Anglo-American writer Christopher Isherwood lived in Berlin from 1929 to 1932 and observed first-hand the rise of the Nazis and the damage and terror inflicted on the famously tolerant city and its inhabitants. He drew from his journals that he kept from those years to write "Mr. Norris Changes Trains" (1935) and "Goodbye to Berlin" (1939), which would later be combined into an omnibus volume entitled "The Berlin Stories" (1945). Playful and powerful, Isherwood's depiction of Berlin captured the imagination of later artists, whose work is also represented in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Anglo-American writer Christopher Isherwood (1904 – 1986) lived in Berlin from 1929 to 1932 and observed first-hand the rise of the Nazis and the damage and terror that they inflicted on the famously tolerant city and its inhabitants. He drew from his journals that he kept from those years to write Mr. Norris Changes Trains (1935) and Goodbye to Berlin (1939), which would later be combined into an omnibus volume entitled The Berlin Stories (1945).

Isherwood, Christopher. Goodbye to Berlin.
Isherwood, Christopher. Goodbye to Berlin. New York : Random House, 1939. With inscription on flyleaf shown. Stathis Orphanos Christopher Isherwood Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division. https://lccn.loc.gov/2014660097

In 2014, the Rare Book and Special Collections Division acquired a Christopher Isherwood collection that had been assembled by the publisher and photographer Stathis Orphanos (1940-2018). The collection of 298 items consists of first and variant editions and foreign language translations of the author’s novels, his appearances in journals, and Vedanta publications from his personal library. Since Orphanos and Isherwood were friends, Orphanos received some of these books as gifts from the author, or he acquired them on his own. In one instance, Orphanos published the first edition of Isherwood’s Christopher and His Kind (1976) under his own imprint: Sylvester & Orphanos of Los Angeles. Over the years, Orphanos asked Isherwood to sign or inscribe the books in his collection, and many of the inscriptions are lengthy, personal, and insightful. Isherwood’s writing was influenced by his life experiences.

Spine and edition statement. Isherwood, Christopher. Christopher and His Kind.
Spine and edition statement. Isherwood, Christopher. Christopher and His Kind. Los Angeles : Sylvester & Orphanos, 1976. Stathis Orphanos Christopher Isherwood Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division. https://lccn.loc.gov/76042228

Christopher Isherwood was born in Cheshire, England in 1904 to Francis Edward Bradshaw Isherwood (1869 – 1914), a professional soldier, and Kathleen Bradshaw Isherwood (1868 – 1960), the daughter of a wine merchant. Isherwood’s mother was the descendant of the wealthy Greene brewing family of Greene King. (His cousin, successful British author and journalist Graham Greene, was a descendant of the same family). Isherwood attended Repton boarding school in Derbyshire, followed by Corpus Christi College at Cambridge, but the budding author was asked to leave that school in 1925 before graduating when he took his second-year exams and answered questions with jokes and limericks.

Being expelled from university afforded Isherwood a sense of freedom from his familyespecially from his mother who had harbored expectations of her son becoming a university don. Expulsion also freed the young creative to explore his interests by enrolling in medical school at King’s College (he soon dropped out) and continuing to write (an activity for which he had greater stamina).

During this time, Isherwood became reacquainted with the poet W.H. Auden (1907 – 1973) with whom he had attended prep school. Auden, in turn, introduced Isherwood to fellow poet Stephen Spender (1909 – 1995) and these three young men along with the novelist Edward Upton (1903 – 2009), Isherwood’s longtime school friend, would soon become the nexus of the “Auden Group” / “Auden Generation” of writers, who came to the forefront of English literature and poetry in the late 1920s and 1930s. Isherwood’s first book, All the Conspirators, was published in 1928, and it was a coming-of-age story about a young artist defying his mother and her expectations of him.

Portrait of Christopher Isherwood and W.H. Auden
Van Vechten, Carl, 1880-1964, photographer. [Portrait of Christopher Isherwood and W.H. Auden]. February 6, 1939. Gelatin silver print. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
https://lccn.loc.gov/2004663063

In early 1929, Isherwood traveled to Berlin for a ten-day visit at the invitation of Auden, and it would transform him. The capital of the Weimar Republic was a raucous city alive with cabaret shows, gay bars, cafes, and a dynamic arts scene. Berlin was also home to Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science, a groundbreaking research center for the study of sex, sexuality, and gender. The young Isherwood was immediately entranced, and soon after he moved into Nollendorfstrasse 17 in the Schöneberg neighborhood, the epicenter of the city’s gay life. He remained for nearly two and a half years.

Living in the Schöneberg neighborhood, Isherwood met and befriended the people who inspired the characters in some of his best-known novels, Mr. Norris Changes Trains (1935) and Goodbye to Berlin (1939). The fictitious “Mr. Norris” was based on the author’s friend Gerald Hamilton, a man of dubious character, and the flapper “Sally Bowles” was inspired by Isherwood’s flat mate, Jean Ross, who was a cabaret singer. In these novels, the author describes a hedonistic Berlin with a largely complacent and content populace even as the political situation around them spiraled, and the fascist Nazi party began seizing power. Isherwood’s Berlin-themed novels were later combined into one volume, Berlin Stories (1945), which became the basis for the famous American musical Cabaret.

Christopher Isherwood The Berlin of Sally Bowles.
Isherwood, Christopher. The Berlin of Sally Bowles. London : The Hogarth Press, 1975. Stathis Orphanos Christopher Isherwood Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division.
https://lccn.loc.gov/76354947

 

Isherwood, Christopher. The Last of Mr. Norris.
Isherwood, Christopher. The Last of Mr. Norris. New York : William Morrow and Company, 1935. Stathis Orphanos Christopher Isherwood Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division.
https://lccn.loc.gov/35006721

 

Letter from Christopher Isherwood to Mr. Norris.
Letter from Christopher Isherwood to Mr. Norris dated April 6, 1962.  With The Last of Mr. Norris. New York : William Morrow and Company, 1935. Stathis Orphanos Christopher Isherwood Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division.
https://lccn.loc.gov/35006721

In 1932, Isherwood began a relationship with a young German man, Heinz Neddermeyer, and together the couple observed first-hand the persecution of Jews, Roma, LGBT persons, and other vulnerable groups by the Nazis. Following the Enabling Act, which cemented Hitler’s command in March 1933, Isherwood fled Germany with Neddermeyer to Greece. The pair tried to go to England, but that country wouldn’t allow Neddermeyer entry, so they began a search for a country that would allow them to settle and remain together. They briefly lived in the Canary Islands, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, and finally Luxembourg until Neddermeyer was suddenly expelled back to Germany where he was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to a prison labor camp.

Isherwood returned to England before permanently settling in the United States. Following his departure, the Nazis shuttered Berlin’s cabarets and looted and set fire to Hirschfield’s Institute for Sexual Science. Many of Isherwood’s friends fled abroad or perished in concentration camps. Neddermeyer survived and eventually married and raised children, carrying on a correspondence with Isherwood for many years after they reconnected. Isherwood settled in southern California where he continued writing and teaching at Los Angeles State College (now California State University, Los Angeles). It’s also where he met his long-term partner, Don Bachardy (1934 -), who became a prominent photographer and artist in his own right. Christopher Isherwood died at his home in Santa Monica in 1986 after completing and publishing more than 20 novels and numerous periodical submissions.

Orphanos, Stathis. Don Bachardy and Christopher Isherwood. Santa Monica, ca 1972.
Orphanos, Stathis. Don Bachardy and Christopher Isherwood. Santa Monica, ca 1972.

The Library has a robust collection of Isherwood’s work. In addition to the Stathis Orphanos Christopher Isherwood Collection, the author’s works appear in two other collections within the division: the general Rare Book collection and the Gene Berry & Jeffrey Campbell Collection, the latter of which contains most of Isherwood’s first editions including many that are signed by the author.

The Gene Berry & Jeffrey Campbell Collection is the home of a contemporary collection item, Liebestrasse (2022), that parallels Isherwood’s Berlin Stories. A historical fiction graphic novel by author Greg Lockard and artist Tim Fish, Liebestrasse tells the tale of American businessman Sam, who travels to Germany in the post-World War II period to look for his lost love, Philip. In an extended flashback to a time just prior to the war, Sam visits Berlin on a business trip and becomes enamored with the city’s exuberance and tolerance. He meets Philip, and the two fall in love just as the Nazis begin to seize power. Sam and Philip become separated when Philip is arrested by the Nazis, and Sam is forced to return to the United States. It’s a chilling tale with compelling text and artwork that demonstrates the power of the graphic novel as a medium to convey serious subject matter. Liebestrasse was nominated as an Outstanding Comic Book by GLAAD in 2022.

Lockard, Greg, writer. Tim Fish, artist ; Héctor Barros, colorist ; Lucas Gattoni, letterer & designer. Liebestrasse.
Lockard, Greg, writer. Tim Fish, artist ; Héctor Barros, colorist ; Lucas Gattoni, letterer & designer.
Liebestrasse. Milwaukie, OR : Dark Horse Books, 2022.
Gene Berry & Jeffrey Campbell Collection
https://lccn.loc.gov/2021054452

These collections and others are available for research in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. For more information, send a query to the reference staff via Ask-A-Librarian.

 

SOURCES

Isherwood Century : Essays on the Life and Work of Christopher Isherwood. Edited and with an introduction by James J. Berg and Chris Freeman ; foreword by Armistead Maupin. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, c2000.


Wikipedia, Christopher Isherwood. 

 

RESOURCES

Harry Ransom Center. Don Bachardy: An Inventory of His Collection in the Art Collection at the Harry Ransom Center.

The Huntington Library. Christopher Isherwood papers.

The Library of Congress. Publications authored by Magnus Hirschfeld.

The Library of Congress. Sylvester & Orphanos Collection and Archive: A Resource Guide. February 10, 2021.

Palmieri, Brooke. “Queering the Collections: A Tale of Two Libraries.” In Verso: The Blog of the Huntington Library, Museum, and Garden. Dec. 5, 2023.

Robins, Ben. “Christopher Isherwood In Exile.” In Verso: The Blog of the Huntington Library, Museum, and Garden. June 20, 2023.

Thompson, Diana W.. “Two Singular Men, One Berlin.” In Verso: The Blog of the Huntington Library, Museum, and Garden. Oct. 27, 2014.

 

Click here to subscribe to Bibliomania and never miss a post!

Source: https://blogs.loc.gov/bibliomania/2024/06/21/the-berlin-of-christopher-isherwood/

The Berlin of Christopher Isherwood