"Lost Years: A Memoir
1945-1951," by Christopher Isherwood, edited by Katherine
One of his sexual partners is described as "an essentially
ridiculous character, even a bit of a fake." What
Isherwood dismissed as "fakery" was the clash
between the man's desire to have children and his homosexuality.
Years later, even more conflicted by that confusion--married
and with children--that same man attempted suicide, an
attempt that put him in a wheel chair for the rest of
his life. (The latter information is not noted in a strange
name-dropping "Glossary" (not Isherwood's),
odd mini-biographies of all the people, especially famous
ones, whom Isherwood met even cursorily; Hedy Lamarr is
included although she was merely present at a recital
There are some fine passages and sculpted sentences tinged
with wit: "Collier found it thrillingly Proustian
to look out of his office window and watch the discreet
flirtations of the messenger boys." . A notable
section documents Isherwood's return after the war to
siege-devastated London, the "dead city" he
abandoned. Other good passages--a visit to a Veterans
Hospital--provide welcome respite from the slush. But
the awkward, gossipy voice takes over: "Guy asked
Christopher if he was in love with Jack, so Christopher
had to assure Guy that he was--though he doubted it...."
One of the most disconcerting aspects of this book lies
in the author's treatment of his own sexuality. Claiming
400 sexual encounters, he informs us that in his middle
years he gained such accolades as "the best lay in
the Pacific Coast."  He guides us through the
tiniest details of his sexual predilections, including
scatological sex. Even with an unattractive partner, "Christopher
managed to get an erection." 99 One of the 400 sweeps
him aloft onto an awaiting bed.
There are endless accounts of flirtations and crushes,
of which he--"a born flirt" --is always
the object. 93. "Jack flirted with Christopher,"
 "a very good-looking young actor ... flirted
with Christopher,"  "Truman [Capote] ...
flirted with Christopher,"  "Gore [Vidal]
was flirting with Christopher" . "Almost
instantly Andrew Lyndon started to get a crush on Christopher,"
 "Christopher was well aware that Jack would
get a crush on him,"  "Sam had a slight
crush on Christopher."  Even "Rachel...
had a terrific crush on Christopher."  From his
present vantage, he does not even pause to comment on
the fact that even during repressive times an open homosexual
life was possible, despite dangers.
He goes after writers: Camus' "The Stranger"
is "faky," Sartre's "No Exit" is "phoney,"
Huxley's "Ape and Essence" is "cheap and
In locating the "postures" of others, he ignores
his own. He informs that he "almost never made a
direct pass until he was certain of success." 
"[H]opeless passes [were] something that senile queens
did." : In truth, he was aggressive, especially
when drunk. Rejected, he became spiteful.
The most despicable aspect of this book is Isherwood's
flaunting of his repugnant anti-semitism. He recounts
an affair with a "Jewboy ... about eighteen."
 He defines "an almost classically Jewish Jew,
bald, bearded, sly eyed, somewhat rabbinical in his manner,
full of hostile mocking flattery, aggressive humility,
shrewdness, rudeness, taste, vulgarity, wit and fun."
And this: "The first evening in bed together, Barry
said, `How extraordinary this is! Here am I, a Russian
Jew, making love with Christopher Isherwood!' His remark
jarred on Christopher; it seemed indecent, masochistic,
sexually off-putting. But, as Christopher got to know
Barry better, he found a different significance in it.
When Barry thus called attention to his Jewishness, he
wasn't really demeaning himself. He wasn't at all a humble
person. Indeed, he had that Jewish tactlessness, argumentativeness
and aggressiveness which always aroused Christopher's
anti-semitic feelings. Only, in Barry's case, Christopher's
anti-semitism quickly became erotic. It made him hot to
mate Barry's aggressiveness with his own, in wrestling
duels which were both sexual and racial, Briton against
Jew. Barry's aggressiveness became beautiful and loveable
when it was expressed physically by his strong lithe body
grappling naked with Christopher's. As they struggled,
Christopher loved him because he was a pushy
arrogant Jewboy." 262.
Even in the area of homosexuality, Isherwood exhibits
a reactionary attitude toward sexual roles, references
to male partners as "unalterably female," 
a "wife," "efficient as a nanny,"
 "a good woman," a "truly feminine
soul... properly domestic." .
How reliable is this Memoir? It depends on self-serving,
years-ago recollections about a period when Isherwood
might find himself "lying on the floor, dozy with
drink"--not the clearest time for retention of memories.
There are editorial vagaries to be considered, including
confusion about the nature of profuse footnotes. Ellipses
appear in ambiguous brackets. Occasionally the "I
in the footnotes lapses into the "Christopher"
of the Memoir.
It would be good to think that Isherwood did not intend
these journals to be published, that he did not want to
be remembered the way they portray him; that they were
private exercises to keep him writing. It would be good
to think that he abandoned this Memoir because he recoiled
from its damaging betrayal of friends, that he was repelled
by its rancid attitudes. Perhaps he intended both the
"Diaries" and "Lost Years" to find
a place in his archives, not in leering public.
The rationale for their publication is emphasized in the
Foreword by Editor Katherine Bucknell: Though "never
completed," these entries were "also never destroyed."
The final irony of this shoddy performance is that, for
all its broadsides at others, the figure most assaulted
is Isherwood himself.
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Original material by John Rechy appears
frequently on these pages.