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Christopher Isherwood

Biography

Christopher Isherwood was born in 1904 in Disley, Cheshire. He was a cousin of Graham Greene. His father was a soldier so the family travelled around. However, his father was killed at Ypres in 1915. Isherwood was educated at St Edmund’s Preparatory School, where he met W H Auden and then at Repton, where he met Edward Upward and at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he read history. His relations with his mother were poor, so he stayed in Cambridge, writing the Mortmere stories with Edward Upward, though these were not published till 1994. He deliberately failed his Cambridge Tripos and then worked as secretary to a string quartet,
as a tutor and even attended King’s College London to study medicine.

In 1928 he met Stephen Spender and, together with Auden, they became close friends. His first novel was published and he then went to join Auden in Berlin, his stay being put to good use in writing his two most famous novels, Mr Norris Changes Trains and Goodbye to Berlin. While in Berlin, his second novel was published and he met Jean Ross, who was to become the model for Sally Bowles in Goodbye to Berlin. (Ross later married left-wing journalist Claud Cockburn. She lived in Berlin just a few blocks from where Cabaret was filmed. She died in 1973.)

After 1933, he travelled around Europe with his lover, Heinz Neddermeyer, to avoid the latter’s being called up for military service. Neddermeyer was arrested in 1937 and Isherwood then left with Auden to go to China. They had already collaborated on three plays and now wrote a book about the Japanese invasion, Journey to a War . They stopped in New York on their way back to England and decided to stay in the United States. Isherwood settled in California where he met Gerald Heard and, through him, Swami Prabhavananda. He was now fully interested in Vedanta and studied and wrote about it. He also worked, though not very successfully, at script writing.

After the war, he became an American citizen and met and fell in love with the artist Don Bachardy. They would remain together until Isherwood’s death. His writing took on a more determined homosexual theme and he became something of an icon for the gay movement. His autobiographical writings revealed his homosexuality more explicitly. He died in 1986 of prostate cancer.

He will undoubtedly be best remembered for having written the book that became the film Cabaret. His theme of homosexuality and closely linked to that, the idea of the anti-hero, the hero against the system and against convention, is paramount in his work.

Books about Christopher Isherwood

Brian Finney: Christopher Isherwood: A Critical Biography
Carolyn G. Heilbrun: Christopher Isherwood
David Garret Izzo: Christopher Isherwood: His Life, His Gang, and The Legacy of the Truly Strong Man
Francis King: Christopher Isherwood
John Lehmann: Christopher Isherwood: A Personal Memoir
Norman Page: Auden and Isherwood, The Berlin Years
Stephen Wade: Christopher Isherwood

Other sites

Christopher Isherwood
Christopher Isherwood Foundation
Christopher Isherwood
Christopher Isherwood
The Lung-Hai Railway in War-time (article by Isherwood)
Interview

Bibliography

1928 All the Conspirators
1932 The Memorial: Portrait of a Family
1935 Mr Norris Changes Trains
1935 The Last of Mr. Norris
1938 Lions and Shadows: an Education in the Twenties
1938 On the Frontier (with W H Auden)
1935 The Dog Beneath the Skin or Where Is Francis? (with W H Auden)
1936 Ascent of F6 (with W H Auden)
1939 Journey to a War
1939 Goodbye to Berlin
1945 Prater Violet
1949 The Condor and the Cows: a South American Travel Diary
1954 The World in the Evening
1962 Down There on a Visit
1963 An Approach to Vedanta
1964 A Single Man
1965 Ramakrishna and His Disciples
1966 Exhumations: Stories, Articles, Verses
1967 A Meeting by the River
1971 Kathleen and Frank
1973 Frankenstein: The True Story (with Don Bachardy)
1976 Christopher and His Kind 1929-1939
1980 My Guru and His Disciple
1982 People One Ought to Know
1983 October
1987 The Wishing Tree: Christopher Isherwood on Mystical Religion
1989 Where Joy Resides: A Christopher Isherwood Reader
1994 The Mortmere Stories (with Edward Upward)
1997 Diaries: Volume One 1939-1960
1998 Jacob’s Hands (with Aldous Huxley)
2000 The Lost Years: A Memoir 1945-1951