Christopher Isherwood, lauded as ‘the best prose writer in English’ by Gore Vidal, died on January 4 1986. Among his work, Goodbye to Berlin, the novel that inspired the musical Cabaret.
“I am a camera,” Christopher Isherwood wrote in the first chapter of Goodbye to Berlin, “with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking…
“Some day, all of this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.”
Christopher Isherwood knew he liked men from the age of 10.
“I told my mother quite early on. She provoked me. She didn’t believe in any sexual relation that didn’t involve a woman… she could have respected a lesbian relationship, perhaps. But she didn’t believe men did anything together.”
Whatever his mother thought, the lad recognised the excitement wrestling with other boys caused him. Then in college, he had sex with another man, confirming what he long thought.
In 1929, the budding author visited Berlin. His 10-day sojourn coincided with the collapse of the German economy during the Great Depression. But Isherwood was busy finding himself. He began a holiday romance and visited Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science. The first trip inspired a return visit and, before years end, he moved to Germany.
Isherwood’s experiences in Berlin during the rise of the Nazis provided the material for Goodbye to Berlin. He left in 1933, travelling from one country to the next, desperate to find a new homeland where he could live freely with his German boyfriend. Sadly, they never found such a place. Heinz Neddermeyer ended up back in Germany, arrested for draft evasion and mutual masturbation with Isherwood.
In 1953, 48-year-old Christopher Isherwood met 18-year-old Don Bachardy. Bachardy later said some people regarded him as “a sort of child prostitute’ because of the 30-year age difference. Yet, their relationship endured over 30 years.
While Isherwood’s work tended to the semi-autobiographical, like many others, he practised the self-censorship necessary for the survival of a gay author at a time when homosexuality remained a crime. But, by the 1970s, he felt able to write more freely as his authentic self.
Christopher and His Kind
In 1976, he published Christopher and His Kind, in which he not only made his sexuality explicit but celebrated it.
He told the Los Angeles Times, “My early fiction left out a key element of my life – my homosexuality – and that’s very unsatisfactory to me. When addressing a nongay reader, what I regard as really important is to bring my homosexuality in, to make people understand and never ignore it.”
And bring his homosexuality in, he did.
“He asked himself: Do I now want to go to bed with more women and girls? Of course not, as long as I can have boys. Why do I prefer boys? Because of their shape, and their voices, and their smell, and the way they move…
“Girls are what the State and the Church and the Law and the Press and the Medical Profession approve and command me to desire… That is the will of Almost Everyone, and their will means my death. My will is to live according to my nature and find a place where I can be what I am… If boys did not exist, I would have to invent them.”
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