The Huntington Library will announce today that it has acquired the complete literary archive of the British-born author Christopher Isherwood, one of the 20th century's most distinguished English-language writers and a central figure in Los Angeles' cultural life for nearly 50 years.
David Zeidberg, director of the library, described the collection as "spectacular--a rich resource of literary drafts, diaries, notes, correspondence files, photographs and annotated books that will support scholarly research for years to come."
Isherwood, who died at his Santa Monica Canyon home in 1986 at the age of 81, was the author of such acclaimed works as "The Berlin Stories," "Down There on a Visit" and "A Single Man."
For some, he may be most associated with the 1966 musical, "Cabaret," which was inspired by "The Berlin Stories."
His writing commingled autobiography and fiction in innovative and influential ways. For that reason and because the papers are extraordinarily rich and comprehensive, Isherwood's archive was avidly sought not only by the Huntington, but also by the New York Public Library, the University of Texas at Austin, UCLA and USC.
Its acquisition by the San Marino-based library involves, in part, an outright purchase by the Huntington, as well as a gift by artist Don Bachardy, Isherwood's executor and companion of more than 30 years. As part of the arrangement, the Huntington also will acquire Bachardy's papers and an extensive group of his portraits of major writers, artists, musicians and others mentioned in the archive. When completed, the collection will comprise a unique contemporaneous literary and visual record of an extraordinarily broad and influential artistic circle.
As a matter of policy, the Huntington does not discuss the price of its acquisitions. But, according to a number of leading dealers in 20th century manuscripts--all of whom asked not to be named--Isherwood's archive almost certainly commanded a price well into six figures.
Writer Joan Didion, a longtime Isherwood friend, called the acquisition "a huge gift, not only to the Huntington but to Southern California. Christopher Isherwood was the strongest voice among those European emigres who forever changed the culture of Los Angeles, took it into the world, made it the least provincial of American cities. He was, all by himself, what made Los Angeles interesting, and I remember thinking on the day he died how extraordinarily blessed we were that he had been here at all."
According to Sara S. Hodson, the Huntington's curator of literary manuscripts, the archive contains not only multiple, extensively revised drafts of Isherwood's own works, but also unpublished poems, handwritten notebooks and early manuscripts by W.H. Auden, whom the author met when they were students at St. Edmund's School in Surrey. They later collaborated on three plays and a firsthand account of the 1938 Sino-Japanese war. The collection's unusually extensive range of important correspondence includes exchanges with Auden, Stephen Spender--whose long friendship with Isherwood began at Cambridge--E.M. Forster, Gerald Heard, Somerset Maugham, Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams and Edward Upward, as well as hundreds of significant family letters and one from J.D. Salinger.
The Auden papers alone, Hodson said, are "superb and rank us in the top two or three repositories of Auden material worldwide. The unpublished stuff is mostly in letters, which are themselves extraordinary for their candor and warmth. They were discussing their literary efforts and exchanging criticisms. Isherwood had an extraordinary impact on other writers. He was a very firm but compassionate and constructive critic."
Hodson said the Auden-related portion of the archive contains "an extraordinary joint diary" the two friends kept during their 1938 trip to China. It is, she said, "absolutely stunning and superb."
Hodson said the collection of more than 2,000 pieces would be opened to scholars "as soon as I can get it cataloged." The curator said the Huntington plans to mount a major exhibition developed from the collection in 2004, the 100th anniversary of Isherwood's birth.
Bachardy said in an interview last week that "I was very interested to keep the papers in Southern California, and the Huntington was the ideal place. At the end, it really was between the New York Public Library and the Huntington, whose people were particularly enthusiastic, which made it all the more exciting for me.
Bachardy, whose works hang in Britain's National Portrait Gallery and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, said that among the paintings acquired by the Huntington are his portrayals of Auden, Spender, Forster, Robert Craft, Aldous Huxley, Heard, Anais Nin, Truman Capote, Igor Stravinsky, Tennessee Williams, Charles Laughton and Thom Gunn.