Christopher Isherwood

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Christopher Isherwood
Christopher Isherwood 6 Allan Warren.jpg
BornChristopher William Bradshaw Isherwood
(1904-08-26)26 August 1904
Wyberslegh Hall, High Lane, Cheshire, England
Died4 January 1986(1986-01-04) (aged 81)
Santa Monica, California, USA
CitizenshipBritish, American (naturalised)
Partner(s)Heinz Neddermeyer (1932–37)
Don Bachardy (1953–86)

Jump to: navigation, search
Christopher Isherwood
Christopher Isherwood 6 Allan Warren.jpg
BornChristopher William Bradshaw Isherwood
(1904-08-26)26 August 1904
Wyberslegh Hall, High Lane, Cheshire, England
Died4 January 1986(1986-01-04) (aged 81)
Santa Monica, California, USA
CitizenshipBritish, American (naturalised)
Partner(s)Heinz Neddermeyer (1932–37)
Don Bachardy (1953–86)


Christopher William Bradshaw Isherwood (26 August 1904 – 4 January 1986) was an English novelist.[1][2]

Early life and work[edit]

At Repton School, Isherwood met his lifelong friend Edward Upward with whom he wrote the extravagant "Mortmere" stories, of which one was published during his lifetime, a few others appeared after his death, and others he summarised in Lions and Shadows. He deliberately failed his tripos and left Corpus Christi College, Cambridge without a degree in 1925. For the next few years he lived with violinist André Mangeot, worked as secretary to Mangeot's string quartet and studied medicine. During this time he wrote a book of nonsense poems, People One Ought to Know, with illustrations by Mangeot's eleven-year-old son, Sylvain. It was not published until 1982.

In 1925 A.S.T. Fisher reintroduced him to W. H. Auden,[3][4][5] and Isherwood became Auden's literary mentor and partner in an intermittent, casual liaison. 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 was 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 at King's College London, but gave up his studies after six months to join Auden for a few weeks in Berlin.

Rejecting his upper middle class background and embracing his attraction to men, he remained in Berlin, the capital of the young Weimar Republic, drawn by its 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."[6] Commenting on John Henry Mackay's Der Puppenjunge (The Pansy), Isherwood wrote: "It gives a picture of the Berlin sexual underworld early in this century which I know, from my own experience, to be authentic."[7]

In 1931 he met Jean Ross, the inspiration for 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 his mentor. Isherwood's second novel, The Memorial (1932), was another story of conflict between mother and son, based closely on his own family history. During one of his return trips to London he worked with the director Berthold Viertel on the film Little Friend, an experience that 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 short novel called Goodbye to Berlin (1939), often published together in a collection called The Berlin Stories. These works provided the inspiration for the play I Am a Camera (1951), the 1955 film I Am a Camera (both starring Julie Harris), the Broadway musical Cabaret (1966) and the film (1972) of the same name. In 1932 he met and fell in love with a young German man named Heinz Neddermeyer.[8]

After leaving Berlin in 1933, he and Heinz moved around Europe, and lived in Copenhagen, Sintra and elsewhere. Heinz was arrested as a draft-evader in 1937 following his brief return to Germany after he was ejected from Luxembourg as an "undesirable alien." Convicted of "reciprocal onanism,"[9] he was sentenced to six months in prison, a year of state labor and two years of compulsory military service.[10] Isherwood 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 childhood and youth, Lions and Shadows (1938), using the title of an abandoned novel. Auden and Isherwood traveled to China in 1938 to gather material for their book on the Sino-Japanese War called Journey to a War (1939). In 1939, Auden and Isherwood set sail for the United States on temporary visas, a controversial move, later regarded by some as a flight from danger on the eve of war in Europe.[11]

Life in the United States[edit]

Christopher Isherwood (left) and W. H. Auden (right), photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1939

While living in Hollywood, California, Isherwood befriended Truman Capote, an up-and-coming young writer who would be influenced by Isherwood's Berlin Stories, most specifically in the traces of the story "Sally Bowles" that surface in Capote's famed novella, Breakfast at Tiffany's.[12] Isherwood also had a close friendship with the British writer, Aldous Huxley, with whom he sometimes collaborated.[13] Isherwood also befriend Dodie Smith, a British novelist and playwright who had also moved to California, and who became one of the few people to whom Isherwood showed his work in progress.[14]

Don Bachardy at nineteen (1954), photographed by Carl Van Vechten

Isherwood considered becoming an American citizen in 1945 but balked at taking an oath that included the statement that he would defend the country. The next year he applied for citizenship and answered questions honestly, saying he would accept non-combatant duties like loading ships with food. The fact that he had volunteered for service with the Medical Corps helped as well. At the naturalization ceremony, he found he was required to swear to defend the nation and decided to take the oath since he had already stated his objections and reservations. He became an American citizen on 8 November 1946.[15]

He began living with the photographer William "Bill" Caskey. In 1947, the two traveled to South America. Isherwood wrote the prose and Caskey took the photographs for a 1949 book about their journey entitled The Condor and the Cows.

On Valentine's Day 1953, at the age of 48, he met teenaged Don Bachardy among a group of friends on the beach at Santa Monica. Reports of Bachardy's age at the time vary, but Bachardy later said, "At the time I was, probably, 16."[16] In fact, Bachardy was 18. Despite the age difference, this meeting began a partnership that, though interrupted by affairs and separations, continued until the end of Isherwood's life.[17]

During the early months of their affair, Isherwood finished—and Bachardy typed—the novel on which he had worked for some years, The World in the Evening (1954). Isherwood also taught a course on modern English literature at Los Angeles State College (now California State University, Los Angeles) for several years during the 1950s and early 1960s.

The 30-year age difference between Isherwood and Bachardy raised eyebrows at the time, with Bachardy, in his own words, "regarded as a sort of child prostitute,"[18] 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, comprised 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, that depicted a day in the life of George, a middle-aged, gay Englishman who is a professor at a Los Angeles university. 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 well known after Isherwood's death.

Isherwood died at age 81 in 1986 in Santa Monica, California from prostate cancer. His body was donated to the UCLA Medical School.[19]

Later recognition[edit]

Plaque, Nollendorfstraße 17. Christopher Isherwood lived here between March 1929 and January/February 1933.

The house in the Schöneberg district of Berlin where Isherwood lived bears a memorial plaque to mark his stay there between 1929 and 1933.

The 2008 film Chris & Don: A Love Story chronicled Isherwood and Bachardy's lifelong relationship.[20]

A Single Man was adapted into a film of the same name in 2009.[21]

In 2010 Isherwood's autobiography, Christopher and His Kind, was adapted into a television film by the BBC, starring Matt Smith as Isherwood and directed by Geoffrey Sax.[22][23] It was broadcast in France and Germany on the Arte channel in February 2011, and in Britain on BBC 2 the following month.

List of works[edit]


Work on Vedanta and the West[edit]

Vedanta and the West was the official publication of the Vedanta Society of Southern California. It offered essays by many of the leading intellectuals of the time and had contributions from Aldous Huxley, Gerald Heard, Alan Watts, J. Krishnamurti, W. Somerset Maugham, and many others.

Isherwood was Managing Editor from 1943 until 1945. Together with Huxley and Heard, he served on the Editorial Advisory Board from 1951 until 1962.

Isherwood wrote the following articles that appeared in Vedanta and the West:

  • Vivekananda and Sarah Bernhardt – 1943
  • On Translating the Gita – 1944
  • Hypothesis and Belief – 1944
  • The Gita and War – 1944
  • What is Vedanta? – 1944
  • Ramakrishna and Vivekananda – 1945
  • The Problem of the Religious Novel – 1946
  • Religion Without Prayers – 1946
  • Foreword to a Man of Boys – 1950
  • An Introduction – 1951
  • What Vedanta Means to Me – 1951
  • Who Is Ramakrishna? – 1957
  • Ramakrishna and the Future – 1958
  • The Home of Ramakrishna – 1958
  • Ramakrishna: A First Chapter – 1959
  • The Birth of Ramakrishna – 1959
  • The Boyhood of Ramakrishna – 1959
  • How Ramakrishna Came to Dakshineswar – 1959
  • Early Days at Dakshineswar – 1959
  • The Vision of Kali – 1960
  • The Marriage of Ramakrishna – 1960
  • The Coming of the Bhariravi – 1960
  • Some Visitors to Dakshineswar – 1960
  • Tota Puri – 1960
  • The Writer and Vedanta – 1961
  • Mathur – 1961
  • Sarada and Chandra – 1962
  • Keshab Sen – 1962
  • The Coming of the Disciples – 1962
  • Introduction to Vivekananda – 1962
  • Naren – 1963
  • The Training of Naren – 1963
  • An Approach to Vedanta – 1963
  • The Young Monks – 1963
  • Some Great Devotees – 1963
  • The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna – 1963
  • The Last Year – 1964
  • The Story Continues – 1964
  • Letters of Swami Vivekananda – 1968
  • Essentials of Vedanta – 1969

In 1948 several articles from Vedanta and the West were issued in book form as Vedanta for the Western World. Isherwood edited the selection and provided an introduction and three articles ("Hypothesis and Belief," "Vivekananda and Sarah Bernhardt," "The Gita and War"). Other contributors included Aldous Huxley, Gerald Heard, Swami Prabhavananda, Swami Vivekananda et al.

Audio and video recordings[edit]


  1. ^ James J. Berg, ed., Isherwood on writing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 19
  2. ^ Obituary Variety, 15 January 1986.
  3. ^ "Consolidated index". Oxford Poetry. Graham Nelson. Retrieved 28 June 2013. 
  4. ^ James, Callum (10 September 2012). "Ambassador of Loss by Michael Scarrott". Front Free Endpaper. Blogspot. Retrieved 28 June 2013. 
  5. ^ "W. H. Auden". Helensburgh Heroes. Retrieved 28 June 2013. 
  6. ^ "Hello to Berlin, boys and books", The Telegraph; Filed: 18 May 2004. [1]
  7. ^ Hubert Kennedy, Mackay, John Henry in Mackay's work was "a classic boy-love novel set in the contemporary milieu of boy prostitutes in Berlin."
  8. ^ Fryer, p. 128
  9. ^ Christopher and His Kind, p. 287
  10. ^ Fryer, p. 168
  11. ^ Carpenter, Humphrey (1981). W. H. Auden: A Biography. London: George Allen & Unwin. ISBN 0-04-928044-9. 
  12. ^ Norton, Ingrid (July 1, 2010). "Year with Short Novels: Breakfast at Sally Bowles’". Open Letters Monthly. 
  13. ^ "Huxley on Huxley.". Dir. Mary Ann Braubach. Cinedigm, 2010. DVD. 
  14. ^ [2], Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed on March 3, 2014
  15. ^ Christopher Isherwood, edited by Katherine Bucknell, Lost Years: A Memoir, 1945–1951 (NY: HarperCollins, 2000), 40, 77–8
  16. ^ The biographical film Chris & Don: A Love Story
  17. ^ Peter Parker, Isherwood, 2004
  18. ^ The First Couple: Don Bachardy and Christopher Isherwood," by Armistead Maupin, The Village Voice, Volume 30, Number 16, 2 July 1985.
  19. ^ "Christopher Isherwood". Find A Grave. Mar 2, 2000. Retrieved 11 November 2012. 
  20. ^ Internet Movie Database: "Chris & Don. A Love Story (2007)", accessed 6 July 2010
  21. ^ Internet Movie Database: "A Single Man (2009) ", accessed 6 July 2010
  22. ^ [3] BBC Press Release for "Christopher and His Kind"
  23. ^ Christopher and His Kind at the Internet Movie Database
  24. ^ a b CD produced by mondayMEDIA distributed on the GemsTone label
  25. ^ Lecture given in the Santa Barbara Vedanta Temple
  26. ^ "Review in". Retrieved 2013-12-04. 


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]