Liberation: Diaries:1970-1983

Liberation: Diaries:1970-1983

by Christopher Isherwood

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"A slip of a wild boy: with quick silver eyes," as Virginia Woolf saw him in the 1930s, Christopher Isherwood journeyed and changed with his century, until, by the 1980s, he was celebrated as the finest prose writer in English and the grand old man of gay liberation. In this final volume of his diaries, the capstone of a million-word masterwork, Isherwood


"A slip of a wild boy: with quick silver eyes," as Virginia Woolf saw him in the 1930s, Christopher Isherwood journeyed and changed with his century, until, by the 1980s, he was celebrated as the finest prose writer in English and the grand old man of gay liberation. In this final volume of his diaries, the capstone of a million-word masterwork, Isherwood greets advancing age with poignant humor and an unquenchable appetite for the new; even aches, illnesses, and diminishing powers are clues to a predicament still unfathomed. The mainstays of his mature contentment—his Hindu guru, Swami Prabhavananda, and his long-term companion, Don Bachardy—draw from him an unexpected high tide of joy and love.

Around his private religious and domestic routines orbit gifted friends both anonymous and infamous. Bachardy's burgeoning career pulled Isherwood into the 1970s art scenes in Los Angeles, New York, and London, where we meet Rauschenberg, Ruscha, and Warhol (serving fetid meat for lunch), as well as Hockney (adored) and Kitaj. Collaborating with Bachardy on scripts for the prizewinning Frankenstein and the Broadway fiasco A Meeting by the River, Isherwood extended his ties in Hollywood and in the theater world. John Huston, Merchant and Ivory, John Travolta, David Bowie, John Voight, Armistead Maupin, Elton John, and Joan Didion each take a turn through Isherwood's densely populated human comedy, sketched with both ruthlessness and benevolence against the background of the Vietnam War, the energy crisis, and the Nixon, Carter, and Reagan White Houses.

In Kathleen and Frank, his first book of this period, Isherwood unearthed the family demons that haunted his fugitive youth. When contemporaries began to die, he responded in Christopher and His Kind and My Guru and His Disciple with startling fresh truths about shared experiences. These are the most concrete and the most mysterious of his diaries, candidly revealing the fear of death that crowded in past Isherwood's fame, and showing how his lifelong immersion in the day-to-day lifted him, paradoxically, toward transcendence.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This third and final volume of Isherwood’s compulsively readable diaries concludes with a 136-page “glossary” of names—a testament to his connections to the literati and Hollywood glitterati. As the 1970’s commence, lover Don Bachardy has just had his screenplay for Cabaret (based on the musical drawn from Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin) rejected, and the two have begun what will be an unsuccessful stage adaptation of Isherwood’s novel, A Meeting by the River. The last diary entry dates to July 4, 1983, exactly two and a half years before Isherwood’s death from cancer. In between, he regales readers with accounts of his collaboration with Bachardy on the screenplay for Frankenstein: The True Story, the 1976 publication of Christopher and His Kind (which moved him to the forefront of the gay rights movement), and nonstop dinners, parties, and foreign travels. A master of the bon mot, he enlivens passages with witty critiques of books, acquaintances (Rudolf Nureyev “really is a macabre absurd nineteenth-century vampire”), and lifestyles (“One of the disadvantages about being so frank about one’s queerness is that everybody expects you to leer at attractive boys, so you try not to, out of perversity”). A preface by Edmund White and meticulous notes and annotations by editor Bucknell distinguish this fitting finale to a fascinating life. Agent: Sarah Chalfant, the Wylie Agency. (Nov.)
The Spectator
“Alongside sharp and often very funny assessments of those Isherwood knew, the diaries also record a wealth of domestic detail…giving a richly textured sense of what it was like to live in California during this period of social change.”
The Guardian
“Christopher Isherwood continues to perform open-heart surgery on himself, without anaesthestic, and with one beady eye on the audience...a rare treat.”
“Isherwood proves a captivating, honest diarist, his entries rich with reflection and gossip.”
Huffington Post
“Unique literary archives...Ultimately LIBERATION is a real-time gallery of men in love at a time when the world was nowhere near catching up with them.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“But the gold mine of Isherwood work has been the posthumous publication of three huge diaries amounting to almost 3,000 pages. Comprehensively and lovingly edited and annotated by Katherine Bucknell, these volumes give us the most detailed portrait of the writer...”
Kirkus Reviews
Final volume of the meticulously detailed diaries of the acclaimed author of Goodbye to Berlin (1939) and other celebrated works. Isherwood (1904–1986), who, writes Edmund White in his preface, "had a personality that sparkled," was the icon of the infant gay liberation movement during the 1970s, where this collection picks up. Editor Bucknell's (What You Will, 2008, etc.) close knowledge of the man and his world may have eased her monumental task, but it may be difficult going for readers not privy to the vast assortment of friends that Isherwood collected throughout his lifetime. In the last 135 pages, the editor presents a glossary explaining personages cited often or only once, events mentioned in passing and Hindu terminology. Most readers should consult the glossary first, as footnotes prove to be little more than distractions pointing out typos and errata. Isherwood knew that one day his diaries would be published, but readers may wonder if he assumed the mundane quotidian drivel would be edited out. The entries drag as he lists his weight, visits to the gym, swims in the ocean, movies attended, lunch with this famous cultural icon, dinner with another famous person, etc. His complete comfort with his homosexuality, his adoration of his partner, American portrait artist Don Bachardy, and the sheer variety of people whose "friendship never ends" may keep the pages turning for more dedicated readers, but his comments on his writing projects and these later diaries don't really expose the man as writer, only as the man who writes. Isherwood was unquestionably a fascinating man. True fans of his work as well as gossip lovers will no doubt read all three volumes of his diaries. For the rest of us, a simple biography should be sufficient.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.08(h) x 2.12(d)

Meet the Author

Christopher Isherwood (1904–1986) was one of the most prominent writers of his generation. He is the author of many works of fiction, including All the Conspirators, The Memorial, Mr. Norris Changes Trains, and Goodbye to Berlin, on which the musical Cabaret was based, as well as works of nonfiction and biography.

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