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A compendium of queer people in the 19th and 20th centuries // Drawn and researched by Michele Rosenthal

Christopher  Isherwood

Christopher Isherwood 1904to –1986

English-American writer, best know for his novels The Berlin Stories and A Single Man. He grew up in a large estate near Manchester and enjoyed a privileged childhood. At school, he befriended a number of creative types, including the poet W. H. Auden, who became a collaborator, sometimes lover, and lifelong friend. After getting kicked out of Cambridge for writing joke answers on his exams, Isherwood took a few odd jobs, and wrote his first novel. In 1929, he followed Auden to Berlin—during the Weimar Republic, the city had a reputation for its creative atmosphere and sexual freedom. Isherwood embraced his homosexuality wholeheartedly, and dove into the city’s underworld. There he met Heinz Neddermeyer, his partner for a time, and Jean Ross, who would eventually become the inspiration for his character Sally Bowles. He also met E. M. Forster, who became his mentor and greatly impacted his writing. Isherwood captured his years in Germany with the novels Mr Norris Changes Trains and Goodbye to Berlin, which together came to be known as The Berlin Stories. These were later famously adapted into the musical and film Cabaret, with Liza Minnelli immortalizing the role of Sally Bowles. As the Nazis came into power and World War II loomed, Isherwood and Auden left for the United States. There he befriended the writers Dodie Smith, Aldous Huxley, and Truman Capote (The Berlin Stories would have an influence on Breakfast at Tiffany’s). He settled in Hollywood, and in 1945 became an American citizen. In 1953, Isherwood met and fell in love with the 18-year-old Don Bachardy, 30 years his junior. They would remain together for the rest of Isherwood’s life, despite the age difference and the occasional separation. One such separation inspired Isherwood’s best regarded novel, A Single Man, published in 1964 and featuring an English gay professor in California that greatly resembled the author. Towards the end of Isherwood’s life, Bachardy, an artist, painted his portrait almost daily, and after his death his body was donated to science.

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