Hedonism Bound: Isherwood in Berlin
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Published in: November-December 2007 issue.


IN MAY OF 1928, Christopher Isherwood made his first trip to Germany. He went as a tourist on a brief visit to the port city of Bremen. Though unremarkable in many respects, this trip would prove to be amazingly generative. For the reading public, the visit was a catalyst that would eventually result in some of the most entertaining writing to come out of the 1930’s. To many, Isherwood is known primarily as the author of The Berlin Stories, the source material for what became the musical and film Cabaret. For Isherwood himself, however, the trip to Germany opened his eyes to the possibility of a different way of life.

England had grown stifling to Isherwood: patriotism and propriety—values to which Britons of a certain age and class clung tenaciously—had become repellent to him. As the eldest son of a father who had died fighting in the Great War, Isherwood had been saddled with the expectation, from his mother and schoolmasters, that he measure up to a heroic ideal, but it was an expectation that he rejected as outmoded and retrograde. Instead, Isherwood and his circle rushed toward the excitement and vibrancy of the modern, turning their backs on the Edwardian sentiments of their parents’ generation. Isherwood abandoned his family’s English manor house for a low-rent flat on the Continent. A year after his brief trip to Bremen, Isherwood moved to Berlin, for the express purpose of joining his friend W. H. Auden. Together they set out to enjoy the notorious licentiousness of the Weimar capital.

Isherwood would come to admit that this emigration from England was a rejection of British haute bourgeois mores.

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