Christopher Isherwood's Camp

Title: Christopher Isherwood's Camp
Source document: Theory and Practice in English Studies. 2019, vol. 8, iss. 2, pp. [31]-42
  • ISSN
Type: Article

Notice: These citations are automatically created and might not follow citation rules properly.

In this paper I consider recurrent themes in the work of Christopher Isherwood, a novelist best known for his portrayal of Berlin's seedy cabaret scene just before the outbreak of the Second World War. The themes I discuss each hinge on uncanny discrepancies between youth and old age, male and female, sacred and profane, real and sham. Together, I argue, these themes indicate the author's investment in a queer camp sensibility devoted to theatricality, ironic humor, and the supremacy of style. I focus on specific descriptions of characters, objects, and places throughout the author's work in order to foreground camp's rather exuberant interest in artifice, affectation, and excess, as well as its ability to apprehend beauty and worthiness even, or especially, in degraded objects, people, or places. Ultimately, I argue that the term camp, especially as it applies to Isherwood's work, names both a comedic style and a specifically queer empathetic mode rooted in shared histories of hurt, secrecy, and social marginalization.
[1] Babuscio, Jack. 1993. "Camp and the Gay Sensibility." Camp Grounds: Style and Homosexuality, Ed. David Bergman, 19–38. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

[2] Berg, James J. & Chris Freeman, eds. 2001. Conversations with Christopher Isherwood. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

[3] Carr, Ella. 2019. "The Real Sally Bowles." The Exberliner, March 22, 2019.

[4] Denisoff, Dennis. 1998. "Camp, Aestheticism, and Cultural Inclusiveness in Isherwood's Berlin Stories." In Performing Gender and Comedy: Theories, Texts and Contexts, edited by Shannon Hengen, 81–94. Australia: Gordon and Breach Publishers.

[5] Hanson, Ellis. 1997. Decadence and Catholicism. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

[6] Harvey, Keith. 2000. "Describing Camp Talk: Language/Pragmatics/Politics." Language and Literature 9, no. 3: 240–260. London: SAGE Publications. | DOI 10.1177/096394700000900303

[7] Isherwood, Christopher. 1945. Prater Violet. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

[8] Isherwood, Christopher. 1954. The World in the Evening. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

[9] Isherwood, Christopher. 1962. Down There on a Visit. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

[10] Isherwood, Christopher. 1966. Exhumations: Stories, Articles, Verses. London: Methuen Publishing Ltd.

[11] Isherwood, Christopher. 1997. Diaries: Volume 1, 1939–1960. Katherine Bucknell (Ed.). New York: HarperCollins.

[12] Isherwood, Christopher. 2008a. Mr Norris Changes Trains. In The Berlin Stories. New York: New Directions. First published 1935.

[13] Isherwood, Christopher. 2008b. Goodbye to Berlin. In The Berlin Stories. New York: New Directions. First published 1939.

[14] Isherwood, Christopher. 2010. A Single Man. London: Vintage Books. First published 1964.

[15] Isherwood, Christopher. 2012. Christopher and His Kind. London: Vintage Books. First published 1976.

[16] Keller, Karl. 1993. "Walt Whitman Camping." In Camp Grounds: Style and Homosexuality, edited by David Bergman, 113–120. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

[17] McDevitt, Brian. 2014. "A Born Foreigner." YouTube video, 43:49. January 25, 2014.

[18] Mizejewski, Linda. 1992. Divine Decadence: Fascism, Female Spectacle, and the Makings of Sally Bowles. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

[19] Page, Norman. 1998. Auden and Isherwood: The Berlin Years. New York: St. Martin's Press.

[20] Sontag, Susan. 2009. "Notes on Camp." In Against Interpretation and Other Essays, 275–292. New York & London: Penguin Classics.

[21] Villanova University. 2015. "Heather Love: 'Failure Camp,'" YouTube video, 1:05:16. August 15, 2015.