IF A LITTLE CREATURE were child and half puppy, it might be called a chuppy. So what is a Chog? No, not a werewolf. Something much more sleazy.
Chog is described as a "Gothic Fable." I hate that word Gothic. It is such an insult to the Chartres cathedral. Anyway, what has a pointed arch to do with the Goths? My little Pocket Oxford, seen through a magnifying glass, says it also means "barbarous, uncouth," as well as "horrific" 19th-century fiction. But anything more couth than this book would be hard to find. It is witty, amusing, yet like some stories of Saki or de Quincey's Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts, it is unspeakable and horrendous.
Chog begins in a deceptively cosy manner with little chortling jokes about a broken down old Stately Home of England. Speculative builders have built tacky villas all around the Great House of the Emms family, gradually shoving the immense gates back and back until now they loom up just outside the front door. The place has slid from the sublime to the ridiculous. Then, into the household, comprised of the reclusive Lord Emms and his servants, a "never youthful" couple called Davies, comes a jolly German Shepherd called Fido!
Lulled into a warm mood, we take a glass of brandy to bed with us and by the light of two flickering candles -- being of artistic temperament -- we begin to read, allowing little wrinkles of merriment to appear at the corners of our eyes.
Then suddenly, the whole thing goes . . . gothic!
Not Dracula. Worse. Wickedly, politely, dangerously funny and repugnant. Fido accompanies the beastly old butler on his visits to the town prostitute with disastrous effects upon that poor tart and the reader.
We really must find another description for this sort of shudder-making affront to the sancity of our bedtime reading. Is there such a phrase as Art Degoutant? There is now (he said grimly). Read it and be damned!
Having unraveled ourselves from Chog and daylight having returned (the only dependable thing in this inconstant world) we may now turn to the second opus, How To Have a Life-Style. It is difficult to believe that the two books were written by the same author!
Since the fantastic success of his book and film, The Naked Civil Servant, Quentin Crisp has risen like a startling bubble from the rank weeds of Notoriety to the sunlit temples of Fame. He has, so he tells us, been inundated with letters from all parts of the world seeking his advice on many and most abstruse things. In his own words he has become a sort of "mail-order guru."
This work is an attempt to answer them all in a series of essays. It does not matter if you're just an ordinary type and a bit peculiar, you will become more ordinary and more peculiar and attain Freedom.
Mr. Crisp, whom I have seen being interviewed on television, resembles my great-aunt Flora, with his fine eyes, large nose and head of hair like crushed meringues. Aunty Flora was to me the same sort of arbiter of taste as Mr. Crisp appears to be: As she poured out tea she would resolve my boyish problems, at the same time introducing me to style (but she called it manners and said they "maketh man").
Of course in the 18th century "manners" meant the whole bit; today the word has dwindled in meaning. For Flora it meant social standing. ("Please father, can I have some money to go to the cinema?" "You are always asking for money. Who do you think you are, the son of a duke?" "I don't know, Father, I will ask Mama.")
Style is being and comes before doing. It is the self-made surroundings down to the last button and inflection or tone of voice. And it needs self-understanding and discipline. (Consider Beau Brummel. He had no title, no family influence, no money. Yet he invented the English gentleman.) Quentin Crisp probes the whole technique of how style creates itself, disabusing us of the notion that image and style are one and the same. Style comes before mere "image" as a product comes before the commercial.
That Abominable Showman of Hollywood, Louis B. Mayer made "images" for stars, all wrapped up for the fans to copy, and changed them with the seasons. But he could not package a Garbo or a Mae West. (Mae broke through the screen every time she just looked at the camera, straight at the audience, "How'm I doing?") When Garbo left films, they followed her.
Crisp argues that style should be taught in schools, particularly voice production and movement, much as rhetoric was taught in ancient Greece and for the same reason. Speech is our greatest means of self-expression; movement and carriage are the mark of the personality. Dialects and personal, racial or regional accents and idioms should be preserved, for they enrich our tongue.
Here's a wonderful example, from the book, of two styles meeting: Mae West allowed herself to be taken from a back view in a trucking shot on a farm. Wearing a tightly fitting black satin dress and high heels, she strolled slowly, swaying her ample plenitudes, behind a large grunting black sow which waddled in front of her and set the pace. Only a supreme practitioner of style would have dared it, and only a woman with a grand sense of humor would have permitted it.
Style appeals to the heart and imagination. Quentin Crisp, floreas!