DIARIES: Vol. I: 1939-1960 by Christopher Isherwood

DIARIES: Vol. I: 1939-1960

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Mixing mournful self-interrogation about sex, art, and politics; less than lucid delvings into spiritual matters; and wry chatter about acquaintances both obscure and celebrated, Isherwood's voluminous diaries provide rather too wide a window onto the eminent novelist and memoirist's foibles. Isherwood emigrated to America from England in 1939, and during the years covered here he lived in Los Angeles, worked as a screenwriter, studied and wrote about Vedanta Hinduism, wrote novels (Prater Violet, The World in the Evening, and most of Down There on a Visit), and had a few major love affairs. Close to half of this volume covers the first five years of Isherwood's expatriatism. Edited and annotated heavily by the author himself in 1946, these wartime diaries are sprinkled with the kind of artfully ironic character sketches familiar to readers of Isherwood's novels. The author socialized with the likes of Aldous Huxley, Charlie Chaplin, and Greta Garbo, but much of his time was spent with his guru and fellow disciples of Vedanta, which his musings do not enliven for the reader. Isherwood was criticized for not returning to Britain during the war; he is forthright here about his pacifism. Fussing about the obligations imposed by his swami and his lovers, the author indulges in mopy rants that tire even himself: ""I'm so bored with myself.... The whole of this diary is becoming a bore. Let's snap out of it. Come on, St. Augustine--amuse us. A little less about your sins."" After substantial ellipses, the diaries become less consistently fretful in the mid-'50s, when Isherwood met the artist Don Bachardy, who would remain bis companion until Isherwood's death in 1986. Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, Igor Stravinsky, Somerset Maugham, and a raft of movie stars were Isherwood's pals in the '50s; finally, after hundreds of pages in which the creative process seldom merits a mention, Isherwood occasionally comes alive as a working artist in the latter entries. Maundering, prolix, altogether daunting.

Pub Date: Jan. 6th, 1997
Page count: 1056pp
Publisher: HarperCollins