Sunday, January 09, 2011

Reading Isherwood

Where Joy Resides: A Christopher Isherwood Reader
Where Joy Resides: A Christopher Isherwood Reader 
edited by Don Bachardy

"And the true realism, always and everywhere, is that of the poets: to find out where joy resides, and give it a voice . . . For to miss the joy is to miss all." (From The Lantern Bearers by Robert Louis Stevenson as quoted by Christopher Isherwood in his commonplace book.

The above quotation from Stevenson is placed as the epigraph to this selection of works by Isherwood. It is a selection that spans his lifetime as a writer from the early days in Berlin to the last days in Hollywood. In making the selections Don Bachardy and James P. White appropriately include the short novel A Single Man as the final selection. This is fitting because it is both the finest of Isherwood's novels and that one whose style and content delineate an ending to life and art in such a beautiful way. The other selections in the book include fictional, biographical, critical and spiritual writings that help the reader gain a picture of Isherwood's life from his own artistic creations. The result suggests how he imagined a world of love and freedom in an era when that life was hidden in ways that are difficult to comprehend in the twenty-first century. His friend Gore Vidal, to whom Isherwood dedicated A Single Man, states in his introduction: "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."
This selection of his works captures that "collusive act" and presents it to readers everywhere.

A Christopher Isherwood Reader. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York. 1989


Darlyn (Your Move, Dickens) said...

Great review. I haven't read A Single Man, but I intend to do so this year.

Funny enough, your mention of Gore Vidal reminded me of A Separate Peace. John Knowles, the writer, based a character on him. It's amazing how he made such an impact on the lives of two other writers.

James said...

Thanks for sharing the information about Gore Vidal. I was not aware of his connection with John Knowles. Vidal's early novel, The City and the Pillar, is much bleaker than Isherwood's but it is also a classic.