Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The Isherwood Diaries

Now and again I come across a book or an author, and I find myself annoyed thinking, "How the hell didn't I know about this writer before?" Christopher Isherwood is one of those people.
I discovered him just recently, a mere few weeks ago thanks to BBC. There was a dramatisation of "Christopher and His Kind", Isherwood's biographical book. After the dramatisation there was a recording of Isherwood's interview from California. I watched these two programmes, and I was fascinated.

So that weekend I went to the Central Library, looked through the shelves, and found "Christopher Isherwood Diaries Volume 1." This volume 1 is over 1000 pages long, and covers his diaries from 1939 to 1950s I believe. I haven't gotten that far yet.

I got this book from the library, but after reading the introduction and about 150 pages, I know that I will definitely buy a copy for myself. By the time this book begins, Isherwood is settled in America, and has been in a habit of keeping diaries. His diary entries reflect his life - life that to us may seem glamourous where his everyday contacts are authors, poets, hollywood directors. Life that seemed to exist for a lot of people in 30s and 40s who were part of a class which either came from blood or money or sometimes just right connections.

What I find fascinating is the fact that his diaries are about his life, but also about his inner journey. His struggle with himself, to find a deeper meaning in the world, of his confusion, of his relationships. This is a person's life. And what that person is someone as observant and insightful as Isherwood, reading those diaries take on a whole new meaning. They are also fascinating for the observations they offer of other people we may recognize. Imagine a casual observation by Isherwood that Huxley is writing a new novel, called Brave New World, set in an Utopia. You see, as you read this, how their writing, their choices, the beliefs and themes in their books, are reflected by the world they live in and the confusion they face.

I always enjoy reading other people's diaries. I wouldn't dream of reading someone's diary without their consent, simply because as great a temptation as it would, I wouldn't want someone to read mine. So published diaries are a treat. The authors are giving one permission to pry into their personal thoughts, into their intimate details. When these diaries belong to writers, they become even more fascinating for me.

Isherwood Diaries, I am sure will become one of my favourite book ever. Something that I would like to thumb through for a comforting read, or for journaling inspiration.

If you enjoy reading diaries, I strongly recommend this book. And if you have never tried reading diaries, what are you waiting for?

If you have read good diaries, then please recommend those in the comments. I would love to read more.


  1. this sounds like such an interesting read. i am reading barbara kingsolver's the lacuna, which is based off of a fictional diary, but it is so good! i wish i had more time for reading but this job-thing gets in the way!

  2. Laurie,

    Yes these job-things are rather inconvenient aren't they? *SIGH* That's why Isherwood Diaries are taking me long, not to mention that it's a great big chunk of a book, so I don't carry it with me everyday.

  3. This sounds really interesting. I know you asked for recommendations, but do you have any? I've never read a non-fic diary.

  4. Nicole,

    Besides this Diary, another one I love is Virginia Woolf's Writer's Diary.

    If you haven't read Anne Frank's Diary then that is a must.

    Nella Last's War diaries are also great.

  5. Hi there. I found this blog one day, and I am not even sure how. I have always wanted to keep a journal, but I was never sure how to go about it. In the past I kept diaries, but ended up destroying them because they were so mundane. And it seemed that I only ever wrote when I was angry or upset; and I don't want to be remembered one day for being angry and upset all of the time!

    I turn 31 this year and I know that I must do something to clear my conscious mind and work on bringing my deeper thoughts alive. Thanks to your blog and your tips, I am on my way. I am journaling by using some prompts that you suggested in one of your posts. I also purchased a 5yr Questions and Answer journal which is exactly what I'd love to do.

    I would be honoured for my children to pick up these journals one day after I am long gone, as opposed to the sad and angry words I used to write.

    Thank you!!

  6. That's wonderful :-) I am glad this blog encouraged you to keep a journal. When I read comments like that, it makes this thing totally worthwhile.

    My initial journals are full of complaints and whines. I haven't burned them, and I won't burn them, but I look at them as a lesson to take more balanced approach in journaling, and record my whole life, not just miserable days.