203–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Tuite, C. (2014). Lord Byron and scandalous celebrity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Wicke, J. (2011). Epilogue: Celebrity’s face book. PMLA, 126(4), 1131–1139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Young, B.A. (1968). Funny queer. Punch, 174. (Rev. of The Naked Civil Servant, by Q. Crisp).Google Scholar
  43. Žižek, S. (2008). Violence: Six sideways reflections. New York: Picador.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, Hungary 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EnglishState University of New York, College at GeneseoGeneseoUSA

Personalised recommendations