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Tiff and Dither

Michael Wood

2 January 1997
Diaries. Vol. I: 1939-60 
by Christopher Isherwood, edited by Katherine Bucknell.
Methuen, 1048 pp., £25, October 1996, 0 413 69680 4
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... It may be that only the truly self-absorbed can make art out of self-effacement. This at least is one of the suggestions of the first volume of ChristopherIsherwood’s Diaries, a whingeing, inward-bound mammoth of a book, where the author laboriously chronicles and inspects his every moment for changes in the moral and spiritual weather. Well, it can’t be his ...


Michael Neve

16 October 1980
My Guru and his Disciple 
by Christopher Isherwood.
Eyre Methuen, 338 pp., £8.50, July 1980, 0 413 46930 1
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... Cleanliness has always been next to godliness: ChristopherIsherwood (‘this rebellious son of a British lieutenant-colonel’ – Time Magazine) has found the two things in California, where they have become One. My Guru and his Disciple, an account of Isherwood’s ...

At Home in the Huntington

John Sutherland: The Isherwood​ Archive

10 June 1999
... Writing in the Tablet in 1951, Evelyn Waugh described ChristopherIsherwood as the best of those British writers who had ‘captured’ the Thirties. It was not, Waugh being Waugh, high praise. Auden he felt to be a mysterious cove comprehensible only to his pals (among whom ...

I am a cactus

John Sutherland: Christopher Isherwood​ and his boys

3 June 2004
by Peter Parker.
Picador, 914 pp., £25, May 2004, 0 330 48699 3
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... Xtopher,’ Stephen Spender wrote in April 1931, ‘is a cactus.’ Prickly, solitary, self-sufficient, hard to handle and difficult to love. How to get to grips with ‘Isherwood’ (as he has chosen to address him) was a problem for Peter Parker: something that perhaps explains the 12 years this usually brisk biographer has spent on his task. A main difficulty is that ...

Back to Byzantium

John Thompson

22 January 1981
by Jan Morris.
Oxford, 242 pp., £7.95, July 1980, 0 19 502708 6
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The Venetian Empire 
by Jan Morris.
Faber, 192 pp., £9.50, October 1980, 9780571099368
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... us all.’ One feature of these essays is a literary motif based, it might seem, on two celebrated sentiments: ‘great men have been among us’ and ‘great spirits now on earth are sojourning.’ ChristopherIsherwood and Don Bachardy are ‘great spirits’ – resident in Los Angeles: ***This is a city of hard workers. Out on the hills at Santa Monica, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the writer ...

All about Me

Kevin Kopelson: Don Bachardy

8 April 2015
by Don Bachardy.
Glitterati, 368 pp., £45, October 2014, 978 0 9913419 2 4
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... I too​ was ‘a single man’ in the fall of 1999. And like the doomed protagonist, George, in the novel A Single Man by ChristopherIsherwood, I too was gay; I too was an English professor (on a one-term sabbatical back then); I too was middle-aged (at 39 years old then, whereas George is 58); I too was living in Los Angeles (although my ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Dream On

27 June 2002
... onto the health pages of the Telegraph, for one thing. ‘It’s a bit girly, but it really works,’ he enthuses to Victoria Lambert as she joins him for a session with Pilates guru Dreas Reyneke. ChristopherIsherwood was a devotee of the exercise technique, devised by Joseph Pilates in the 1930s, so it has a strong literary pedigree. The ‘52-year-old writer’ – that’s Amis – ‘has been ...

Auden’s Funeral

Stephen Spender

4 June 1981
... To ChristopherIsherwood I One among friends who stood above your grave I cast a clod of earth from those heaped there Down on the great brass-handled coffin lid. It rattled on the oak like a door knocker. And at that sound ...


Ian Hamilton

26 January 1995
An Unmentionable Man 
by Edward Upward.
Enitharmon, 102 pp., £5.99, October 1994, 1 870612 64 7
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Journey to the Border 
by Edward Upward.
Enitharmon, 135 pp., £5.99, October 1994, 1 870612 59 0
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The Mortmere Stories 
by Christopher Isherwood and Edward Upward.
Enitharmon, 206 pp., £7.99, October 1994, 1 870612 69 8
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... chuckles. It was perhaps this absence rather than the menace of its politics that led critics to ‘obliterate’ his book. And yet Upward, when he started out, was highly regarded as a joker. In ChristopherIsherwood’s Lions and Shadows, he appears as ‘Allen Chalmers’, the brilliantly mischievous co-inventor of Mortmere, ‘a sort of anarchist paradise in which all accepted moral and social values ...

Poor Jack

Noël Annan

5 December 1985
Leaves from a Victorian Diary 
by Edward Leeves and John Sparrow.
Alison Press/Secker, 126 pp., £8.95, September 1985, 0 436 24370 9
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... Horse Guards?’ ‘Still sitting there.’ ‘Yes? I am glad to hear this. Ho! Ho! Ho! ... Excuse me, I can remember them very well.’ They had in fact been sitting there for longer perhaps than ChristopherIsherwood knew. In June 1849 Edward Leeves, an elderly expatriate, driven out of Venice by the Austrian bombardment, made his way to London. There he met Jack Brand, a trooper in the Blues. A month ...


Adam Phillips: Charm

16 November 2000
Lost Years: A Memoir 1945-51 
by Christopher Isherwood, edited by Katherine Bucknell.
Chatto, 388 pp., £25, July 2000, 0 7011 6931 1
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... Isherwood was a novelist with the inclinations of an autobiographer. There are always characters in his novels who love what he calls ‘playacting’, who charm and flirt and reinvent themselves whenever ...

No more alimony, tra la la

Miranda Carter: Somerset Maugham

17 December 2009
The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham 
by Selina Hastings.
John Murray, 614 pp., £25, September 2009, 978 0 7195 6554 0
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... man,’ P.G. Wodehouse told an interviewer in the 1970s. Kenneth Clark, with whom Hastings says Maugham enjoyed a ‘firm friendship’, described him as ‘an extremely mysterious character’; ChristopherIsherwood likened him to a Gladstone bag: ‘God only knows what is inside.’ (Maugham said much the same about Isherwood.) In contrast to his reserve in company, however, Maugham was addicted in ...

A Little Bit of Showing Off

Adam Phillips: Isherwood’s 1960s

6 January 2011
The Sixties: Diaries 1960-69 
by Christopher Isherwood, edited by Katherine Bucknell.
Chatto, 756 pp., £30, November 2010, 978 0 7011 6940 4
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... This is a period without glamour,’ Isherwood writes in a diary entry for 18 May 1962, apropos his lover Don Bachardy’s birthday. ‘He blames me because his birthday isn’t marvellous, and I would blame him under the same circumstances ...

What’s Happening in the Engine-Room

Penelope Fitzgerald: Poor John Lehmann

7 January 1999
John Lehmann: A Pagan Adventure 
by Adrian Wright.
Duckworth, 308 pp., £20, November 1998, 0 7156 2871 2
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... February 1932), which included contributions from Julian Bell, Richard Eberhart, William Empson, Cecil Day Lewis, Stephen Spender, William Plomer and Lehmann himself. Through Spender he met ChristopherIsherwood. The friendship with Spender from the very first seemed edgy, uncertain and uneasy, but durable for all that. Isherwood he loved, but he was tolerated, rather than loved, in return. Spender ...

Patriotic Gore

Michael Wood

19 May 1983
by Gore Vidal.
Heinemann, 203 pp., £7.95, May 1983, 0 434 83076 3
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Pink Triangle and Yellow Star and Other Essays 1976-1982 
by Gore Vidal.
Heinemann, 278 pp., £10, July 1982, 0 434 83075 5
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... unwise, Vidal suggests, because the people who hate homosexuals also hate Jews. In the German concentration camps, Jews wore yellow stars while homosexualists wore pink triangles. I was present when ChristopherIsherwood tried to make this point to a young Jewish movie producer. ‘After all,’ said Isherwood, ‘Hitler killed six hundred thousand homosexuals.’ The young man was not impressed. ‘But ...

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