The Ultimate Brokeback Forum

Author Topic: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood  (Read 92360 times)

Offline michaelflanagansf

  • Forum Librarian and buckle bunny
  • Team Cullen
  • Obsessed
  • *****
  • Posts: 25020
Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #60 on: March 06, 2010, 08:36:15 PM »
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?

It was preceded by 'The City and The Pillar' (which was published in 1946) by 18 years.  Gore Vidal's novel is often referred to as the first 'modern' homosexual novel, in that the character wasn't pleading for tolerance (as in 'The Well of Loneliness') or depicted as a flawed person because of his sexuality.  'Giovanni's Room' also preceded 'A Single Man' by 8 years.  'City of Night' by John Rechy was released a year before 'A Single Man', but the emphasis on hustling in the book made it a novel that was somewhat out of the mainstream of gay experience.

There are other books written by LGBT authors which could be pointed to as early gay works as well.  Patricia Highsmith wrote 'The Talented Mr. Ripley' in 1955.  Ripley isn't exactly a well balanced protagonist, however (being a murderer).  'Other Voices, Other Rooms' by Truman Capote is also an early novel with a gay protagonist (1948).  Mary Renault also was writing gay fiction in this period - 'The Charioteer' was released in 1953.  Yukio Mishima's 'Confessions of a Mask' was relased in 1948 - but again, was somewhat problematic due to Mishima's belief system.  And Jean Genet released novels where homosexuality was part of the novel ('Thief's Journal' in 1949 and 'Our Lady of the Flowers' in 1943), but the characters in his work tend to be very marginal - so I doubt to many people were identifying with them at the time of their publication.

'A Single Man' is certainly among the first novels where the main character was homosexual and yet homosexuality was not the theme of the novel.

I'll be posting in a bit about the relationship between Gore Vidal and Christopher Isherwood - you may have noticed that 'A Single Man' is dedicated to him.
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

  • Forum Librarian and buckle bunny
  • Team Cullen
  • Obsessed
  • *****
  • Posts: 25020
Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #61 on: March 06, 2010, 09:24:06 PM »
From Gore Vidal's introduction to 'Where Joy Resides: A Christopher Isherwood Reader':

"As I read through this selection of Isherwood's work, I was struck by how self-effacing he is despite, paradoxically, a good deal of self-scrutiny.  He give us no sense of what Isherwood meant to the generation after his own and I wonder now if he himself had any idea of how great a space he occupied in the imagination of my generation, where Auden-Isherwood, like some strange heraldic beast of minatory excellence, had swooped down upon the United States and there nested amongst us, part of us but always Other.  "I met Isherwood," young men would saw with awe in the New York of the war years.  To the question "What was he like?" they would talk and talk.  Apparently, he was like no other.

In 1947, when I wrote 'The City and the Pillar', I sent it to him for a comment.  In due course a letter came from Hollywood.  He praised the book, somewhat guardedly.  Later I asked if I could use a quotation from his letter for the dust jacket.  A one-word telegram arrived: 'Certainly.'  So my third and most 'controversial' novel was launched with poor Christopher all over the front of the dust jacket.  He was a trouper about it.

In the summer of 1948, famous and unknown (a curious business that Isherwood has dealt with marvelously vis-a-vis himself), I was walking down the Boulevard St. Germain, filled with a sense of my own glory and all atingle with absolute self-pity.  Suddenly, I saw Isherwood and a friend seated at the Cafe Flore.  So famous was he that we all knew exactly what he looked like.  I presented myself.  A friendship began that only ended with his death.  He dedicated 'A Single Man' to me.  I dedicated 'Myra Breckinridge' to him - an asymmetrical tit-for-tat.  I lived for periods in Los Angeles and often came to the Santa Monica house where Christopher lived with Don Bachardy.  Many splendid times were had--now all a blur, as each of us was usually too drunk to recall what was said the next morning.  Fortunately, our keeper, Don, kept a journal that may reveal the splendor of our dialogue, the sound of tinkling glass and maniacal laughter and that witty story told for the third time in almost as many minutes.

It seems to me that throughout Christopher's life and work--and he made the two the same--he never ceased to attempt the impossible: to say exactly what a thing was and how it struck him in such a way that the reader might grasp it as he himself did, writer and reader as one in the ultimate collusive act of understanding.  Cyril Connolly noted Christopher's belief that 'the writer must conform to the language which is understood by the greatest number of people, to the vernacular, but his talent as a novelist will appear in the exactness of his observation, the justice of his situations, and in the construction of his book.'  Also, life."
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

  • Obsessed
  • *****
  • Posts: 4041
Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #62 on: March 06, 2010, 11:38:35 PM »
Vidal's description of Isherwood as being self-effacing in his work reminds me of "I am a camera with the shutter open..." But Isherwood's comment is also self-effacingin that it doesn't take account of the fact that he points the camera at what he does, that he composes and frames the view and focuses on people, their behaviour and events

Offline Sara B

  • Obsessed
  • *****
  • Posts: 42272
Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #63 on: March 07, 2010, 01:12:16 AM »
Help!  How many books am I going to have to read in order to discuss A Single Man ???  Think I may be out of my league!
There were only the two of them on the mountain flying in the euphoric, bitter air, looking down on the hawk's back and the crawling lights of vehicles on the plain below, suspended above ordinary affairs....

Offline Rob in Puyallup

  • Yogis Boo-Boo
  • Obsessed
  • *****
  • Posts: 12810
  • Ten Year Forum Member. Do I get a pin?
Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #64 on: March 07, 2010, 01:32:58 AM »
Thinking 'A Single Man' will suffice, Sara!  :)
Old Brokeback got me good...

Offline michaelflanagansf

  • Forum Librarian and buckle bunny
  • Team Cullen
  • Obsessed
  • *****
  • Posts: 25020
Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #65 on: March 07, 2010, 01:33:46 AM »
Help!  How many books am I going to have to read in order to discuss A Single Man ???  Think I may be out of my league!

Rob's right - just 'A Single Man.'  Tony and I are just having fun while waiting.
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 Sara B

  • Obsessed
  • *****
  • Posts: 42272
Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #66 on: March 07, 2010, 01:54:35 AM »
Oh well, I enjoy reading all your background stuff anyway :).
There were only the two of them on the mountain flying in the euphoric, bitter air, looking down on the hawk's back and the crawling lights of vehicles on the plain below, suspended above ordinary affairs....

Offline tfferg

  • Obsessed
  • *****
  • Posts: 4041
Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #67 on: March 07, 2010, 03:03:09 AM »
I hope nobody will be put off by the exchanges of the last day or so. As Michael says, we are just enjoying ourselves while waiting for the start of the discussion of A Single Man and I'm taking advantage of Michael and Fritz's knowledge and much better memory. Of course, A Single Man can be read and appreciated on its own. I enjoyed reading it and last week I also enjoyed the later, unrelated A Meeting by the River which the librarian found for me. I've become interested in re-reading some of Isherwood's work which I read years ago and reading some of his other books which I haven't read, but A Meeting seems to be the only one in the library. When I'm more mobile again, I'll check out the bookshops.

Offline elena

  • Obsessed
  • *****
  • Posts: 1534
Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #68 on: March 07, 2010, 10:20:57 AM »

I've just found out there is a discussion already going on here. I enjoyed it as well.

I'd like to mention a book Stephen Spender's The Temple. I haven't read it yet, but I bought it together with Christopher and His Kind and The Berlin Stories (yes, I had asked Ingy to recommend me some books when I met him one year ago and I was reading A Single Man  :D).

From the back cover:

The Temple is the story of a young Oxford poet's sojourns in Weimar Germany during the Summer of 1929 and again in the fall of 1932. W.H. Auden and Christopher Ishrewood are the barely disguised companions of the protagonist.

From Wikipedia about the book: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Temple_(Stephen_Spender)
and about the autor: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Spender

And a bit more sedated biography from the Stephen Spender Memorial Trust: http://www.stephen-spender.org/SSpender/_poet_bio.htm

Here two quite different reviews of the book found on amazon.com:

From Publishers Weekly
Those who remember when modern poetry was entering its primethe era of Eliot, Auden, Spender and Day Lewiswill read this autobiographical novel, written when Spender was 19, and recently rediscovered and revised, with nostalgic interest. With portraits of Auden and Isherwood barely disguised by fictional names, it chronicles Spender's first visit to Hamburg in the summer of 1929 and his second, actually in the fall of the same year, now updated to 1932. Events are few: afternoons of swimming, drunken evenings at nightclubs, a week's hike along the Rhine, but Paul, the narrator, relates them with poetic sensibility that renders place and people snapshot-clear. Bantering reference is made to the partly Jewish background of Paul and most of his friends, but it is not until his second visit that the Nazi threat becomes tangible. By then, sexual preferences have been sorted outthere's a pungent interlude with the Isherwood character and the shifty-eyed German youth who became his long-term loveras well as political proclivities. Chilling anticipation of the harm that will be dealt by Nazi sympathizers to young businessmen and artists lurks in the breaking off of once-intimate friendships. Doom, nowhere articulated, is implied in the eagerness of Paul's friends to misinterpret the signs. Always gracefully, sometimes elegantly, written, this is a fine example of a young poet's first attempt at the novelist's trade.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal
First drafted when Spender was 19, this novel has lain dormant in the archives at the University of Texas since 1962, whence it was ferreted out and brought to Spender's attention again a few years ago. Spender rewrote it during 1986-87 and has now published it for the first time. Set in Germany in the Thirties, it combines aspects of Bildungsroman and roman a clef ; thematic concerns include sexual mores, naturism, and fascism. Any new publication by Spender is an event, and this item's peculiar history will cause additional stir. That said, the novel has relatively little to recommend it; the plot meanders, the effort at experimental fiction is uninspired, the dialogue is stilted and the prose flat. It will be read primarily by students of Spender and his circle. Robert E. Brown, Onondaga Cty. P.L., Syracuse, N.Y.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.


Ciao

Antonella

Offline michaelflanagansf

  • Forum Librarian and buckle bunny
  • Team Cullen
  • Obsessed
  • *****
  • Posts: 25020
Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #69 on: March 07, 2010, 08:23:18 PM »
Grazie Antonella!

Here's a review from the New York Times (2005) on a biography of Spender, 'Stephen Spender
A Literary Life' by John Sutherland, which has a lovely picture of Spender, Isherwood and Auden on Fire Island in 1947:

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/27/books/review/27SWIFTL.html

And an article from the glbtq database on Stephen Spender:

http://www.glbtq.com/literature/spender_s.html

And an article from the poetry foundation on him:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poet.html?id=6465

Apparently he was part of a group called the 'Oxford Poets' - so it's very appropriate that I should read about him from a friend who I met in Oxford.  Lovely to see you here.
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 Nikki

  • Ephemera
  • Obsessed
  • *****
  • Posts: 6842
  • Never enough time, never enough
Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #70 on: March 08, 2010, 04:08:21 PM »
I hope nobody will be put off by the exchanges of the last day or so. As Michael says, we are just enjoying ourselves while waiting for the start of the discussion of A Single Man and I'm taking advantage of Michael and Fritz's knowledge and much better memory. Of course, A Single Man can be read and appreciated on its own. I enjoyed reading it and last week I also enjoyed the later, unrelated A Meeting by the River which the librarian found for me. I've become interested in re-reading some of Isherwood's work which I read years ago and reading some of his other books which I haven't read, but A Meeting seems to be the only one in the library. When I'm more mobile again, I'll check out the bookshops.

Doubt if anyone is put off by exchanges between you all.  I welcome the background info on Isherwood, since it gives me some titles I was not aware of.  I plan to read some of ones mentioned by all of you.
The shirts hanging on a nail shudder slightly in the draft.

If he does not force his attention on it, it might stoke the day, rewarm that old, cold time on the mountain when they owned the world and nothing seemed wrong.

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive
But to be young was very heaven!

Offline dejavu

  • may the snowy egret live
  • Obsessed
  • *****
  • Posts: 88535
Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #71 on: March 09, 2010, 06:20:07 AM »
Doubt if anyone is put off by exchanges between you all.  I welcome the background info on Isherwood, since it gives me some titles I was not aware of.  I plan to read some of ones mentioned by all of you.

Well, I come down on the middle on this.  I know you will read some of the other books, Nikki, because you always do seem to delve deeply into the background behind the current book being discussed.

On the other hand, I think some people who are new to the bookclub might have been put off, had not Michael and Tony made clear that all this additional information and all these other books are not necessary reading for discussing A Single Man.  I understand where Sara (Cally) was coming from in asking the original question and in saying "Help!"  Since we are trying to bring new people into the book club, we don't want to give the impression that the discussion will be overwhelming.  All the other reading material can be viewed as "extra credit."
 
I wasn't put off by the exchanges, because I've been through these bookclubs before.  But even though I'm not new to the bookclub, I know I won't have time to read any books other than A Single Man itself.  I will try to follow as many of the links to short quotes when I have a chance, and follow your discussion of them in lieu of reading them myself, wherever that makes sense and is possible. 
Jack's from Texas.
Texans don't drink coffee?

Offline Sara B

  • Obsessed
  • *****
  • Posts: 42272
Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #72 on: March 09, 2010, 09:09:38 AM »
No, I'm not put off - I just feel some of my comments will be rather superficial without much background knowledge.  Wish I could read Christopher and His Friends but the library hasn't got it and it's pretty expensive on Amazon.  It does have A Meeting by the River though (I realise it's unrelated) - might try that.
There were only the two of them on the mountain flying in the euphoric, bitter air, looking down on the hawk's back and the crawling lights of vehicles on the plain below, suspended above ordinary affairs....

Offline dejavu

  • may the snowy egret live
  • Obsessed
  • *****
  • Posts: 88535
Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #73 on: March 09, 2010, 01:14:51 PM »
Sara, I'm sure you'll do fine.
Jack's from Texas.
Texans don't drink coffee?

Offline janjo

  • Obsessed
  • *****
  • Posts: 11113
Re: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
« Reply #74 on: March 09, 2010, 01:42:41 PM »
My copy of the book has arrived. Now I just have to read it.
Brokeback short stories at storybyjanjo.livejournal.com

"Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?"
Ballad in plain D: Bob Dylan