Gore Vidal On… Christopher Isherwood

Posted: July 12, 2013 in Writing
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From Point To Point Navigation, Gore Vidal’s Second and Final Memoir.

‘Biographies, memoirs, volumes of letters by friends and acquaintances keep arriving and are stacked in piles all around my workroom. Sometimes there are unwelcome surprises. Christopher Isherwood, a friend for forty years or so, wrote endless diaries, all reverently published word for word by his heirs. Since Chris seldom awakened without a horrendous hangover, ‘the hangover diaries’, as I dubbed them, report his morning sickness, as it were, and give no sense of what the often joyous evenings before had really been like. With jaundiced gloom he took us all on. I had thought that between his native shrewdness and whatever Vendata is supposed to do to heal or palliate the wounded psyche he might have written in a more generous vein.  But he is often hard on those  who had been good – and more than helpful – friends like John Van Druten whose play I Am A Camera and subsequent move Cabaret supported Christopher in his final decades. I come off fairly well. My political toughness was admired. But there is something claustrophobic about his total obsession with himself and domestic life.  Little news from the outside world got through to him, or if it does, he promptly ignores it.

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The diaries to one side, he was still, in life, the consummate boy-charmer despite whatever age he had so unexpectedly found himself at. Of his new celebrity as a ‘Gay Icon’ he reveled in the limelight. ‘Literally’, he said, ‘when I’m out there on the stage with all the lights blazing away I am so relaxed – so at home- that I am in serious danger of falling asleep’. The obituary style still clings, as it were, to my pen.  After a successful prostate operation, he was told to check back, regularly, with the doctor, which he forgot to do.  The cancer spread. Soon he was dwindling away.  I had just come from London and paid him a visit.  He was hardly present. I chattered nervously. Talked of mutual friends who I had seen. Remarked upon the fecklessness of the British. After the bonanza of striking oil in the North Sea, the Thatcher government seemed to have gone through the money. I was censorious: ‘A nation of grasshoppers’,  I said. The old Isherwood , the Isherwood of legend, suddenly opened his eyes and smiled. ‘So what’, he asked, ‘is wrong with grasshoppers?’ Thus we parted, each in approximate character.’

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