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Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Berlin Stories (1935, 1939) by Christopher Isherwood

Liza Minnelli plays Sally Bowles in the 1972 film Cabaret, based on Isherwood's twin novellas.

Berlin Stories
The Last of Mr. Norris (1935)
Goodbye to Berlin (1939)
 by Christopher Isherwood

   Important thing to keep in mind is that the 1001 Books Project counts Berlin Stories as TWO separate titles- The Last of Mr. Norris (1935) and Goodbye to Berlin (1939) but the standard American edition published by New Directions publishes both novellas in one volume called Berlin Stories.  Technically, this double edition does not exist as an entry in the 1001 Books project but contains two titles that do.

  In the public mind, the most indelible image from Berlin Stories is that of Liza Minnelli playing Sally Bowles in Bob Fosse's 1972 film.  You know the image I'm talking about (see above.)   Bowles, while not exactly a bit player in the context of the entire Berlin Stories, is hardly a dominant focus.  Rather, Isherwood is himself the main character, drifting around the margins of the Berlin underworld in the pre-Hitler Weimar Republic as an underemployed English tutor and active gay man. 

  Berlin Stories is a curious progenitor of gay literature in that entirely admits any description of male or female homosexuality, although many of the characters and situations are obviously gay,  being gay is never actually mentioned.  Hard to blame Isherwood- homosexuality was a hanging offense in the United Kingdom until AFTER World War II.  From that perspective, Berlin Stories are incredibly brave, since Isherwood is so recognizably gay in the book.

  In addition to the well drawn gay and non-gay characters, there is the setting of Weimar Republic Berlin, which was later to become synonymous with early 20th century decadence. Thus, Berlin Stories is itself a central document of this place and time.

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