Christopher Isherwood Inside Out

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Pub Date Aug 26 2024 | Archive Date Sep 27 2024

Description

A stunningly intimate exploration of the writer and gay cultural icon and of his lifelong search for authenticity.

The story of Christopher Isherwood’s life is one of pilgrimage: away from the constraints of inheritance and empire and toward authenticity and spiritual illumination. Isherwood—the author of Goodbye to Berlin, which inspired Cabaret, and A Single Man—was born an heir to a crumbling English estate. He died an icon of gay liberation in California while his partner of thirty years, Don Bachardy, painted his death portrait.

Isherwood began his career depicting the psychological wreckage of World War I. Living in Berlin, his stories and plays (cowritten with W. H. Auden), inspired by the city’s nightlife and artistic underbelly, made him famous. With the rise of fascism and the Gestapo’s arrest of his boyfriend, Isherwood left the country and found work as a screenwriter in Hollywood, where he became the disciple of a Hindu monk, Swami Prabhavananda. Together they translated the Bhagavad Gita.

Isherwood shed his family ghosts and became a chief instigator of the cultural shift that made gay liberation possible. Every step of the journey served his writing; one of our greatest diarists, he recorded his experiences and transformed them in fiction and memoir. Katherine Bucknell charts the quest of the restless, penetrating, blackly comic mind through books, films, foreign lands, love affairs, and collaborations for self-understanding and happiness. Here is Christopher Isherwood Inside Out.

A stunningly intimate exploration of the writer and gay cultural icon and of his lifelong search for authenticity.

The story of Christopher Isherwood’s life is one of pilgrimage: away from the...


A Note From the Publisher

Katherine Bucknell is the editor of four volumes of diaries by Christopher Isherwood, The Animals, a volume of letters between Christopher Isherwood and his partner Don Bachardy, and W.H. Auden's Juvenilia: Poems 1922-1928. She is director of the Christopher Isherwood Foundation, as well as a founder of the W. H. Auden Society and co-editor of Auden Studies. Bucknell is also the author of four novels, Canarino, Leninsky Prospekt, What You Will, and +1. She lives in London.

Katherine Bucknell is the editor of four volumes of diaries by Christopher Isherwood, The Animals, a volume of letters between Christopher Isherwood and his partner Don Bachardy, and W.H...


Advance Praise

"Christopher Isherwood Inside Out is the best biography I’ve ever read. The subject, Christopher Isherwood, was a mindful, moral man, an example for all, and a wonderfully talented writer. The author, Katherine Bucknell, explores every moment of his life—English, German, American—and links them all to the vast ongoing project of his life and work. The book is long but every page is full of surprises." —Edmund White

"Open this thick book to almost any page about Christopher Isherwood's important and glamorous life, and you will find a lot about the fascinating people this supreme twentieth century literary artist often saw. What stars he knew in his magic circle during his many lives, from 'thirties Berlin down to post-war Hollywood and after." —James Ivory, author of Solid Ivory: Memoirs

"The best biographies make the reader feel they are looking over the subject’s shoulder, watching them grow up and into life. Katharine Bucknell does exactly this, marshalling an enormous range of scholarship with insight, empathy, and humour. Her long immersion in Isherwood’s work and life is lightly worn, she writes beautifully, and whether she is invoking declining English country-house life, Weimar Berlin, mid-century Hollywood or the alternative cultures of California, one trusts her judgement implicitly. Christopher Isherwood Inside Out matches its subject's narrative skill and psychological insight, and brilliantly illuminates his search for a new way to live." —Roy Foster, author of W. B. Yeats: A Life

"A roller-coaster ride through a genuinely remarkable life. Katherine Bucknell has had full access to all the primary sources—and it shows. Her Isherwood is both fascinating and dangerous, as reckless in his relationships as he was scrupulous in his art. His virtues shine, and his faults are documented with admirable candor." —Neil Bartlett, author of Address Book

"This is a first rate biography of the man, the writer and the lover. If he would have stayed in England, he would have been the squire of Marple Hall in Cheshire, very very different to the Christopher I knew." —David Hockney

"This is the Isherwood book we’ve been waiting for. While Isherwood is rightly celebrated as a courageous forefather of the gay liberation movement, he should be equally celebrated as a fearless early practitioner and writer on Hinduism (Vedanta), again pulling the rest of the country with him. By telling the truth through his writing and through his life, Isherwood achieved greatness in his art and in his spiritual quest, and that will continue to move us and change us long after we, and all those who knew him, are gone." —Pravrajika Vrajaprana, author of Vedanta: A Simple Introduction

“This book—profoundly sympathetic to its subject, lucidly and excitingly written—is both a fast-paced story of an extraordinary life and a broadly illuminating history of vast cultural changes across eight decades and four continents. Katherine Bucknell, having edited four volumes of Isherwood’s diaries, has distilled her expertise into the finest literary biography of its century.” —Edward Mendelson, author of Early Auden, Later Auden

"Christopher Isherwood Inside Out is a master work by Katherine Bucknell, skillfully delving into the intricate layers of Christopher Isherwood's mind and spirit. Aptly titled, this book offers an intimate portrayal of Isherwood's essence, with prose that guides readers on an intimate journey into his world, revealing the nuances of his life and artistry." —Tina Mascara, director (with Guideo Santi) of Chris and Don: A Love Story

"Christopher Isherwood Inside Out is the best biography I’ve ever read. The subject, Christopher Isherwood, was a mindful, moral man, an example for all, and a wonderfully talented writer. The...


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ISBN 9780374119362
PRICE $40.00 (USD)
PAGES 848

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Featured Reviews

Christopher Isherwood Inside Out is a seminal and amazing book. It is rich with family, friends, emotion, mindfulness, and the role of homosexuality in the life of Isherwood and his friends. Katherine Bucknell examines, with clarity and meticulous scrutiny, every aspect of Isherwood's life. It's indubitable that Bucknell has incorporated every source available to her to create this amazing biography, the facts made more clear by Isherwood's diaries and even those of his mother.

Isherwood's writing and analysis of his family and his place in it, and the subsequent and wonderful wealth of friends in the literary world who shore him up and incorporate his role in that world are rich and profound. As a reader, I was most astonished by the number of famous and well-known writers who were part of Isherwood's world. In particular, his friendship with W.H. Auden was a powerful and important talisman in his life. Isherwood, once he moved to the US, cultivated friendships with writers, musicians, Hollywood stars, and artists. One of the scenes that has remained with me is his visiting ailing Benjamin Britten and simply sitting with Britten, holding his hand.

Isherwood traveled frequently, and his early days living in Berlin and later writing about it are one of the most clear examinations of his search for clarity in his homosexuality. In spite of some criticism of this part of his life, he liberates himself and others by being thoroughly honest about who he is and what he stands for.

Incorporated into his life is his improbable friendship with Swami Prabhavananda, an important and decades' long relationship. Isherwood learns to meditate, become mindful, and he even assists in translating the Bhagavad Gita. His life as a Hindu convert broadens his life and perspective, and it continually shows up when he needs this connection to guide his spirituality.

This biography is long and detailed. There is something infinitely satisfying about such a book because there is nothing left out in examining Isherwood and everything that he himself studies--inside and out. Reading such a comprehensive and complete study of his life incorporates so much truth and reality that the reader feels gifted by being included in this saga.

Profuse thanks to Farrar, Straus, and Giroux and Net Galley for the opportunity to live with this book for some weeks. I will be thinking about it for many months.

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This is a brilliant book about one of the 20th Century's greatest voices. Not only are Isherwood's works fully delineated but a complete picture of the times he lived and worked are presented in their fullness. This is biography at its best. This book is worth every penny. It is fascinating in its detail and the pages turn at an alarming rate. Beautifully crafted and full of fascinating detail.

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