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Author Topic: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood  (Read 93588 times)

Offline tfferg

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Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #45 on: March 05, 2010, 06:54:42 PM »
Tks Michael.  I'll certainly get it now.  Do you know if Isherwood was pro-German?

Isherwood was attracted to Weimar Germany because of its reputation for sexual freedom. I think he says somewhere that Berlin meant boys.

There were people who regarded Isherwood and W H Auden as traitors or cowards because they emigrated to the US before the outbreak of the war, but their move wasn't prompted by support fror Nazi Germany. Isherwood became a US citizen.

He was a pacifist and not engaged in politics. During the early part of the war, he worked with a Quaker program for refugees in the US. He planned to volunteer as a field ambulance driver, but he wasn't qualified as a doctor (he'd dropped out of a medical course in England), nurse or mechanic and then when the age limit for volunteers was lowered, he was too old.

I want to see the Chris & Don doco. An article published when it was released says the relationship lasted because of the hard work they put into it

The wiki article has quite a lot of biographical info

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Isherwood



Offline Nikki

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Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #46 on: March 05, 2010, 07:35:59 PM »


Tks,  Tony.  The wiki article is very interesting.  Isherwood certainly got around!  Do you iknow if 'Chris and Don' is out on DVD? I think I read a while back that is was a doco, but don't remember whether it was on DVD.
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Offline michaelflanagansf

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Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #47 on: March 05, 2010, 08:05:45 PM »
Isherwood was attracted to Weimar Germany because of its reputation for sexual freedom. I think he says somewhere that Berlin meant boys.

There were people who regarded Isherwood and W H Auden as traitors or cowards because they emigrated to the US before the outbreak of the war, but their move wasn't prompted by support fror Nazi Germany. Isherwood became a US citizen.

Well put, Tony.  For Isherwood England represented an old order - repression, class rigidity and ties to University and family which he felt he could only escape by leaving.  For him Weimar Germany, which was far more tolerant of sexuality, was like a beacon.  The Institut für Sexualwissenschaft [Institute for Sexual Research] was formed there by Magnus Hirschfeld in 1919, and Isherwood writes about his visit to the institute (with Auden) in 'Christopher and His Kind.'

He indicates what the attitude of his parents peers were toward Berlin in his book 'Down There On A Visit' (1962) when he writes of Mr. Lancaster, a friend of the family, who he was visiting in Germany (but not Berlin) having a conversation with him about the city here:

"'I've been in Russia, and I know.  I know Satanists when I see them.  And they're getting bolder every year.  They no longer crawl the gutters.  They sit in the seats of power.  I'm going to make a prophecy--listen, I want you to remember this--in ten years from now, this city will be a place you couldn't bring your mother, or your wife, or any pure woman to visit.  It will be--I don't say worse, because that would be impossible--but as bad--as bad as Berlin!'

'Is Berlin so bad?'  I asked, trying not to sound too interested.

'Christopher--in the whole of the 'Thousand and One Nights', in the most shameless rituals of the Tantras, in the carvings on the Black Pagoda, in the Japanese brothel pictures, in the vilest perversions of the Oriental mind, you couldn't find anything more nauseating than what goes on there, quite openly, every day.  That city is doomed, more surely than Sodom ever was.  Those people don't even realize how low they have sunk.  Evil doesn't know itself there.  The most terrible of all devils rules--the devil without a face.  You've led a sheltered life, Christopher.  Thank God for it.  You could never imagine such things.'

'No--I'm sure I couldn't,' I said meekly.  And then and there I made a decision--one that was to have a very important effect on the rest of my life.  I decided that, no matter how, I would get to Berlin just as soon as I could and that I would stay there a long, long time."

Down There on a Visit (from the collection 'Where Joy Resides: A Christopher Isherwood Reader' pgs. 221-222. )

You can get a notion from that passage that he was a fan of the open society which was available in Weimar Berlin.  You also get that feeling from reading 'Berlin Stories' (1939) which would eventually make its way into 'I Am A Camera' and from there to 'Cabaret.'  And when you watch 'Cabaret' and see how he views the Nazis and the way they affected the Berlin that he loved, you can see what he thinks quite clearly.  He loved Berlin.  He hated the Nazis.  They destroyed much of what he treasured about the city.
I do my thing, & you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I, and if by chance we find each other - it is beautiful. If not it can't be helped.

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Offline michaelflanagansf

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Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #48 on: March 05, 2010, 08:08:04 PM »

Tks,  Tony.  The wiki article is very interesting.  Isherwood certainly got around!  Do you iknow if 'Chris and Don' is out on DVD? I think I read a while back that is was a doco, but don't remember whether it was on DVD.

Yep.

http://www.amazon.com/Chris-Don-Story-Leslie-Caron/dp/B001KZOUXW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1267844838&sr=8-1

[Although this link isn't from the DCF store.]
I do my thing, & you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I, and if by chance we find each other - it is beautiful. If not it can't be helped.

Fritz Perls - A Gestalt Prayer

Offline tfferg

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Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #49 on: March 05, 2010, 10:05:50 PM »
Thanks for the contextual detail, Michael.

I think I've read the account of the visit to Mr Lancaster before, probably an extract  in some anthology. Love his reaction to Lancaster's condemnation of Berlin.

I remember reading some of the Berlin stories a long time ago, perhaps after seeing Cabaret. I remember feeling disappointed in them. I guess I'd been hoping for something more positive, more celebration of gay life, but what came through was what Claude Summers describes as the deadness of the spirit of all the characters, gay and straight. Summers writes of a vague sense of doom that pervaded interwar England and Germany.

The story 'On Ruegen Island' as I recall it and the relationship with Otto made me feel it wasn't much fun at all.

Offline michaelflanagansf

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Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #50 on: March 05, 2010, 10:30:54 PM »
Well I think it's important to remember when Isherwood was writing them and the political and personal climate of his life at the time.  'Berlin Stories' was written in 1939 (and published in 1946) and are based in Germany in 1931, after the great depression had hit Germany and after the Nazi's had become the second largest party in the German federal election of Sept. 1930.  So I think it's easy to understand why the people in 'Berlin Stories' are a bit dispirited and feeling doomed.  Isherwood had already seen Hirschfeld's institute burned to the ground when he wrote it - so he probably writes the characters with a sense of foreboding.

The excerpt that I've recently read about Sally Bowles doesn't seem really dispirited, but she is certainly a somewhat vapid character who uses people.

Here is a review of the book:

http://www.hoboes.com/Mimsy/Books/berlin-stories/

And a Time Magazine article on it:

http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1951793_1951936_1952114,00.html

And the wikipedia article on it:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Berlin_Stories

On 'Goodbye to Berlin' (part of 'The Berlin Stories'):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goodbye_to_Berlin

And 'Mr. Norris Changes Trains' (ditto):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mr._Norris_Changes_Trains

I do my thing, & you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I, and if by chance we find each other - it is beautiful. If not it can't be helped.

Fritz Perls - A Gestalt Prayer

Offline tfferg

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Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #51 on: March 06, 2010, 05:43:23 AM »
Yes, I'd forgotten the time setting of the Berlin stories. Did people in Germany feel more hopeful in the 1920s when the Weimar Republic was established and try to put the defeat of their country in World War I behind them?

Offline fritzkep

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Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #52 on: March 06, 2010, 06:57:36 AM »
Not at first, since there was great unrest in the country after the war, starvation, disease, constant fighting between radical and reactionary groups, secessionist movements particularly in Bavaria. But worst of all was the hyperinflation that the country suffered from 1918 until 1923, at which time the exchange rate (originally about RM4=US$1) was one trillion (American usage) marks to the US Dollar.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/commandingheights/shared/minitext/ess_germanhyperinflation.html

Though once inflation got under control, with great difficulty, the country stabilized (with little help from the countries that defeated it) and developed a unique culture for its time, especially in Berlin. Nevertheless, homosexual activity was still prosecutable and prosecuted, though less so than before the Weimar republic or certainly under the regime that followed.

http://www.glbtq.com/social-sciences/germany.html

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Offline tfferg

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Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #53 on: March 06, 2010, 07:19:19 AM »
Thanks, Fritz.

If Berlin was so attractive to Isherwood and others in hiis circle, Britian must have been pretty hellish.

Offline fritzkep

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Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #54 on: March 06, 2010, 07:27:20 AM »
Thanks, Fritz.

If Berlin was so attractive to Isherwood and others in hiis circle, Britian must have been pretty hellish.

That appears to be the case, nothing as bad as Germany after 1933, but not nearly as open as the country under Weimar.

http://www.glbtq.com/social-sciences/united_kingdom_02.html

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Offline michaelflanagansf

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Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #55 on: March 06, 2010, 08:20:16 AM »
Well aside from the Casement trial that they mention on that site, the other thing which had the 'moral police' very keen on tamping down (male) homosexuality was the Wilde trial.  Although Wilde had tried to use his humor as a defense against the people concerned with what was going on behind closed doors in the long run it backfired - both on him and on gay men generally.  That there were people in Germany who had been taking sexuality seriously for years (aside from Hirschfeld there was Krafft-Ebing and even Freud) probably made it seem like a haven.
I do my thing, & you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I, and if by chance we find each other - it is beautiful. If not it can't be helped.

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Offline fritzkep

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Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #56 on: March 06, 2010, 08:25:55 AM »
The article on the United Kingdom was the second of two parts, from 1900 on to the present.

This part treats the history from the Middle Ages to the end of the 19th century.

http://www.glbtq.com/social-sciences/united_kingdom_01.html

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Offline michaelflanagansf

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Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #57 on: March 06, 2010, 11:07:24 AM »
A few more thought on England and the Continent at this period - the trajectory for the perception of homosexuality was headed in different directions in the UK and in Germany at the time.  I've mentioned Wilde - his case dealt with the notion of the pollution of the lower classes with the decadent morality of the effete.  And the Casement case is interesting because he had worked for the British government and then became involved in Irish nationalism and running weapons to the Irish independence movement.  So you can imagine that much as Islam has a connection with terrorism in the modern mind that homosexuality had a connection with what was considered terrorism back then.

As I've mentioned Germany (and Austria) had great thinkers like Hirschfeld, Kraft-Ebbing and Freud who were dealing with homosexuality in a historical, sexological and psychological context.  By the time they were doing this it was already old hat in Germany.  Karl Heinrich Ulrichs spoke before the Congress of German Jurists on August 29, 1867 urging the repeal of anti-homosexual laws - the first time this had ever happened anywhere.  Two years later the Austrian writer Karl-Maria Kertbeny coined the word 'homosexual' - so the love that dare not speak its name got its name first (in the modern world) in German.

The arts community was also essential to understanding Isherwood's attraction to Berlin of the 30s (he actually moved there in 1929).  If you think of the work of Fritz Lang and Josef von Sternberg (particularly 'Der blaue Engel' and the introduction of the world to Marlene Dietrich) and the plays of Bertolt Brecht and music of Kurt Weill and Arnold Schoenberg as well as the art movements of Bauhaus and German Expressionism you have a bit of an idea of the world that Isherwood was inserting himself into.

Isherwood was involved with an older generation of writers and some of those involvements give a feel for why he moved as well.  E. M. Forster and André Gide were both friends of Isherwood and their lives and the reactions that they both had to homosexuality informed his life and his work - he talks about this in 'Christopher and his Kind.'

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscar_wilde

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Casement

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_von_Krafft-Ebing

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Heinrich_Ulrichs

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl-Maria_Kertbeny

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fritz_Lang

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josef_von_Sternberg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marlene_Dietrich

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertolt_Brecht

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurt_Weill

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_Schoenberg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bauhaus

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_Expressionism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._M._Forster

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andre_Gide
I do my thing, & you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I, and if by chance we find each other - it is beautiful. If not it can't be helped.

Fritz Perls - A Gestalt Prayer

Offline michaelflanagansf

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Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #58 on: March 06, 2010, 11:35:14 AM »
And for those of you who are thinking 'What does this have to do with 'A Single Man'?', I would just say that this gives you both a context for the writings of Christopher Isherwood and a notion of the frame of mind that 'George' finds himself in during the early 1960s.  Much of the world weariness and thoughts of mortality that the main character in this novel finds himself experiencing can, I think, be pointed directly back at Isherwood's life - his living through the period before World War II in Germany and knowing people there who did not make it out.  It can also be related to his life in Hollywood, I think, but that is for another post.
I do my thing, & you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I, and if by chance we find each other - it is beautiful. If not it can't be helped.

Fritz Perls - A Gestalt Prayer

Offline tfferg

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Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #59 on: March 06, 2010, 07:13:02 PM »
And for those of you who are thinking 'What does this have to do with 'A Single Man'?', I would just say that this gives you both a context for the writings of Christopher Isherwood and a notion of the frame of mind that 'George' finds himself in during the early 1960s.  Much of the world weariness and thoughts of mortality that the main character in this novel finds himself experiencing can, I think, be pointed directly back at Isherwood's life - his living through the period before World War II in Germany and knowing people there who did not make it out.  It can also be related to his life in Hollywood, I think, but that is for another post.

Yes, Michael, I think Isherwood's knowledge and experience of Britain and Germany in his earlier years must have formed his attitudes and the way he writes about homosexuality and discrimination against other miniorities in A Single Man. Am I right in thinking he was among the first, if not the very first, to treat gay characters and issues the way he did in novels and other writings in the pre-Stonewall years?