Christopher Isherwood

Christopher Isherwood (left) and W.H. Auden (right), photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1939Christopher William Bradshaw Isherwood (August 26, 1904 – January 4, 1986) was an Anglo-American novelist.

[edit] Life and work
The son of a British Lieutenant-Colonel belonging to the upper gentry, he was born in his family's ancestral seat, Wyberslegh Hall, High Lane, near Stockport in the northwest of England, and spent his childhood in various towns where his father was stationed. After his father was killed in the First World War, he settled with his mother in London and at Wyberslegh.

At Repton School he met his lifelong friend Edward Upward, with whom he wrote the extravagant "Mortmere" stories, of which only one was published during his lifetime (a few others appeared after his death). He deliberately failed his tripos and left Cambridge without a degree in 1925. For the next few years he lived in the home of the violinist André Mangeot while working as secretary to Mangeot's string quartet; he wrote a book of nonsense poems, People One Ought to Know (not published until 1982), with illustrations by Mangeot's eleven-year-old son, Sylvain.

In 1925 he was reintroduced to W. H. Auden, whom he had known slightly at school, and became Auden's literary mentor and partner in an intermittent, casual liaison, as Auden sent his poems to Isherwood for comment and approval. Through Auden, Isherwood met Stephen Spender, with whom he later spent much time in Germany. His first novel, All the Conspirators, appeared in 1928; it is an anti-heroic story, written in a pastiche of many modernist novelists, about a young man who is defeated by his mother. In 1928-29 Isherwood studied medicine in London, but gave it up after a few months to join Auden for a few weeks in Berlin.

Dust jacket of Isherwood's second novel (1932)Rejecting his upper-class background and attracted to males, he remained in Berlin, the capital of the young Weimar Republic, drawn by its deserved reputation for sexual freedom. There, he "fully indulged his taste for pretty youths. He went to Berlin in search of boys and found one called Heinz, who became his first great love."[1] Isherwood commented on the Berlin sex underground, and his own participation in it, in a note to the American publisher of John Henry Mackay's Der Puppenjunge (The Hustler), "a classic boy-love novel set in the contemporary milieu of boy prostitutes in Berlin." "It gives a picture of the Berlin sexual underworld early in this century," wrote Isherwood, "which I know, from my own experience, to be authentic."[2]

In 1931 he met Jean Ross, the inspiration of his fictional character Sally Bowles; he also met Gerald Hamilton the inspiration for the fictional Mr. Norris. In September 1931 the poet William Plomer introduced him to E.M. Forster; they became close and Forster served as a mentor to the young writer. His second novel, The Memorial (1932), was another of his stories of intergenerational conflict between mother and son, based closely on his own family history. During one of his returns to London he worked with the director Berthold Viertel on the film Little Friend, an experience that later became the basis of his novel Prater Violet (1945). He worked as a private tutor in Berlin and elsewhere while writing the novel Mr Norris Changes Trains (1935) and a series of short stories collected under the title Goodbye to Berlin (1939). These provided the inspiration for the play I Am a Camera, the subsequent musical Cabaret and the film of the same name. A memorial plaque to Isherwood has been erected on the house in Schöneberg, Berlin, where he lived.

Plaque, Nollendorfstraße, Berlin. Christopher Isherwood lived here between March 1929 and January/February 1933.During these years he moved around Europe, living in Copenhagen, Sintra and elsewhere, and collaborated on three plays with Auden, The Dog Beneath the Skin (1935), The Ascent of F6 (1936), and On the Frontier (1939). Isherwood wrote a lightly-fictionalized autobiographical account of his childhhood and youth, Lions and Shadows (1938), using the title of an abandoned novel. Auden and Isherwood then travelled to China in 1938 to gather material for their book on the Sino-Japanese War called Journey to a War (1939).

Having visited New York on their way back to the UK, Auden and Isherwood decided to emigrate to the United States early in 1939. (The timing of this move, coming just as Britain was about to be engulfed in the Second World War, placed them under a cloud with the patriotic crowd engaged in the total war against global fascism.) After a few months with Auden in New York, Isherwood settled in California, where he embraced Hinduism. Together with Swami Prabhavananda he produced several Hindu scriptural translations, Vedanta essays, the biography Ramakrishna and his Followers, novels, plays and screenplays, all imbued with the themes and character of Vedanta and the Upanishadic quest.

Arriving in Hollywood in 1939, he met Gerald Heard, the mystic-historian who founded his own monastery at Trabuco Canyon that was eventually gifted to the Vedanta Society of Southern California. Through Heard, who was the first to discover Swami Prabhavananda and Vedanta, Isherwood joined an extraordinary band of mystic explorers that included Aldous Huxley, Bertrand Russell, Chris Wood (Heard's lifelong friend), John Yale and J. Krishnamurti. Through Huxley, Isherwood befriended the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. A chance encounter in a Los Angeles bookstore with the fantasy writer Ray Bradbury led to a favorable review of The Martian Chronicles, which boosted Bradbury's career and helped to form a friendship between the two.

Bachardy at nineteen (?), photographed by Carl Van Vechten.Isherwood became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1945 and began living with the photographer William (Bill) Caskey. In 1947 the two traveled to South America; Isherwood wrote the prose and Caskey provided the photographs for a 1949 book about their journey, The Condor and the Cows.

On Valentine's Day, 1953, at the age of forty-nine, he met the eighteen-year old Don Bachardy among a group of friends on the beach at Santa Monica. This began a partnership, which though interrupted by affairs and separations, continued until the end of Isherwood's life.[3] During the early months of their affair, Isherwood finished (and Bachardy typed) the novel he had been working on for some years, The World in the Evening (1954). Isherwood also taught a creative writing course at Los Angeles State College (now California State University, Los Angeles) for several years during the 1950s and early '60s.

The more than thirty years age difference between them raised the usual eyebrows at the time, with Bachardy (as he recalled) "regarded as a sort of child prostitute"[4], but the two became a well-known and well-established couple in Southern Californian society, with many Hollywood friends.

Down There on a Visit, a novel published in 1962, comprises four related stories that overlap the period covered in his Berlin stories. In the opinion of many reviewers, Isherwood's finest achievement was his 1964 novel A Single Man. During 1964 Isherwood collaborated with American writer Terry Southern on the screenplay for the Tony Richardson film adaptation of The Loved One, Evelyn Waugh's caustic satire on the American funeral industry.

Isherwood and Bachardy lived together in Santa Monica for the rest of Isherwood's life. Bachardy became a successful draughtsman with an independent reputation, and his portraits of the dying Isherwood became widely known after Isherwood's death. Isherwood died in Santa Monica, California, their lifelong relationship is chronicled in the film "Chris & Don: A Love Story" .

[edit] List of works
All the Conspirators (1928; new edn. 1957 with new foreword)
The Memorial (1932)
Mr. Norris Changes Trains (1935; US edn. titled The Last of Mr. Norris)
The Dog Beneath the Skin (1935, with W. H. Auden)
The Ascent of F6 (1937, with W. H. Auden)
Sally Bowles (1937; later included in Goodbye to Berlin)
On the Frontier (1938, with W. H. Auden)
Lions and Shadows (1938, autobiography)
Goodbye to Berlin (1939)
Journey to a War (1939, with W. H. Auden)
Prater Violet (1945)
The Berlin Stories (1945; contains Mr. Norris Changes Trains and Goodbye to Berlin; reissued as The Berlin of Sally Bowles, 1975)
The Condor and the Cows (1949, South-American travel diary)
What Vedanta Means to Me (1951, pamphlet)
The World in the Evening (1954)
Down There on a Visit (1962)
An Approach to Vedanta (1963)
A Single Man (1964)
Ramakrishna and His Disciples (1965)
Exhumations (1966; journalism and stories)
A Meeting by the River (1967)
Essentials of Vedanta (1969)
Kathleen and Frank (1971, about his parents)
Frankenstein: The True Story (1973, with Don Bachardy; based on their 1973 filmscript)
Christopher and His Kind (1976, autobiography)
My Guru and His Disciple (1980)
October (1980, with Don Bachardy)
The Mortmere Stories (with Edward Upward) (1994)
Where Joy Resides: An Isherwood Reader (1989; selections ed. by Don Bachardy and James P. White)
Diaries: 1939-1960, ed. by Katherine Bucknell (1996)
Lost Years: A Memoir 1945-1951, ed. by Katherine Bucknell (2000)
Kathleen and Christopher, ed. by Lisa Colletta (2005, letters to his mother)

Charles Baudelaire, Intimate Journals (1930; rev. edn. 1947)
The Song of God: Bhagavad-Gita (with Swami Prabhavananda, 1944)
Shankara's Crest-Jewel of Discrimination (with Swami Prabhavananda, 1947)
How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali (with Swami Prabhavananda, 1953)

[edit] Notes
^ "Hello to Berlin, boys and books", The Telegraph; Filed: 18/05/2004[1]
^ Hubert Kennedy, Mackay, John Henry in glbtq[2]
^ Peter Parker, Isherwood, 2004.
^ "The First Couple: Don Bachardy and Christopher Isherwood," by Armistead Maupin, The Village Voice, Volume 30, Number 16, 2 July 1985[3]

[edit] Further reading
J.J. Berg & C. Freeman (eds.) Conversations with Christopher Isherwood (2001)
Brian Finney, Christopher Isherwood: A Critical Biography (1979)
Jonathan Fryer, Isherwood: A Biography (1977; rev. edn., Eye of the Camera, 1993)
The Isherwood century: essays on the life and work of Christopher Isherwood, ed. by James J. Berg and Chris Freeman (2000)
Norman Page, Auden and Isherwood: The Berlin Years (2000)
Peter Parker, Isherwood: A Life (2004)

[edit] External links
Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
Christopher IsherwoodIsherwoood Exhibit at the Huntington
The Paris Review Interview Christopher Isherwood Biography
Isherwood - Encyclopedia Britannica
Christopher Isherwood Foundation

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