The Animals

Love Letters Between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy

by Christopher Isherwood, Don Bachardy and Katherine Bucknell

Hardcover, 481 pages, Farrar Straus & Giroux, List Price: $30 | purchase

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The Animals
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Love Letters Between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy
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Christopher Isherwood, Don Bachardy, et al

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NPR Summary

A testimony in letters to the decades-long, openly gay relationship between the literary authors traces the jealousies, pressures and age gap that marked their partnership against a backdrop of their private fantasy world in which they likened themselves to animal archetypes.

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Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: The Animals

Wednesday [February 1, 1956]

High Lane, Cheshire

Dearest Donny,

I wonder so much what you are doing, and I hope so much that you're having fun and interesting adventures. Wednesday! And when you get this it will be Thursday — and then there will only be Friday, Saturday, Sunday ... But I mustn't get rattled. I keep looking out anxiously at the snow which fell last night and wondering if more will fall and block the roads. But I'll get through somehow — like in that Courbet at the National Gallery. This house is as damp as a sponge, and cold — you can see your breath even when standing by the fire — and the sheets are damp like graveclothes and the books on the shelves smell of corpses. And in the kitchen and scullery there are very old smells of dried fat in skillets and old old black rags that are quite frighteningly filthy in a 19th century way, like something out of Oliver Twist.

I don't say all this just in complaint. A lot of it is hilariously funny, or very touching, and I'm glad I came alone because it's really easier to take. I spend a lot of time scrubbing things. If only the pipes don't freeze!

My mother is absolutely marvellous — sharp as a needle, sees well, hears perfectly, remembers everything, talks all day long. Poor Richard is turning rapidly in[to] a prematurely aged freak — his face around the nose is dark purple (bad circulation, I guess) and he has lost several of his teeth in front and he walks with a stoop and keeps his head down. But he is so kind and gentle and anxious to help. He fills my bed with hot water bottles, leaving marks on the sheets because his poor hands are chronically covered with coal dust. He is forever building fires or making tea which is pure liquid brass. They have two white cats. The female has a black smudge over one eye and she is fat with kittens, fathered by the other cat, her son. She is one of the best-looking cats I have ever seen, and she doesn't give a shit about any of us.

If I didn't hate the cold so, I'd admit that this place is marvellously beautiful. Cobden Edge, the first ridge of moorland behind the house, is all white and there is a strange orange light on the snow; the bare trees are so black against it. Cheerful stamping men in mufflers bring milk and newspapers — from which I see that Emlyn Williams and Charlie Chaplin were both at Korda's funeral. Maybe Molly will fix for you to meet him — and/or Lady Olivier, who was there too?!

Unless I send a telegram to the contrary, I will arrive at Euston Station Monday afternoon at 1:55. No need to meet me if you have something else to do. I just tell you so you'll know approximately when I'll be at the hotel — about 2:30. Leave word for me there if you're not coming to the station. (But I hope you do!)

Imagine — this is the first letter I ever wrote you! I think about you all the time, and about times I might have been kinder and more understanding, and I make many resolutions for the future — some of which I hope I'll keep.

In any case,

all my love,

Chris.

[Autograph letter on printed letterhead of Wyberslegh Hall, High Lane, Stockport, Cheshire]

February 1, 1956 [London]

Dear Chris,

It is freezing here. It snowed most of yesterday, and even began to lay on the iron steps outside the window. But today it is all gone, and though clear & sunny, it is much colder. I am still in bed (it's past 12) because it's the only warm place. I have been reading, and working on my play! I am amazed — I worked three and a half hours yesterday morning and three hours this morning, and now I have eight pages of solid notes and, I think, a very good outline for the first two acts! I've managed to think up a surprisingly well-constructed plot (although there is not much of a story) and already I know roughly what the third act will consist of. I feel quite silly, especially in the afternoon and early morning, when I think of writing this play, but nevertheless it is going well and it is fun. It's a very heavy drama — I hope this isn't a mistake — and not very original, but with a few surprises. As of yet, you have not appeared. It may very well be a thing of the past by next Monday — I really haven't written more than just a few snatches of dialogue yet.

John (I don't even know his last name yet — Cuthbert's friend) called yesterday morning and took me to Fresh Airs last night. I thought it was dull and trivial, and very poorly organized and produced. Too much really amazingly trashy sentiment. I thought a revue was essentially based on gags and laughs, but right in the middle of supposedly funny skits were very serious, straight-faced sentimental numbers with nothing but the corniest lyrics. There were endless sets and costumes, all ugly, and the most amateurish dancing and pantomiming I've seen out of high school. Here and there were a few amusing gags, all very proper except for a terribly shocking skit about a Paris pissoir and some "asides" from Max Adrian (who got in drag, too), but the funniest thing was a political skit making fun of America doing her all to make Germany happy.

John and I got along well — he's really very nice and has a lot of the same difficulties that I've got, so there's quite a bit for us to talk about. I took him to dinner at the Comedy and we had drinks at the hotel before dinner. He even invited me to spend a few days with him and Cuthbert, but I firmly refused — for various reasons. I think he is interested in me, but I most definitely don't reciprocate any kind of similar interest. No one else has called and I haven't made any calls myself.

Yesterday I saw The Constant Husband with Rex Harrison and Margaret Leighton (it was very boring) and A Life at Stake with Angela Lansbury and Keith Andes, a quickie thriller made on location in L.A. with a weak, silly story but still interesting. She was good. You don't have to bother with either film, though. The day before I saw White Cargo, which was mild fun, and Moulin Rouge, which was still beautiful but unbelievably trashy and pompous and self-consciously chic, and in places really foul. Huston gives himself away in this. I saw The Boyfriend in the evening. It's not nearly as good as in New York and seemed very "joke's over" this time after one act. But I had a seat in the front row and flirted unmercifully with the chorus boys all through it.

But I miss rides through London on old Dobbin (especially in the snow yesterday) and think a lot about him, sleeping in a strange stable, eating cold oats out of an ill-fitting feed bag and having no cat fur to keep him warm. And don't let them put any frozen bits in his mouth. And tell him an anxious Tabby is at the mercy of the RSPCA and counting the days till his return.

P. S. Don't forget about the movies.

[Autograph letter]

Copyright © 2013 by Don Bachardy

Introduction and notes copyright © 2013 by Katherine Bucknell