Diaries: Volume 1, 1939-1960

Christopher Isherwood, Author, Katherine Bucknell, Editor HarperCollins $40 (1104p) ISBN 978-0-06-118000-2
Gossip, Isherwood noted in his diary after reading the Goncourt journals, can achieve ""the epigrammatic significance of poetry. To keep such a diary is to render a real service to the future."" He was then in the second year of his own diary, begun in January 1939 with his exit from England for a new life in America, his home until his death in 1986. He would draw on the diary for his novel A Single Man (1964), but the work for which he would be best remembered was done in the 1930s--the plays with Auden and the Berlin Stories, turned by John van Druten into I Am a Camera and musicalized further as Cabaret. The diaries show him only as an observer of these money-spinning stage metamorphoses. To many readers, the most important part of this literally weighty book will be the index. Although not in the canonized elite of the Auden-Priestley generation, Isherwood, through his connections on both sides of the Atlantic and his Hollywood scriptwriting years, encountered a vast number of people whose doings and misdoings make his diaries a mine of rumor, anecdotage and mere facts. Of lesser interest to some readers will be Isherwood's Vedanta discipleship with Southern California swamis, his desultory drug-taking experiments, his sexual adventures in the local gay community or his recuperation from hangovers. The diaries show him, however, to be on occasion a memorable observer of his contemporaries (one is ""like Dorian Gray emerging from his tomb"") and an unmemorable critic (Waiting for Godot is ""Franco-Irish ugliness and stupidity""). Bucknell, who edited and introduced Auden's Juvenilia: Poems 1922-1928 and founded the W.H. Auden Society, furnishes a glossary of capsule biographies and textual notes. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
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