Isherwood, Christopher 1904–1986
Isherwood, Christopher 1904–1986
(Christopher William Bradshaw Isherwood)
PERSONAL: Born August 26, 1904, in High Lane, Cheshire, England; immigrated to the United States, 1939, naturalized citizen, 1946; died of cancer, January 4, 1986, in Santa Monica, CA; son of Francis Edward (a military officer) and Kathleen (Machell-Smith) Isherwood; longtime companion of Don Bachardy (an artist). Education: Attended Repton School, 1919–22, and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, 1924–25; King's College, University of London, medical student, 1928–29. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Vedantist. Hobbies and other interests: "I was a born film fan."
CAREER: Writer, 1926–86. Worked as a secretary to French violinist Andre Mangeot and his Music Society String Quartet, London, England, 1926–27; private tutor in London, 1926–27; went to Berlin, Germany, in 1929 to visit W.H. Auden, and stayed, on and off, for four years; taught English in Berlin, 1930–33; traveled throughout Europe, 1933–37; did film script work for Gaumont-British; went to China with Auden, 1938; dialogue writer for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Hollywood, CA, 1940; worked with American Friends Service Committee, Haverford, PA, in a hostel for Central European refugees, 1941–42; resident student of Vedanta Society of Southern California, Hollywood, and coeditor with Swami Prabhavananda of the society's magazine, Vedanta and the West, 1943–45; traveled in South America, 1947–48; guest professor at Los Angeles State College (now California State University, Los Angeles) and at University of California, Santa Barbara, 1959–62; Regents Professor at University of California Los Angeles, 1965, and University of California, Riverside, 1966. Exhibitions: Huntington Library mounted an exhibition on Isherwood entitled "A Writer and His World," in 2004.
AWARDS, HONORS: Brandeis University creative arts award, 1974–75; PEN Body of Work Award, 1983; Common Wealth Award for distinguished service in literature, 1984.
All the Conspirators, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 1928, new edition, 1957, New Directions (New York, NY), 1958.
The Memorial: Portrait of a Family, Hogarth (London, England), 1932, New Directions (New York, NY), 1946.
The Last of Mr. Norris (also see below), William Morrow (New York, NY), 1935, published as Mr. Norris Changes Trains, Hogarth (London, England), 1935.
Sally Bowles (also see below), Hogarth (London, England), 1937.
Goodbye to Berlin (also see below), Random House (New York, NY), 1939.
Prater Violet, Random House (New York, NY), 1945.
The Berlin Stories (contains The Last of Mr. Norris, Sally Bowles, and Goodbye to Berlin), J. Laughlin (New York, NY), 1946, published as The Berlin of Sally Bowles, Hogarth (London, England), 1975.
The World in the Evening, Random House (New York, NY), 1954.
Down There on a Visit, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1962.
A Single Man, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1964.
A Meeting by the River (also see below), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1967.
(With W.H. Auden) The Dog beneath the Skin; or, Where Is Francis? (three-act; produced in London, 1936; revised version produced in London, 1937), Random House (New York, NY), 1935.
(With W.H. Auden) The Ascent of F6 (produced in London, 1937; produced in New York, 1939), Random House (New York, NY), 1937, 2nd edition, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1957.
(With W.H. Auden) A Melodrama in Three Acts: On the Frontier (produced in Cambridge, England, 1938; produced in London, 1939), Faber & Faber (London, England), 1938, published as On the Frontier: A Melodrama in Three Acts, Random House (New York, NY), 1939.
The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God (based on a George Bernard Shaw novella), produced in Los Angeles at Mark Taper Forum, March, 1969.
(With Don Bachardy) A Meeting by the River (based on Isherwood's novel), produced in Los Angeles at Mark Taper Forum, 1972, produced on Broadway at the Palace Theatre, March, 1979.
(With W.H. Auden) Plays and Other Dramatic Writings, 1928–1938, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1989.
(Author of scenario and dialogue with Margaret Kennedy) Little Friend, Gaumont-British, 1934.
(Contributor) A Woman's Face, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (Los Angeles, CA), 1941.
(With Robert Thoeren) Rage in Heaven (based on novel by James Hilton), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (Los Angeles, CA), 1941.
(Contributor) Forever and a Day, RKO (Los Angeles, CA), 1943.
(With Ladislas Fodor) The Great Sinner, Loew's, 1949.
Diane, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (Los Angeles, CA), 1955.
(With Terry Southern) The Loved One (based on the novel by Evelyn Waugh), Filmways, 1965.
The Legend of Silent Night (television special; adapted from a story by Paul Gallico), broadcast by American Broadcasting Company (ABC-TV), 1969.
(With Don Bachardy) Frankenstein: The True Story (based on the novel by Mary Shelley; produced, 1972), Avon (New York, NY), 1973.
(With Aldous Huxley) Jacob's Hands, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Also author of dialogue for other films. Also author, with Lesser Samuels, of original story for Adventure in Baltimore, RKO, 1949. Also author of scripts for television.
Bertolt Brecht, Penny for the Poor, Hale (London, England), 1937, Hillman Curl (New York, NY), 1938, published as Threepenny Novel, Grove Press (New York, NY) 1956.
(With Swami Prabhavananda) Bhagavad-Gita: The Song of God, Rodd (Los Angeles, CA), 1944, published as The Song of God: Bhagavad-Gita, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1951, 3rd edition, Vedanta Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1965.
(And editor, with Swami Prabhavananda) Shankara, Crest-Jewel of Discrimination, Vedanta Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1947.
(With Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester) Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal, Vedanta Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1947.
Charles Baudelaire, Intimate Journals, Rodd, 1947.
(And editor, with Swami Prabhavananda) How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1953.
Lions and Shadows: An Education in the Twenties (autobiography), Hogarth (London, England), 1938, New Directions (New York, NY), 1947.
(With W.H. Auden) Journey to a War, Random House (New York, NY), 1939.
(Editor) Vedanta for the Western World, Rodd, 1945, published as Vedanta and the West, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1951.
The Condor and the Cows: A South American Travel Diary, Random House (New York, NY), 1949.
(Editor) Vedanta for Modern Man, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1951.
(Editor) Great English Short Stories, Dell (New York, NY), 1957.
An Approach to Vedanta, Vedanta Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1963.
Ramakrishna and His Disciples (biography), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1965.
Exhumations: Stories, Articles, Verses, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1966.
Essentials of Vedanta, Vedanta Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1969.
Kathleen and Frank (autobiography), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1971.
Christopher and His Kind, 1929–1939 (autobiography), Farrar, Straus, & Giroux (New York, NY), 1976.
An Isherwood Selection, edited by Geoffrey Halson, Longman (London, England), 1979.
My Guru and His Disciple, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux (New York, NY), 1980.
(With Sylvain Mangeot) People One Ought to Know (poems), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1982.
October (autobiographical record of one month in Isherwood's life; with illustrations by Don Bachardy), limited edition, Twelvetrees Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1983.
(With Swami Gambhirananda) History of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, Vedanta Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1983.
The Wishing Tree: Christopher Isherwood on Mystical Religion, edited by Robert Adjemian, Vedanta Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1987.
Where Joy Resides: A Christopher Isherwood Reader, edited by Don Bachardy and James P. White, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux (New York, NY), 1991.
(With Edward Upward) The Mortmere Stories, with images by Graham Crowley, Enitharmon Press (London, England), 1994.
Diaries, Volume One: 1939–1960, edited by Katherine Bucknell, Methuen (London, England), 1997.
The Repton Letters, edited by George Ramsden, Stone Trough Books (Settrington, York, England), 1997.
Lost Years: A Memoir, 1945–1951, edited by Katherine Bucknell, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 2000.
Contributor to books, including The Complete Works of W.H. Auden, Volume 1: Plays and Other Dramatic Writings, 1928–1938, 1990; and The Faber Book of Gay Short Fiction, 1991. Contributor to periodicals, including Harper's Bazaar and Vogue.
ADAPTATIONS: The Berlin Stories was adapted by John Van Druten as a play titled I Am a Camera, produced on Broadway in 1951, and published by Random House in 1952. I Am a Camera and The Berlin Stories were adapted by Joe Masteroff, John Kander, and Fred Ebb as the Broadway musical Cabaret, first produced in November, 1966. The screenplay for the movie version of Cabaret, written by Jay Presson Allen, was based on Isherwood's The Berlin Stories, and the film, directed by Bob Fosse and starring Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey, was released by Allied Artists in 1972.
SIDELIGHTS: Christopher Isherwood's career as a novelist, playwright, diarist, and teacher extended from the late 1920s through his death in 1986. During that era a sea change occurred in the acceptance of homosexuality in Western culture, and Isherwood is widely recognized as having made significant contributions to this trend. Best known for his Berlin Stories, from which the plays I Am a Camera and Cabaret were both adapted, Isherwood chronicled not only his own life but his minute observations of other people, places, and times as recorded in his letters and diaries. In The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, Sara S. Hodson called Isherwood "indisputably one of the twentieth century's most important authors in English … one of the first self-consciously gay writers to be read extensively by a wider audience." Lewis Gannett in the Gay and Lesbian Review noted that Isherwood was an author who came to realize, "significant for both literature and the gay liberation movement, that his identity as a homosexual was inseparable from his identity as a writer…. He was living at ground zero of an emerging gay consciousness and was observing it closely."
According to Francis King in his study Christopher Isherwood, the British-born, Americanized Isherwood was a "suppose-if" writer. "For such novelists," King explained, "the process of creation begins with something that they themselves have either experienced or observed at close quarters. Taking this foundation of reality, they then proceed to build on it imaginatively by a series of 'suppose-ifs'…. When Isherwood has stayed closest to reality,… he has been at his best."
During a career spanning a host of genres, Isherwood transformed his life into an often bitingly comic fiction, using what David Daiches called "quietly savage deadpan observation." He was, according to Frank Kermode, "farcical about desperate matters … almost as if what mattered was their intrinsic comic value." Isherwood's unique view of the comic in art, a theory of "High Camp," is explained by a character in The World in the Evening: "True High Camp always has an underlying seriousness. You can't camp about something you don't take seriously. You're not making fun of it; you're making fun out of it. You're expressing what's basically serious to you in terms of fun and artifice and elegance. Baroque art is largely camp about religion. The Ballet is camp about love…. It's terribly hard to define. You have to meditate on it and feel it intuitively, like Lao-Tze's Tao."
"I believe in being a serious comic writer," Isherwood once said. "To me, everything is described in those terms. Not in the terms of the unredeemably tragic view of life, but at the same time, not in terms of screwballism. Nor in terms of saying, 'Oh, it's all lovely in the garden.' I think the full horror of life must be depicted, but in the end there should be a comedy which is beyond both comedy and tragedy. The thing Gerald Heard calls 'metacomedy'…. All I aspire to is to have something of this touch of 'metacomedy.' To give some description of life as it is lived now, and of what it has been like for me, personally, to have been alive."
While still at college in England, Isherwood began to write stories to his friend Edward Upward. The two young men created an entire imaginary village named Mortmere and set stories in this village. Most of their stories were horrific; titles included "The Horror in the Tower," "The Leviathan of the Urinals," and "The Railway Accident." As Upward recounted in the Spectator, Isherwood "would write a story and put it on the table in my sitting-room late at night when I was asleep in my bedroom and I would read it with delight at breakfast, and a morning or two later he would find a story by me on his table." In this way, the two budding writers encouraged and critiqued each other's work. In his later writing, Isherwood used much the same technique as he had in his "Mortmere" stories, often exaggerating real-life situations into a kind of comic fantasy.
Isherwood had great success with his Berlin books, The Last of Mr. Norris and Goodbye to Berlin (collected as The Berlin Stories), in which he fictionalized his stay in the pre-Nazi Berlin of the late 1920s and early 1930s. During this time, Isherwood lived with his German lover, Heinz, who was eventually arrested for his homosexuality, imprisoned, and then forced to join the German army. For his part, Isherwood correctly predicted that Nazi Germany would prove hostile to him, and he left before World War II began. In The Last of Mr. Norris, Isherwood's narrator is a William Bradshaw (Isherwood's two middle names), while in Goodbye to Berlin the narrator is named Christopher Isherwood. This matter-of-fact blend of fact and fiction reflected the naive, honest style Isherwood was seeking in these stories. In both books he uses the phrase "I am a camera" to indicate what he feels his role as narrator should be: a simple recording device.
Through passive, unengaged narrators, Isherwood successfully portrays the decadence of Weimar Germany in startling detail. As Claude J. Summers wrote in the Dictionary of Literary Biography: British Novelists, 1930–1959, "Isherwood evokes a mythic city of sexual and political excitement only to acknowledge the artificiality of myth in the harsh reality of loneliness and despair." Many reviewers praised Isherwood's unobtrusive writing style which, like the camera Isherwood claimed to be, allowed the reader to see what his narrator saw. "Isherwood's prose," Edmund Wilson noted in the New Republic, "is a perfect medium for his purpose…. The sentences all get you somewhere almost without your noticing that you are reading them; the similes always have point without ever obtruding themselves before the object. You seem to look right through Isherwood and to see what he sees." Similarly, David Garnett wrote in New Statesman and Nation that "the extraordinary effect of life which [Isherwood] achieves is due almost entirely to his power of expressing exactly his observations. Every detail seems true because each is the result of a sharp verbal focus in his mind."
Isherwood's comic touch is evident in Mr. Norris Changes Trains, which features the criminal adventures of Arthur Norris, an aging con man who befriends the naive William Bradshaw. Although morally bankrupt, Norris is irresistible to everyone he meets. Summers called him "among the most seductive comic figures in modern literature" and "both lovable and dangerous." B.R. Redman in the Saturday Review of Literature observed: "Astonishingly enough, one cannot dislike Arthur Norris…. Norris is soft and appealing. No, one does not dislike him. But it is possible, even easy to dislike the shadowy character of William Bradshaw. He is the repellent factor in the novel." Writing in Books, Terence Holliday found that "by touches so subtle as to be almost imperceptible in themselves, the delighted reader is made aware that there is rising before him that rarest phenomenon of the novelist's art—solid three-dimensional human character." As Michael de-la-Noy remarked in Books and Bookmen, "It was [Isherwood's] humor that very quickly raised his work above the level of mere confessional autobiography, that stamped it with a genius for comic characterisation in the mould of Evelyn Waugh."
Graham Greene, in an article for the Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1986, described The Last of Mr. Norris as "a permanent landmark in the literature of our time." Summers called Goodbye to Berlin an "extraordinary achievement," later adding that it is "a book of haunting loneliness" and "a masterful study of an inhibited young man." Julian Symons concluded in the Sunday Times that the Berlin stories "remain, and they capture a time, a place, and the people of a disintegrating society in a moving and masterly way. They are a unique achievement." Isherwood's Berlin stories were so popular that they were adapted first as the play I Am a Camera, then as the musical Cabaret, and finally as the film Cabaret. The stage and film versions of the story won a total of seven Tony Awards, a Grammy Award, and eight Academy Awards.
In later works, Isherwood continued to write about his own life in both fiction and nonfiction. James Atlas in the New York Times noted that Isherwood "devoted himself to chronicling his life more or less as it happens." A number of his many literary friends are featured as characters in these books. The poet Stephen Spender appears in Isherwood's Lions and Shadows as the character Stephen Savage. (Writing of the book in 1986, Spender claimed: "I have the feeling that Stephen Savage is more like the young Stephen Spender than I myself ever was.") Other Lions and Shadows characters were modeled after W.H. Auden and Edward Upward, while novelist Virginia Woolf appears in Isherwood's The World in the Evening. W. Somerset Maugham, in his novel The Razor's Edge, reversed this process, modeling the character of Larry after Isherwood, although Isherwood always denied the resemblance.
In the novel A Single Man, a study of a middle-aged homosexual in grief over the death of his longtime companion, Isherwood dealt with key concerns of his life, including spirituality and same-sex love. Set within the confines of a single day, the novel creates a portrait of George, the main character, going about the routine of his life in the face of tragedy. "Beautifully written in a style that alternates between poetic intensity and gentle irony, the book is a technical tour de force in which every nuance is perfectly controlled," Summers enthused. David Daiches in the New York Times Book Review found the novel to be "a sad, sly report on the predicament of the human animal," while Elizabeth Hardwick, writing in the New York Review of Books, called A Single Man "a sad book, with a biological melancholy running through it, a sense of relentless reduction, daily diminishment." Summers, however, saw the novel as culminating "in George's renewed commitment to life and in spiritual illumination." De-la-Noy judged A Single Man to be "not just [Isherwood's] masterpiece but one of the most remarkable novels of the twentieth century," and Summers considered it "among the most undervalued novels of our time."
In such nonfiction works as Kathleen and Frank, a remembrance of his parents, and Christopher and His Kind, an autobiography in which he first admitted his homosexuality, Isherwood wrote about his life in a novelistic fashion, detailing his childhood, his many years as a Hollywood screenwriter, and such matters as his affair with poet W.H. Auden, and his embrace of the Eastern philosophy of Swami Prabhavananda, a teacher of Vedanta. Kathleen and Frank combines Isherwood's mother's diaries with his own running commentary and remembrances. The biography begins with his parents' first meeting in the 1890s and proceeds until 1939, when Isherwood left England for America. The book ends with Isherwood's evaluation of his parents' impact upon his own personal development. Joseph Catinella in the Saturday Review praised Isherwood for his "novelist's eye for dramatic movement and detail" which produced "a splendid biography." W.H. Auden, writing in the New York Review of Books, claimed: "I cannot imagine any reader, whatever his social background and interests, not being enthralled by it."
In Christopher and His Kind, Isherwood describes his activities during the 1930s, looking back at that time and himself with a wry humor. Much new information about his life, previously unrevealed, is unveiled in the book, particularly Isherwood's sexual orientation and his various love relationships. "Invigorated and humanized by his commitment to gay liberation, the book is marred only by his tendency to devalue—in the interest of fact—some of his most brilliant fictional techniques in the Berlin stories," Summers commented. A New Yorker critic found the memoir to be written with "delicacy and wit," while Peter Stansky in the New York Times Book Review called the work "indispensable for admirers of this truly masterly writer." Lewis Gannett called Christopher and His Kind "in my opinion the finest gay autobiography ever written."
In addition to his work as a writer, Isherwood was known as a proponent of Hindu religious teachings, and this in turn informed his writing. His interest in Eastern philosophy began in 1939 when he first arrived in Los Angeles and met Swami Prabhavananda, a Hindu teacher. Prabhavananda's teachings emphasized a serene indifference to the things of the world, as well as a benevolent acceptance of homosexuality. From 1943 to 1945, Isherwood served as coeditor of the Hindu magazine Vedanta and the West, the official journal of Prabhavananda's Vedanta Society of Southern California. He also translated the Bhagavad Gita, a classic of the Hindu religion, while such books as My Guru and His Disciple and An Approach to Vedanta presented his own religious beliefs. Summers observed that all of Isherwood's later novels "illustrate the Vedantic belief that happiness lies in escape from the ego and in discovery of the atman, the impersonal God within man." Isher-wood also became known as an outspoken advocate of homosexual rights, giving speeches and writing articles on the subject. His own relationship with painter Don Bachardy lasted from 1954 until Isherwood's death in 1986. John Boorman remarked in American Film that "of all the couples I got to know when I first started visiting Los Angeles more than twenty years ago, Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy had the only 'marriage' that survived."
Speaking at a forum in 1974, Isherwood declared that the goal of the gay rights movement should be "to be recognized as entirely natural and not to be questioned at all." British poet Stephen Spender declared in the Observer that Isherwood's involvement in gay rights "led to his becoming a kind of hero of the Gay community." After all, noted Felice Picano in the Lambda Book Report, Isherwood "accomplished nothing less than a complete coming out, decades before Stonewall, and years before such a thing was being done, or even wise to do."
Virtually all of Isherwood's writing, both fiction and nonfiction, was autobiographical in some way. His ability to create entertaining and meaningful work from the raw facts of his life experience—always rendered in a charming and insightful prose style—was what critics considered his unique talent, and the aspect of his writing that attracted the most praise from critics. King explained that the world Isherwood created was "a solipsistic circle: he himself [at] its centre, his perceptions its radii, his consciousness its circumference. What makes this world, admittedly confined, fascinating to the reader is the tone of voice—humane, totally truthful, ironic, benevolent—that its creator employ[ed] to describe it. It [was] chiefly this unique tone of voice that [gave] Isherwood his distinction as one of the most entertaining and likeable of novelists at work in the English language." Isherwood's unique tone also comes through in his travel writing, according to Thomas Dukes, a contributor to the Dictionary of Literary Biography: British Travel Writers, 1910–1939. "Like his best novels it includes astute, unsentimental observations about people and places situated in a particular time," the essayist observed. Journey to a War, which chronicles a visit to China in 1938, while the Sino-Japanese war raged and World War II was about to begin, and The Condor and the Cows: A South American Travel Diary, written in the late 1940s, "are valuable historical documents and illustrate Isherwood's talent for making his point through the meaningful anecdote," added Dukes. De-la-Noy described Isherwood as "a writer of genius, a brilliant entertainer and one of the finest prose stylists of his generation." According to Summers, Isherwood "is increasingly recognized as one of the twentieth century's most insightful observers of the human condition."
The entries in Diaries, Volume One: 1939–1960 cover the period from Isherwood's departure for America on January 19, 1939, with Auden until his fifty-sixth birthday, and they reflect the important matters in his life at the time, including his strict adherence to the Swami's teachings during the war years and his not entirely successful quest to lead a spiritually pure life; his personal relationships, including his longtime partnership with Bachardy and his busy social life in Hollywood; and his work. Alfred Corn wrote in the Nation that Isherwood's record is "intimate and compulsively readable," although not comprehensive: "You can see that sometimes Isherwood avoids writing when things have taken an embarrassing turn." Times Literary Supplement contributor Zachary Leader found that the tenor of the entries changed after Isherwood met Bachardy: "There are more jokes, though also more anxieties about health, appearance, fame. Bad habits quickly assert themselves, particularly a penchant for rage and resentment…. When the diaries ponder writing problems, the tone is the same for film or fiction: level, practical, realistic about audiences and their needs." Time reviewer Pico Iyer voiced a similar sentiment, noting that in the latter half of the book "more and more of his entries dwindle into local gossip and silly worries about his boyfriend and his weight." Corn, however, thought "the story of how [Isherwood and Bachardy] managed to overcome enormous differences—in age, nationality, experience and vocation—is touching." Also touching, but "a little exasperating," Corn commented, are the entries on Isherwood's religious pursuits: "Isherwood seems to be the only person not in on the secret that he wasn't cut out for seclusion and abstinence." Iyer concluded that "even at his weakest, he earns our trust with his entirely human cries of 'God, make me pure—but not just yet!'" Leader summed up the diaries by saying, "though not every entry is riveting, there is much here to ponder and praise, in the writing as well as in the life."
Bachardy, along with James P. White, anthologized selections from Isherwood's major works (including Prater Violet and the entirety of A Single Man) and essays for Where Joy Resides: A Christopher Isherwood Reader. In the New Statesman & Society, Robert Carver characterized the collection as "A Last Lover's anthology" subject to distortion, noting "what we get in this volume is very much the reconstructed American Gay Lib Vedanta Christopher." However, a Washington Post Book World critic praised the anthology, saying, "As always with Isherwood, the novels are a blend of autobi-ography and fiction, the writing is pellucid, and the artistry of the kind that conceals a high degree of art."
As the twentieth century closed, more Isherwood works were published: Jacob's Hands, an unproduced screenplay by Isherwood and Aldous Huxley that was discovered by actress Sharon Stone; and Lost Years: A Memoir, 1945–1951, Isherwood's reconstruction of events during a period when he did not maintain his customary detailed diaries. According to David Thomson, critiquing the latter volume for the New York Times Book Review, this was a time when, for Isherwood, "the stamina or self-awareness necessary for a journal dissolved in drink and promiscuity." Isherwood began putting together a retrospective of these years in the 1970s, and although he did not finish it, the book still provides important insights, in the opinion of some critics. Isherwood writes about himself in the third person, a device that "allows for greater analysis and intimacy" than one might find in a typical first-person memoir, commented Robert Plunket in the Advocate. Isherwood is also candid about his bouts of excessive drinking and his active sex life; he also details his practice of Hinduism, his work as a screenwriter, and his friendships with many figures in the arts, including Bertolt Brecht, E.M. Forster, Marlon Brando, and Georgia O'Keeffe. To Thomson, these mentions amount to mere name-dropping, and he was unimpressed with the book as a whole: "These are dazzlingly empty years more than they are lost ones. Their record here will do nothing for Isherwood and posterity." A Publishers Weekly critic, however, wrote of the book, "While it lacks the artfulness of the memoirs Isherwood chose to publish, it will nevertheless find grateful readers among those who care about his work." Plunket offered higher praise still, calling Lost Years "a book that anyone with even a passing interest in Isherwood or gay social history shouldn't miss."
In 2004, the Huntington Library mounted an exhibition called "Christopher Isherwood: A Writer and His World." The exhibition drew upon Isherwood's papers collected at the Huntington, as well as supplemental material provided by Don Bachardy and other sources, including the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Berg, James, and Chris Freeman, editors, Conversations with Christopher Isherwood, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 2001.
Berg, James, and Chris Freeman, editors, The Isherwood Century: Essays on the Life and Work of Christopher Isherwood, University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, WI), 2000.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 1, 1973, Volume 9, 1978, Volume 11, 1979, Volume 14, 1980, Volume 44, 1987.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 15: British Novelists, 1930–1959, 1983, Volume 95: British Travel Writers, 1910–1939, 1998.
Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1986, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1987.
Ferres, Kay, Christopher Isherwood: A World in Evening, Borgo (San Bernardino, CA), 1994.
Finney, Brian, Christopher Isherwood: A Critical Biography, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1979.
Fryer, Jonathan, Isherwood: A Biography of Christopher Isherwood, New English Library (London, England), 1977, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1978.
Funk, Robert W., Christopher Isherwood: A Reference Guide, G.K. Hall (Boston, MA), 1979.
Heilbrun, Carolyn G., Christopher Isherwood, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1970.
Hynes, Samuel L., The Auden Generation: Literature and Politics in England in the 1930s, Bodley Head (London, England), 1976.
Isherwood, Christopher, Christopher and His Kind, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1976.
Isherwood, Christopher, Diaries, Volume One: 1939–1960, edited by Katherine Bucknell, Methuen (London, England), 1997.
Isherwood, Christopher, Lost Years: A Memoir, 1945–1951, edited by Katherine Bucknell, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 2000.
Isherwood, Christopher, The World in the Evening, Random House (New York, NY), 1954.
Izzo, David Garrett, Christopher Isherwood: His Era, His Gang, and the Legacy of the Truly Strong Man, University of South Carolina Press (Columbia, SC), 2001.
Kermode, Frank, Puzzles and Epiphanies, Chilmark (Washington, DC), 1962.
King, Francis, Christopher Isherwood, Longman (London, England), 1976.
Lehmann, John, Christopher Isherwood: A Personal Memoir, Holt (New York, NY), 1988.
Newquist, Roy, Conversations, Rand McNally (Chicago, IL), 1967.
Page, Norman, Auden and Isherwood, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Parker, Peter, Isherwood: A Life, Picador (London, England), 2004, published as Isherwood: A Life Revealed, Random House, 2004.
Phelps, Gilbert, editor, Living Writers, Transatlantic (Albuquerque, NM), 1947.
Westby, Selmer, and Clayton M. Brown, Christopher Isherwood: A Bibliography, 1923–1967, California State College (Los Angeles, CA), 1968.
Wilde, Alan, Christopher Isherwood, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1971.
Advocate, March 12, 1991; March 4, 1997, review of Diaries, Volume One, p. 57; September 12, 2000, Robert Plunket, review of Lost Years, p. 63.
American Film, October, 1986, John Boorman, "Stranger in Paradise," pp. 53-57.
Antaeus, spring-summer, 1974, Daniel Halpern, "A Conversation with Christopher Isherwood," pp. 366-388.
Ariel: A Review of International English Literature, 1972.
Booklist, September 15, 2000, Brad Hooper, review of Lost Years, p. 203.
Books and Bookmen, March, 1986.
California Quarterly, winter-spring, 1977, Jeffrey Bailey, "Interview: Christopher Isherwood," pp. 87-96.
Contemporary Literature, winter, 1972, David P. Thomas, "Goodbye to Berlin: Refocusing Isherwood's Camera," pp. 44-52; autumn, 1975, Alan Wilde, "Language and Surface: Isherwood and the Thirties," pp. 478-491.
Critical Inquiry, March, 1975.
Encounter, August, 1954, Angus Wilson, "The New and Old Isherwood," pp. 62-68; November, 1962.
Gay and Lesbian Review, May, 2001, Lewis Gannett, "Time Regained," p. 35.
Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, July-August, 2004, Sara S. Hodson, "An Isherwood Treasure Trail," p. 22.
Journal of Modern Literature, February, 1976.
Lambda Book Report, January, 2001, Felice Picano, "Filling in the Blanks," p. 14.
London Magazine, June, 1961, Stanley Poss, "A Conversation on Tape," pp. 41-58; July, 1965, John Whitehead, "Isherwood at Sixty," pp. 90-100; April, 1968, Charles Higham, "Isherwood on Hollywood," pp. 31-38.
London Review of Books, January 26, 1995, review of The Mortmere Stories, p. 19; January 2, 1997, review of Diaries, Volume One, p. 32.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 5, 1991, p. 14; February 2, 1997, review of Diaries, Volume One, p. 6.
Modern Fiction Studies, winter, 1970.
Nation, February 10, 1997, Alfred Corn, review of Diaries, Volume One, p. 27.
New Republic, May 17, 1939; February 26, 1990.
New Review, August, 1975, Brian Finney, "Christopher Isherwood—A Profile," pp. 17-24.
New Statesman, October 3, 1986.
New Statesman and Nation, March 11, 1939.
New Statesman & Society, August 25, 1989; January 12, 1990.
New Yorker, December 27, 1976.
New York Review of Books, August 20, 1964; January 27, 1972, W.H. Auden, "The Diary of a Diary," pp. 19-20; February 20, 1997, review of Diaries, Volume One, p. 11.
New York Times, March 19, 1939; August 2, 1979; August 27, 1980.
New York Times Book Review, August 30, 1964; March 25, 1973; November 28, 1976; January 5, 1997, John Sturrock, "My Life Will Be What I Make of It," p. 6; March 28, 1999, p. 28; September 17, 2000, David Thomson, "Out of Film."
Observer, January 4, 1990, p. 45; November 10, 1996, review of Diaries, Volume One, p. 15.
Paris Review, spring, 1974, W.I. Scobie, "Art of Fiction: Interview," pp. 138-182.
Perspectives on Contemporary Literature, May, 1977.
Publishers Weekly, October 20, 1989; September 6, 1991; November 11, 1996, review of Diaries, Volume One, p. 63; July 27, 1998, review of Jacob's Hands, p. 53; August 21, 2000, review of Lost Years, p. 58.
Saturday Review, January 22, 1972.
Saturday Review of Literature, May 11, 1935.
Shenandoah, spring, 1965, George Wickes, "An Interview with Christopher Isherwood," pp. 22-52.
Sight and Sound, spring, 1986.
Spectator, March 1, 1935; March 3, 1939; January 18, 1986.
Time, January 13, 1997, Pico Iyer, review of Diaries, Volume One, p. 74.
Times Literary Supplement, September 10, 1964; November 3, 1995, p. 22; January 10, 1997, Zachary Leader, review of Diaries, Volume One, p. 5; May 15, 1998, p. 31.
Twentieth-Century Literature, October, 1976, Carolyn G. Heilbrun, "Christopher Isherwood: An Interview," pp. 253-263.
Washington Post Book World, April 28, 1991.
Washington Times, September 6, 1998, "'Microbiography' of Two Men, One City," p. 6.
Yale Review, autumn, 1989.
Isherwood Century, http://www.theisherwoodcentury.org/ (August 25, 2004), essays and information about Isherwood.
Isherwood Foundation, http://www.isherwoodfoundation.org/ (August 25, 2004), foundation in honor of Isherwood.
AB Bookman's Weekly, January 6, 1986.
Chicago Tribune, January 7, 1986.
Daily Variety, January 6, 1986.
Kenosha News, January 6, 1986.
Los Angeles Times, January 6, 1986.
Newsweek, January 20, 1986.
New York Times, January 6, 1986.
Observer, January 12, 1986.
Publishers Weekly, January 17, 1986.
Sunday Times (London), January 12, 1986.
Time, January 20, 1986.
Washington Post, January 6, 1986.