Christopher Isherwood: A Personal memoir

BOOK: Christopher Isherwood: A Personal memoir
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John Lehmann joined Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press in 1931 as trainee manager and shortly thereafter became the publisher of Christopher Isherwood’s second novel,
The Memorial. 
In this personal memoir, Lehmann has used his own diaries and characteristic letters from Isherwood to recount the friendship that continued for more than fifty years. The two collaborated on a literary magazine,
New Writing,
which included excerpts from Isherwood’s work in progress, and their correspondence over the years touched on a fascinating variety of people and creative activity in the arts.

Lehmann sheds new light on the events of the thirties: Isherwood’s moves around Europe with his friend Heinz, who was trying to escape induction into the German army, and the further development of Isherwood’s writing plans. Particularly illuminating is the account of the genesis of Isherwood’s stories about Berlin life, which were published as
The Last of Mr. Norris
Goodbye to Berlin.
From the latter came
Sally Bowles,
originally an extended short story, which was made into the play
I Am a Camera’,
a film; a musical, 
and finally a film of the musical.

As the shadow of war lengthened over Europe in 1939, Isherwood decided to leave for the United States with his close friend W. H. Auden. He was already being talked about as the hope of English fiction in his generation.

The correspondence with Lehmann continued once Isherwood settled in California; it shows his feelings about becoming a pacifist, his initiation into the meaning and aspirations of Vedanta, and his early adventures as a scriptwriter in Hollywood. Lehmann was his confidant in many of the most important decisions of his life and gives a unique insight into the states of mind and way of life of one of the most celebrated writers of this century.

John Lehmann in 1980.


John Lehmann, poet, publisher, and author, who died in 1987 just after this book was completed, was known to a whole generation as editor and founder of 
New Writing
Penguin New Writing.
His many books include three volumes of autobiography,
Collected Poems
Thrown to the Woolfs
The Strange Destiny of Rupert Brooke,
Three Literary Friendships.


Front jacket photograph :

Christopher Isherwood in 1938 

(Hutton Picture Library)

Jacket design copyright
1988 by Karen Katz


Henry Holt and Company, Inc.

115 West 18th Street New York, 

New York 10011




A Garden Revisited

The Noise of History

Prometheus and the Bolsheviks

Evil Was Abroad

Down River

New Writing in Europe

Forty Poems

The Sphere of Glass

Shelley in Italy

The Age of the Dragon

The Open Night

The Whispering Gallery

I am My Brother

Ancestors and Friends

Collected Poems

Christ the Hunter

The Ample Proposition

A Nest of Tigers

In My Own Time


The Reader at Night and Other Poems 

Virginia Woolf and Her World 

In the Purely Pagan Sense 

Edward Lear and His World 

Thrown to the Woolfs 

Rupert Brooke: His Life and His Legend 

English Poets of the First World War 

Three Literary Friendships


A Personal Memoir






New York


Copyright © 1987 by the estate of John Lehmann 

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce 

this book or portions thereof in any form.

First published in the United States in 1988 by 

Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 115 West 18th Street, 

New York, New York 10011.


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

Lehmann, John, 1907 —

Christopher Isherwood: a personal memoir.

Includes index.

1. Isherwood, Christopher, 1904-    —Biography.

2.    Authors, English—20th century—Biography.

3. Lehmann, John, 1907-    —Friends and associates. I. Title.

PR6017.S5Z77    1988 823L912    [B]    87-28676


ISBN 0-8050-0435-1


First American Edition

Printed in the United States of America


10 987654321

ISBN 0-fl050-D435-l

The publishers would like to thank Rachel Gould, Miles Huddleston, 

Charles Osborne, Ian Irvine and Alexis Rassine for their help with 

preparing the manuscript for press.

INDEX    144
Table of Contents

Between pages 70 and 71

Isherwood photographed by Howard Coster in 1936 (National Portrait Gallery)

W.H. Auden, Isherwood and Stephen Spender (Hulton Picture Library)

Isherwood and Heinz Neddermayer (John Lehmann) Snapshot of Isherwood taken by Benjamin Britten (National Portrait Gallery)

Scenes from the original production of
The Dog Beneath the Skin
(Mander & Mitchenson Theatre Collection)

Isherwood and W.H. Auden departing for China (Hulton Picture Library)

Isherwood and W.H. Auden photographed by Louise Dahl-Wolfe in 1938 (Staley Wise Gallery, New York)

John Lehmann in 1939, photographed by Hans Wild (John Lehmann)

Isherwood, E.M. Forster and William Plomer photographed by

William Caskey (King’s College, Cambridge)

Isherwood in the early fifties (John Lehmann)

Beatrix, John and Rosamond Lehmann (John Lehmann) Isherwood photographed by Tony Eyles in 1965 (Daily Herald Picture Library)

John Lehmann photographed by Christopher Barker in 1980 for his book,
Portraits of Poets,
Carcanet, 1986 (John Lehmann) Isherwood and Don Bachardy photographed by Stathis Orphanos in 1972 (Don Bachardy)

A lithograph of Isherwood and Don Bachardy by David Hockney, 1976 (Barry Artist)


Pages ix, 5, 111 and 143

Drawings of Isherwood by Don Bachardy done during Christopher’s last illness in September 1985.


Page 56

The cover of
Penguin New Writing,
No. 7 (John Lehmann)


I first met him in 1932, Christopher Isherwood was twenty-eight years old, having been born in August 1904 at one of the two rather grand houses that belonged to his family, Wyberslegh Hall, High Lane, Cheshire. His father was a professional soldier, though rather reluctantly as his real interest lay in the arts; music and painting in particular. He was himself a water-colourist with a certain individual gift which he never had time or opportunity to develop. His taste was shared by his wife, Christopher’s mother, though the son doesn’t seem to have realized it until many years later, when he read his mother’s diaries. His father was killed in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, though for a long time he was only acknowledged officially as ‘missing’.

At his prep school Christopher found himself a fellow-pupil of Wystan Auden, but he did not become close to him until they were both at university, Auden at Oxford, Christopher at Cambridge. At his public school, Repton, he met Edward Upward, and formed a devoted friendship with him. They were both intensely interested in writing, Christopher in writing novels, 
Upward in poetry, though he afterwards turned to fiction. When he began to publish, Christopher, with only one exception, always sought to find approval first from Upward. This was the more remarkable, as Christopher by then had acknowledged himself as homosexual, and Upward was always heterosexual. At Repton, they created a fantasy world together, which developed at Cambridge into Mortmere, which occupied much of their imaginations for many years, becoming more and more extravagant as time went on. They used to write stories of Mortmere to one another every night, many of which have survived, but are not publishable, the only exception being ‘The Railway Accident’, which was eventually published in America. Christopher scrapped his first novel, keeping only the title, ‘Lions and Shadows’, for future use. He also scrapped the second novel, ‘Christopher Garland’, but the third novel, ‘Seascape with Figures’ turned into
All the Conspirators
and was accepted and published by Cape in May 1928. In spite of having won an outstanding scholarship to Corpus Christi, Christopher gradually disengaged himself from Cambridge, making a joke of his exams, to the scandal of his tutor and his family. While he was at Cambridge he was inveigled into the film world by his friend Roger Burford, and it remained a passion for him to the end of his life. At the beginning of his adult life he only had two small allowances to live off, one from his Uncle Henry (whose heir he was) and one from his mother. He determined to make his living by writing.

BOOK: Christopher Isherwood: A Personal memoir
4.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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