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Christopher William Bradshaw Isherwood (August 26, 1904 – January 4, 1986) was an Anglo-American novelist.

Early life and work

Born at Wyberslegh Hallmarker, High Lanemarker, Cheshiremarker in the North West England, Isherwood spent his childhood in various towns where his father, a Lieutenant-Colonel in the British Army, was stationed. After his father was killed in the First World War, he settled with his mother in Londonmarker and at Wyberslegh.

Isherwood attended preparatory school St. Edmund'smarker, Surreymarker, where he first met W. H. Auden. At Repton Schoolmarker he met his lifelong friend Edward Upward, with whom he wrote the extravagant "Mortmere" stories, only one of which was published during his lifetime (a few others appeared after his death, and others were summarised in his Lions and Shadows). He deliberately failed his tripos and left Corpus Christi College, Cambridgemarker without a degree in 1925. For the next few years he lived with violinist André Mangeot, working as secretary to Mangeot's string quartet and studying medicine; during this time he wrote a book of nonsense poems, People One Ought to Know (published 1982), with illustrations by Mangeot's eleven-year-old son, Sylvain.

In 1925 he was reintroduced to W. H. Auden, 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 at King's College Londonmarker, but gave it up after six months to join Auden for a few weeks in Berlin.

Rejecting his upper-class background and attracted to males, he remained in Berlin, the capital of the young Weimar Republicmarker, 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."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."

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. Isherwood's second novel, The Memorial (1932), was another of his stories of 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 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 Schönebergmarker, Berlin, where he lived.

During these years he moved around Europe, living in Copenhagenmarker, 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 childhood and youth, Lions and Shadows (1938), using the title of an abandoned novel. Auden and Isherwood travelled to China in 1938 to gather material for their book on the Sino-Japanese War called Journey to a War (1939).

Life in the U.S.

Having visited New York on their way back to the UK, Auden and Isherwood decided to emigrate to the United States in January 1939. (The timing of this move, coming just months before Britain was engulfed in the Second World War, placed them under a cloud in the eyes of those later engaged in the total war against global fascism.) After a few months with Auden in New York, Isherwood settled in Hollywoodmarker, Californiamarker.

He met Gerald Heard, the mystic-historian who founded his own monastery at Trabuco Canyonmarker 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. He embraced Vedanta, and, together with Swami Prabhavananda, he produced several Hindu scriptural translations, Vedanta essays, the biography Ramakrishna and His Disciples, novels, plays and screenplays, all imbued with the themes and character of Vedanta and the Upanishadic quest.

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 men.

Isherwood became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1946; he immediately became liable for military service, but having already done volunteer work in 1941-42, at a Quaker hostel for European refugees in Pennsylvaniamarker, he had no difficulty establishing himself as a conscientious objector. He 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 48, he met teen-aged Don Bachardy among a group of friends on the beach at Santa Monicamarker. Although one can find Bachardy's age at the time variously reported, in the biographical film Chris & Don: A Love Story, Bachardy himself recalls that, "at the time I was, probably, 16." Despite the age difference, this meeting began a partnership that, though interrupted by affairs and separations, continued until the end of Isherwood's life. 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 Angelesmarker) for several years during the 1950s and early '60s.

The more than 30-year age difference between Isherwood and Bachardy raised eyebrows at the time, with Bachardy (as he recalled) "regarded as a sort of child prostitute", 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 well-known after Isherwood's death. At the age of 81, Isherwood died in 1986 at Santa Monica, Californiamarker from prostate cancer. Their lifelong relationship is chronicled in the film Chris & Don: A Love Story.

Work on Vedanta and the West

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 was on the Editorial Advisory Board from 1951 until 1962.

The following are articles published in Vedanta and the West written by Isherwood:

  • 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 God - 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

List of works

  • 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)


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

Further reading

  • Christopher Isherwood, The Lost Years 1945-1951 pp. 78
  • 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)
  • Lee Prosser, Isherwood, Bowles, Vedanta, Wicca, and Me (2001) ISBN 0-595-20284-5
  • Lee Prosser, Night Tigers (2002) ISBN 0-595-21739-7

External links

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