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The Paris Review staff picks: The American Isherwood

By Matt Caprioli
The Paris Review

The American Isherwood, edited by James J. Berg and Chris FreemanStephen McCauley’s introduction to The American Isherwood, a new collection of critical essays about the renowned author of the Goodbye Berlin, cites Richard Avedon’s definition of charm as “the ability to be truly interested in other people.” Isherwood definitely had it, and so does this thoughtful collection. One highlight among its nineteen essays is Carola M. Kaplan’s “Working through Grief in the Drafts of A Single Man,” in which Kaplan traces the four majors drafts of the novella. We learn that A Single Man used to be called The English Woman, until conversations with Don Bachardy, Isherwood’s lover of three decades, shaped the story into its current form. In other essays, we learn that Aldous Huxley and Isherwood were friends of the Pineapple Express variety, and that Virginia Woolf thought Isherwood was an obnoxious punk. (She changed her mind after meeting him in person, writing in her journal that he was “one of the most vital & observant of the young.”)

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The American Isherwood