Miss Fleur gave me the most awful restyle

Elaine Showalter

  • Between Us Girls by Joe Orton
    Hern, 224 pp, £14.99, October 1998, ISBN 1 85459 374 9
  • ‘Fred & Madge’ and ‘The Visitors’ by Joe Orton
    Hern, 224 pp, £12.99, October 1998, ISBN 1 85459 354 4

Joe Orton came 16th this year in the National Theatre’s poll of the hundred top playwrights of the century. Not bad for someone who failed the 11-plus, spent six months in prison, and was bludgeoned to death at the age of 34. He wrote Between Us Girls in 1957, after he had ended a period of collaboration with his lover and mentor Kenneth Halliwell. A classics scholar and failed actor, Halliwell was devoted to the gay literary canon avant la lettre, and had tutored Orton in the homosexual literary tradition from the Greeks to Genet. ‘Together,’ Francesca Coppa writes in her excellent introduction to the book, ‘they attempted to write works with a distinctively homosexual sensibility, and their early novels are all profoundly influenced by the style of Halliwell’s literary idol, Ronald Firbank.’ They co-authored five ponderously Firbankian novels, camply titled Lord Cucumber, The Silver Bucket, The Mechanical Womb, The Last Days of Sodom and The Boy Hairdresser. None ever made it into print.

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