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Christopher Isherwood (1904 - 1986)

Having decided to include in this series individual works of lasting interest, if not always importance, I find irresistible the temptation to explore a great many novels that I raced through in my distant teens. Unable now to concentrate as intensely, and with less time anyway, I read much less than I should.  With the hope of going through all those books again seeming a distant dream, it has been a pleasure to at least look through them again, those Penguins I used to buy in profusion and then bind together in bright covers embossed with names such as Virginia Woolf and Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood.

The last of these was one of a trio of Young Turks, as it were, who introduced a radical thrust to literature in the twenties and thirties. The other two were poets, one of them Auden, probably the best English poet of the 20th century (apart from T S Eliot, if that is one considers Eliot to be English). Just too young for the First World War, they were much less nostalgic about what had been lost than the writers I have mentioned thus far, in part because they were more cosmopolitan in their outlook.

In fact Auden and Isherwood left England when the Second World War broke out, and settled down in America. Isherwood died there half a century later, though Auden came back to Europe, and finally to Oxford for his dying years. He made time for undergraduates to come and talk to him, and I took advantage of this, and persuaded some of my friends to join me for a memorable hour, though we found his craggy heavily lined face as fascinating as the conversation. 

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Rajiva Wijesinha

June 2010
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