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Dandy in the Underworld: An Unauthorized Autobiography
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Dandy in the Underworld: An Unauthorized Autobiography

by Sebastian Horsley

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In the honorable tradition of the eccentric dandyism of Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde, and Quentin Crisp comes Sebastian Horsley's disarming memoir of sex, drugs, and Savile Row.


In the honorable tradition of the eccentric dandyism of Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde, and Quentin Crisp comes Sebastian Horsley's disarming memoir of sex, drugs, and Savile Row.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

British artist Horsley's biggest claim to fame is the crucifixion ceremony he underwent in the Philippines in 2000, an attempt to "break the limits of life" and make an artistic statement. The feat is the apex of Horsley's "unauthorized autobiography," which chronicles his life as an artist, a junkie and a self-professed dandy. Pithy and engaging, Horsley bares all, painting himself as a misogynist, a sexual deviant and a narcissist. While the memoir starts slow-drawn out accounts of childhood travails, tawdry family history and boarding-school miseries-Horsley's writing picks up when he's describing his cyclical addiction to and withdrawal from drugs. A crack high is a "whole-body orgasm" and "heartbreaking ecstasy"; heroin is "molten sunshine." By the time he is on a raft in the Philippines, paddling to the site of his crucifixion, he's been in and out of exclusive rehab clinics and self-imposed bouts of "cold turkey time," not to mention a stint as a prostitute. By the time a 50-something Horsley winds down his life history-wealthy and privileged from birth (his family owned a food empire), he was also uncannily successful in the stock market-he is nearly bankrupt. He ran through, by his own estimation, £100,000 on his drug addictions and the same amount of money each on his other addiction, prostitutes, and tailored clothing befitting his stature as a dandy. (Mar. 11)

School Library Journal

Eccentric British artist Horsley has written an autobiography that reads like fiction. Horsley, who lives in London's Soho, has done and seen everything in the world. He grew up at High Hall in Hull with his alcoholic mother; his stepfather, a cult leader dressed in orange; and his father, a crippled millionaire. The book's opening pages indicate what readers can expect; notes Horsley, "Mother had been drunk during her entire pregnancy." Searching for happiness, meaning, and a good outfit, Horsley got married, engaged in numerous affairs, and eventually descended into heroin and crack addiction. In the end, he declares to his readers, "I've suffered for my art, now it's your turn." Horsley's book is unabashedly unashamed and brutally honest. Each page is exciting to read, full of thought-provoking avowals like this one: "It was hard for Satan alone to mislead the whole world, so he appointed priests and prostitutes in different locations." Strongly recommended for all public libraries.
—Bob T. Ivey Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
P.S. Series
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.82(d)

Read an Excerpt

Dandy in the Underworld
An Unauthorized Autobiography

By Sebastian Horsley HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2008
Sebastian Horsley
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061461255

Chapter One

Birth was almost the death of me

When Mother found out she was pregnant with me she took an overdose. Father gave her the pills. She needed a drama from time to time to remind her that she was still alive. The overdose didn't work. Had she known I would turn out like this she would have taken cyanide.

Still, even with a fine career as a failed abortion behind me, I couldn't wait to be born. Mother might just as well have tried to stop a meteorite. Hurtling towards the earth, in 1962 I exploded on Hull. I was so appalled I couldn't talk for two years.

Mother had been drunk throughout the entire pregnancy. It was me who was well mannered. I gave her no labour pains. I have never kicked a woman in my life—not even my own mother.

On the way to the hospital it had been decided that I would be called Hugo Horsley. During my birth she changed her mind, I was registered as Marcus. This would have been nice because, having danced myself out the womb, I could have been named after my first hero, Marc Bolan. It was not to be. By the time Mother got home she realised she had made a mistake. She took a deep breath and called me Sebastian. My name was changed officially by deed poll—but only when Mother got round to it. In 1967.

For this I am grateful. The most beautiful word in the English language is 'Sebastian'. Sebastian Flyte, Sebastian Dangerfield,Sebastian Venable; the title is divine—all gleaming with vermilion. Even to the militant lowbrow that was Father. After my final naming, Father said to Mother, 'I hope that name doesn't give him any ideas.'

I have to say, it did rather. Years later when I was crucified and was asked repeatedly why I had done it I replied 'Because I am called Sebastian.' In the hooligan world of art this was understood. Sebastian as an icon is attractive—even if only to faggots. Mr Wilde took Sebastian as his Christian name for his alias when on the run in France. He also wrote 'the grave of Keats' for me:

The youngest of the martyrs here is lain,
Fair as Sebastian, and as early slain.

A good idea attempted is better than a bad idea perfected. There was no question that Mother and Father's marriage was the latter. It had begun with a drama which would have turned Miss Scarlet O' Hara herself crimson.

Mother had been wandering the world to no effect. Born in Wales—a country where Sunday starts early and lasts several years—she had had good reasons to flee. Her own mother had been someone who had nothing and wanted to share it with the world—so she had joined the Communist party, and entombed her daughter in a Catholic convent.

She had to be subsidised at Le Bon Sauveur, Holyhead, by the nuns who had a whip round to buy her clothing. This was Catholicism smartly sold, for Mother loved all the frocks and clothes. But she was determined to remain unsaved. A skinny, plain little girl with mousey hair and chilblains, she seemed shy as an antelope but her timidity masked a leonine spirit.

Ordered to do needlework she flushed her sampler down the lavatory. Confronted in class she threw ink over a Nun's habit. One day she went on hunger strike. A nun sat across the table from her in the dining room commanding her to swallow. Mother folded her arms as tight as a straightjacket. Afternoon turned into dusk. The semolina cooled but her lips remained frozen. The sky turned dark. Suddenly she stood bolt upright and threw the pudding on to the floor. She marched round to the nun and fixed her with her stare. 'Now you lick it up,' she said.

It is impossible to receive grace in a state of rebellion. Hopeless at games and all subjects except for English Literature, Mother was about as useful as a nun's tit.

At fourteen, Mother was moved to an elementary school. She was a solitary teenager with no friends and was nicknamed 'gormless' by her enemies. Her only recourse was to begin a journey to the interior. With no television in the house and a radio which could only be turned on when her mother was out (she hated any sign of the outside world) she saw and heard nothing; she had to use her imagination.

She wasn't really grand enough to be a secretary but at seventeen she went to typing school in Llandudno, and from there to Edinburgh to become a shorthand typist for the Inland Revenue where she was paid £4.10 a week. She worked like a poor woman but walked like a queen. Give her the luxuries of life and she dispensed with the necessities. Food and shelter were optional, hats and furs obligatory. Mother understood instinctively that style has little to do with wealth; it is a way of being yourself in a hostile or indifferent world. To be 'well dressed' is not to have expensive clothes or the 'right' clothes. You can wear rags, so long as they suit you. Style is not elegance but consistency.

On a whim Mother left for New York and became a personal assistant to a Wall Street banker. The idea of Mother on Wall Street seems bizarre to me—but not to her. She was a bohemian—without prejudices and without roots.

She sat at her desk each morning reading Keats. Only urgent business would rouse her. One day she heard that a rival firm was going to do a promotion across the street. Two thousand balloons would be dropped from the top windows that evening. One of them would have a plane ticket attached. Mother put on her best hat to go out.


Excerpted from Dandy in the Underworld by Sebastian Horsley Copyright © 2008 by Sebastian Horsley. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Sebastian Horsley has done just about everything you could ever think of, including writing for The Observer, New Statesman, and The Independent. He also ran a monthly column for The Erotic Review, and published a memoir, Dandy in the Underworld: An Unauthorized Autobiography.

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