Lost Years: A Memoir 1945 - 1951
Lost Years: A Memoir 1945 - 1951
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The English writer Christopher Isherwood settled in California in 1939 and spent the war years working in Hollywood film studios, teaching English to European refugees, and converting to Hinduism. By the time the war ended, he realized he was not cut out to be a monk. With his self-imposed wartime vigil behind him, he careened into a life of frantic socializing, increasing dissipation, anxiety, and, eventually, despair. For nearly a half decade he all but ceased to write fiction and even abandoned his lifelong habit of keeping a diary.
This is Isherwood's own account, reconstructed from datebooks, letters, and memory nearly thirty years later, of his experience during those missing years: his activities in Santa Monica, and also in New York and London, just after the war. Begun in 1971, in a postsixties atmosphere of liberation, Lost Years includes explicit details of his romantic and sexual relationships during the 1940s and unveils a hidden and sometimes shocking way of life shared with friends and acquaintances--many of whom were well-known artists, actors, and film-makers. Not until the 1951 Broadway success of I Am a Camera, adapted from his Berlin stories, did Isherwood begin to reclaim control of his talents and of his future.
Isherwood never prepared Lost years for publication because he rapidly became caught up in writing the book that established him as a hero of gay liberation, Christopher and His Kind.
With unpolished directness, and with insight and wit, Lost Years shows how Isherwood developed his private recollections into the unique mixture of personal mythology and social history that characterizes much of his best work. This surprising and important memoir also highlights his determination to track down even the most elusive and unappealing aspects of his past in order to understand and honestly portray himself, both as a writer and as a human being.
kept contemporaneously with the events they describe, Isherwood generally introduces friends and acquaintances and explains episodes in detail in this reconstructed diary; therefore my notes and glossary only undertake to ﬁll gaps. Many central ﬁgures require little or no mention at all in the glossary, and readers should use the index to ﬁnd Isherwood’s own descriptions of them in his text. (Sometimes Isherwood offers his own cross-reference when someone appears again after a long absence.) The
very badly to Jack in 1939––going off to the U.S. and leaving him under the impression that he would soon be sent for. It’s impossible now to be quite certain, but I would say that Christopher never had any intention of sending for Jack. I think Christopher had grown tired of him before leaving England and was merely afraid to tell Jack so because Jack was so much in love with him and so emotional and potentially desperate. At most, he thought of Jack as a kind of understudy who might conceivably
appearing there in the Shakespeare season. That uncanny chameleon was playing Viola, Portia and the Nurse in ¾ 1947 ¾ 111 Romeo and Juliet on successive nights.1 Instead, Christopher went directly back to Wyberslegh, on March 17. I have few memories of this second visit, although it was nearly as long as Christopher’s ﬁrst––exactly four weeks. One memory is of a session with Mr. Symonds, the family lawyer, about the drawing up of a formal deed making over the Marple and Wyberslegh estates to
spent the night there. The next night they spent at New Bedford. Next day, they took the steamer across to Nantucket. Truman was staying with his friend Newton Arvin in a small house in the village of Siasconset. When Truman, in New York, had referred to “my friend,” Christopher and Caskey had pictured some mighty and potent brute as being the most likely kind of mate for him to have chosen. They were therefore surprised to ﬁnd that Arvin was an intelligent and sensitive college professor, quite
Berthold, it was part of his vanity as a stud to be able to enjoy sex at both age limits. “With a woman,” he once told Christopher, “I get a kick out of being the ﬁrst one, or the last.” (Aside from Berthold, only one memory of this visit to Amsterdam remains. Auden and Christopher toured the harbor and the canals in a launch. At the end of the tour, the passengers were invited to write their impressions in a guestbook. Auden wrote two lines from Ilya Ehrenburg: “Read about us and marvel! / You