Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
English, General Literature, and Rhetoric
Mario A. Di Cesare
Few writers illustrate more clearly than Christopher Isherwood the problem of separating an author from his work. It is true that autobiographical writers invite an interest which may not be always strictly literary: while speaking in their own persons, or employing a thinly disguised narrator, they bring the art of fiction close to the intimacy of the letter or journal and the fact/fiction transaction in such work is itself a dramatic element. But when the end of autobiographical fiction is confession, it serves as therapy, not art, and the reader's interest is essentially pathological.
Isherwood's fiction is open to this charge of confession, at least in its superficial aspects. In Lions and Shadows (1938), he wrote of his fascination with “the career of the neurotic hero,” or “Truly Weak Man" (128), and this volume reveals (as it is clearly intended to reveal) the extent to which the Truly Weak Man is a continuing and evolving emblem for Isherwood himself, even to the point of carrying his name. William Bradshaw, and “Christopher Isherwood,” court the danger of reducing fiction to the confession of neurotic evidences.
ln the most fundamental sense, however, Isherwood and his Truly Weak Man are eternally separate, their apparent identity simply a matter of rhetoric. For Isherwood's predominant theme throughout his writing life has been self-consciousness and self-definition, the stripping-away of neurotic masks and poses in an effort to achieve final honesty and “cure.” From All The Conspirators (1928) to his latest novel, A Meeting By The River (1967), True Weakness has been expressed through mask and concealment. By using the fiction of authorial confession, Isherwood has dramatized the urgency of the hero's search for honesty. The personality of the author is offered as a token of commitment. For a writer to use his own name in fiction is an act of high risk; it proclaims self-consciousness to the highest degree. At the same time, the opportunity is provided for what is a further extension of the quest for naked identity: in effect, the author is able to imply the limits to confession in his personae. As Isherwood's case makes clear, the very act of authorial selection involves some reticences. Thus Isherwood and “Isherwood” are engaged in a reciprocal exchange. What is not confessed in the persona is by choice of the author; the apparent honesty of confessional fiction must be tested against authorial concealment. When the authorial personality is deliberately made intrusive, the irony persists that the autobiographical persona can be merely a new mask for the neurotic self–not a symbol of strenuous honesty at all, but a subtle attempt to mask and conceal through the illusion of confession.
Thomas, David Peter, "The fiction of Christopher Isherwood: personality as form" (1970). Graduate Dissertations and Theses. 161.