Saturday, August 9, 2014

Christopher Isherwood – The Price of Success

I’m currently reading Christopher Isherwood’s Diaries 1960-1969. The pages are crammed with wicked gossip and psychological insights of many cultural icons of the time. I’m finding it both dull and interesting. He was one of the most celebrated writers of his generation. His numerous works include A Single Man, The Berlin Stories, Christopher and His Kind, and abundant other novels, plays, memoirs, biographies, and screenplays.

The one thing that strikes me is Isherwood’s lifestyle. Although Isherwood was fifty-six when he started this set of diaries, he and his much-younger lover, Don Bachardy, put a capital “P” in the term Party Animals.  During the first two hundred pages of this six-hundred page memoir, Isherwood and Bachardy seem to be constantly going out with a horde of celebrities to parties, luncheons, plays, nightclubs, and art gallery exhibits where the two get sloshed; and when I say constantly, I mean every night. His life in the early ‘60s seems to me nothing more than getting drunk with people he despises, fighting with his temperamental lover who is jealous of his success, and battling hangovers throughout the next day, until it was time to go out drinking again.

I can’t help but wonder if all that success brought him happiness. From his descriptions of his feelings, I’d say yes and no. He constantly complains that he needs to stop drinking and start exercising, and to let Bachardy go on his own for the boy’s own good, while at the same time clinging to him no matter how much it hurts. Emotionally, it seems a deeply turbulent time for Isherwood, and his focus seems to be more on getting Bachardy’s career as an artist off and running at the expense of his own writing.

He doesn’t talk much about how much fulfillment he gets from his own writing, so it’s hard to tell how happy he was during this time in his life. Still, I can’t help but think that money and success didn’t bring the kind of happiness most people would imagine. He seemed to face the same struggles and anxieties that most people in his age bracket faced.

Still, it must have been exciting hobnobbing with the cultural icons of the time—Francis Bacon, Richard Burton, David Hockney, Mick Jagger, W. Somerset Maugham, Vanessa Redgrave, Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, Igor Stravinsky, Marlon Brando, and many others.

The bottom line for me is: although I dream of his kind of literary success, I have no wish to lead that kind of luminary lifestyle. Exciting as it may be, I’m old, and I like being old. I like a quiet life, where I can focus on my husband and my stories.

I’m not a celebrity or on anybody’s “A” list. I’m simply a writer, nothing more and nothing less. That is enough for me, and I hope it always will be. Yet, I can't help but envy Isherwood a little. I dearly hope he was happier than his memoirs suggest.

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