Christopher Isherwood: Biography & Books

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby

Kaitlin has a BA in political science and experience teaching.

In this lesson, we will discuss the novelist Christopher Isherwood, more specifically his life events and writing. Learn about this 21st-century writer and how his works affected other artistic genres, then test your knowledge with the quiz.

Christopher Isherwood: Prolific Writer

There are plenty of musicals to choose from when seeking entertainment along New York City's Broadway. Many of these shows have stood the test of time and have been revived several times. One of the most well known is Cabaret, which is about a nightclub in Berlin and its patrons and performers during the rise of Nazi Germany. Few people may know it, but Cabaret is actually based on a collection of short stories by Christopher Isherwood, a prolific writer that based his works on his life experiences. His work is well known around the world, particularly in the arena of gay rights.

A Brief Biography

Isherwood was born in Britain in 1904. His father lost his life in World War I, a fact that figured into some of the novelist's later writing. He became friends with noted poet W.H. Auden in primary school, and this friendship would be lifelong. He attended Corpus Christi College at Cambridge but did not achieve a degree there. His ideas of learning were rather nonconformist, and traditional school bored Isherwood. He began to study medicine at Kings College London, but he abandoned that endeavor when his first novel was published in 1928.

By 1929, Isherwood had made a new home in Berlin, a move that would figure prominently in his later writing. He knew by this point that he was gay, and Berlin was the place where Isherwood found himself. It was also where he become friends and roommates with the model Jean Ross, who was the basis for his famous character Sally Bowles, and where he met his first love, Heinz Neddermeyer. By 1933, Berlin was rapidly coming under Nazi rule, and Isherwood left with Neddermeyer to travel throughout Europe.

After his partner was sent back to Germany and arrested for avoiding the draft, Isherwood began working with Auden on plays, travelling with him in 1938 to China. The next year, both men emigrated to the United States, where it was speculated they were avoiding serving in World War II. Isherwood settled in California, where he became friends with writers such as Truman Capote, and Aldous Huxley. He became an American citizen in 1945.

In 1953, Isherwood met Don Bachardy, the man with whom he would spend the rest of his life. At the time, Isherwood was 48, and Bachardy was 18. The couple would live for the rest of Isherwood's life in Santa Monica, where Bachardy still resides and works as an artist. Isherwood passed away as a result of prostate cancer in 1986.

Author Christopher Isherwood
Christopher Isherwood

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