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In 1938 the legendary Hogarth Press published the first of Christopher Isherwood's autobiographical writings, Lions and Shadows. The book evokes the atmosphere of Cambridge as Isherwood knew it and describes his life as a tutor, a medical student, and a struggling writer. Above all, Lions and Shadows is a captivating account of a young novelist's development in the literar In 1938 the legendary Hogarth Press published the first of Christopher Isherwood's autobiographical writings, Lions and Shadows. The book evokes the atmosphere of Cambridge as Isherwood knew it and describes his life as a tutor, a medical student, and a struggling writer. Above all, Lions and Shadows is a captivating account of a young novelist's development in the literary culture of 1920s Cambridge and London and of his experiences as he forged lifelong friendships with his peers W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender, and Edward Upward.


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In 1938 the legendary Hogarth Press published the first of Christopher Isherwood's autobiographical writings, Lions and Shadows. The book evokes the atmosphere of Cambridge as Isherwood knew it and describes his life as a tutor, a medical student, and a struggling writer. Above all, Lions and Shadows is a captivating account of a young novelist's development in the literar In 1938 the legendary Hogarth Press published the first of Christopher Isherwood's autobiographical writings, Lions and Shadows. The book evokes the atmosphere of Cambridge as Isherwood knew it and describes his life as a tutor, a medical student, and a struggling writer. Above all, Lions and Shadows is a captivating account of a young novelist's development in the literary culture of 1920s Cambridge and London and of his experiences as he forged lifelong friendships with his peers W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender, and Edward Upward.

30 review for Lions and Shadows: An Education in the Twenties

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jackie

    This is the book I wish I could hand to all of those people writing articles about people in their twenties. As a person in her twenties, I hate those articles, and my most easily articulated reason is that people in their twenties today aren't all that different from people in their twenties throughout history. Lions And Shadows is perfect proof of this. It's great to read about Isherwood, pre-Berlin, trying to find himself as a writer in places of little or no inspiration. Living off of his bem This is the book I wish I could hand to all of those people writing articles about people in their twenties. As a person in her twenties, I hate those articles, and my most easily articulated reason is that people in their twenties today aren't all that different from people in their twenties throughout history. Lions And Shadows is perfect proof of this. It's great to read about Isherwood, pre-Berlin, trying to find himself as a writer in places of little or no inspiration. Living off of his bemused and patient parents. Struggling to reconcile his calling as an artist with the pressure to come up with a solid career. Consoling himself with this friends while simultaneously comparing himself to them and always coming up short. Feeling most confident at the beginnings of things, before they've had a chance to become complicated. I love Isherwood's thin fictional veil. I love his attempts to find the real in the fictional and vice versa. I strongly identify with his conflicting desires: 1) to live a life of experiences to fuel his writing, and 2) to curl up in a ball by the fire and never go outside again. There are no easy answers here, but it is nice to be able to turn to the rest of Isherwood's story and the satisfying life he made for himself. This is the way to talk about your twenties: at a distance, with fondness, and with hope.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Gerhard

    Charming, thoroughly engaging and written with a wry sense of self-deprecation, peopled with an array of vividly-drawn, affectionately-portrayed characters, this memoir of Isherwood's early Cambridge years is vivid and entertaining, as well as providing a fascinating glimpse into a writer's developing consciousness and sense of craft. Incredible to think this was written so long ago, in a totally different world. And yet Isherwood's voice is so immediate and compelling. Wonderful.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Elisha

    Lions and Shadows feels like Isherwood at his most Isherwood to me. Despite his call for us to read this as fiction in his author's note, it's obviously autobiographical, and he goes to very little effort to disguise his very famous friends within it (I particularly liked 'Stephen Savage' for Stephen Spender, though 'Hugh Weston' for Wystan Hugh Auden also drew a chuckle). And, in addition to containing the strange and conspicuous blending of fiction and autobiography that characterises so many Lions and Shadows feels like Isherwood at his most Isherwood to me. Despite his call for us to read this as fiction in his author's note, it's obviously autobiographical, and he goes to very little effort to disguise his very famous friends within it (I particularly liked 'Stephen Savage' for Stephen Spender, though 'Hugh Weston' for Wystan Hugh Auden also drew a chuckle). And, in addition to containing the strange and conspicuous blending of fiction and autobiography that characterises so many of Isherwood's books, it also utilises some very familiar techniques, including intertextual references to his other books and, surprisingly, the camera-like narration made famous in Goodbye to Berlin. Which is an unusual choice for a book even just superficially autobiographical, but that's Isherwood for you: he's always revealing everything and nothing at the same time, and thinking very carefully about how he wants to present himself. All of this stuff is of the upmost interest to me right now and so, as a result, I got an awful lot out of reading Lions and Shadows and thoroughly enjoyed myself whilst doing it. However, it's not a book I'd recommend to readers with less than a passing interest in Isherwood. As stories go, this one is pretty basic and straightforward. It's about early twentieth century upper-middle-class boys going to public school and progressing onto Cambridge - you know, the kind of stuff that's included in every biography of every member of the British establishment. It wasn't dissimilar to what I read recently in Goodbye to All That (though I appreciated that Isherwood had a bit more self-awareness about his class than Graves seemed to) and I have no doubt that it would also feel familiar to readers of Evelyn Waugh and his ilk. So, on the face of it, perhaps not the most interesting book of all time. What made it so enjoyable for me was Isherwood's writing style - from the humour and irony he deploys throughout to his detachment to his self-conscious Isherwoodisms. This is a book where the telling feels much more valuable than the tale itself in my opinion, and I think that a lot more can be gleaned from the way that the story is told than what is actually said to. The sense of a youth stolen by war, for example, and the crushing need for escapism felt among many members of Isherwood's generation. Also, the disenchantment with the public school system really comes across in the tone, though the experiences that Isherwood reports are nothing really out of the ordinary. Thanks to the way this is written, it ends up being a much more engaging book than it could have been, though, if you're not as keen on Isherwood's narrative voice and inflated sense of self-importance than I am, you perhaps won't agree with that. Style aside, the main thing that I'd recommend Lions and Shadows for is its commentary on the war. Isherwood's generation were in the unusual position of being too young to fight in WW1 but old enough to understand exactly what was happening. Moreover, as students in the public school system during wartime, they were effectively trained to idolise and emulate the soldiers giving their lives of the battlefield. I suppose, in a way, they were already being treated as the soldiers of the future, despite merely being children, and this obviously had an impact on the way they saw the world as they grew older. Isherwood spends much of Lions and Shadows meditating on the concept of 'War' and searching for a 'Test' that will prove that he is not a 'Truly Weak Man'. It's almost as though everything he thinks about the world is defined in terms formed out of the war, even though he had no direct involvement in it. It's really fascinating to see the ways in which WW1 affected the generation of men who would go on to fight in WW2 (though Isherwood of course didn't), especially when you consider that Lions and Shadows was published in 1938, when the world was teetering on the brink of the next great conflict. Certainly, there is a sense of inevitability to all the talk of war in Lions and Shadows, and it's hard to tell, due to the temporal gap between events happening and being told, whether this was born out of Isherwood's childhood or has merely been formed out of the context of his time of writing. This is a book that throws up so many questions about war and its long-term impact, and, again, this elevates a story that could have felt unbearably to familiar to something entirely new. I don't think that I've done the best job of selling Lions and Shadows in this review, and that's because I think it's a thoroughly strange book. For all its interesting insights on war, I think you need to have some previous knowledge of and interest in Isherwood to get much out of it, since so much of this book is just Isherwood's narrative voice basically shouting concepts that he's invented at you. I also don't think that the 'plot' - if you can call it one - is compelling enough to justify reading just for fun. Much as I liked Lions and Shadows, there's a reason why it's one of Isherwood's least-read books, believe me. You can get the war commentary in more accessible format in The Memorial, all of the Isherwoodian techniques that I've mentioned are at their best in Goodbye to Berlin, and, if you've read Christopher and His Kind, you'll know that Isherwood eventually dismisses Lions and Shadows as untruthful anyway. So, overall, a very strange one to know whether to recommend or not. It most definitely provides some fascinating insights into Isherwood and his kind (see what I did there?) and satisfies my own personal tastes perfectly as a result of that, but I'm not convinced that it does much else of great or wide-reaching value.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Andreea

    Pfie, I've yet again finished my library book in less than 24 hours. Now that I'm back home I depend on my brother and mum for my library books because I don't have library card to the British Council library and it seemed pointless to get a costly 6 months subscription when I'm only home for two months, but having to wait for them to finish their books and only being able to get one at a time is starting to drive me mad. Especially since Isherwood is so, so charming and I can't wait to get my h Pfie, I've yet again finished my library book in less than 24 hours. Now that I'm back home I depend on my brother and mum for my library books because I don't have library card to the British Council library and it seemed pointless to get a costly 6 months subscription when I'm only home for two months, but having to wait for them to finish their books and only being able to get one at a time is starting to drive me mad. Especially since Isherwood is so, so charming and I can't wait to get my hands on some of his other books. His short autobiography is a joy to read - whether you read it, as the author advises you, like a novel or try to figure out which literary celebrities are hiding behind the false names. Isherwood and his friends seem to be doing so much thinking and day dreaming and plotting and writing I feel ashamed of myself for having a rather dull education. Though I'm friends with some literary and writerly people nobody I know seems like the sort of person who would be willing to make up elaborate - yet, frankly, rather silly and childish fantasies with their mates. Ehh. Perhaps that's what the book's really meant to do to you - entice you with a magical, albeit only half real and half serious Other World. Really nice anyway.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Seth

    There is a book called Lions and Shadows, published in 1938, which describes Christopher Isherwood’s life between the ages of seventeen and twenty-four. It is not truly autobiographical, however. So writes Isherwood on the first page of Christopher and His Kind (1976), which is (he tells us) “a different kind of book” from its highly fictionalized predecessor. Now that I’ve read both, I can only say: Um…not exactly. Lions and Shadows opens in 1921, when Isherwood is in his final year of prep schoo There is a book called Lions and Shadows, published in 1938, which describes Christopher Isherwood’s life between the ages of seventeen and twenty-four. It is not truly autobiographical, however. So writes Isherwood on the first page of Christopher and His Kind (1976), which is (he tells us) “a different kind of book” from its highly fictionalized predecessor. Now that I’ve read both, I can only say: Um…not exactly. Lions and Shadows opens in 1921, when Isherwood is in his final year of prep school, and closes in 1929, as he leaves England for Berlin. Along the way, he describes his years at Cambridge, his friendships with Edward Upward and WH Auden, his early attempts at novel-writing, and his less-than-successful stints as a social secretary, private tutor, and medical student. Some of these episodes are more entertaining than others; what isn’t in doubt is Isherwood’s sexuality, which makes itself felt on pretty much every page. From his obvious fascination with teenage boys to his repeated references to lies, shams, disguises, being “out of his depth,” “in permanent opposition,” a “social misfit,” etc., he signals pretty clearly that this is a gay coming-of-age story, even if he doesn’t (and can’t) share the details of his youthful hookups… And then there’s the book’s title. During his Cambridge years, Isherwood writes a novel called Lions and Shadows, a sort of “homosexual romance” set in a boys’ school, with himself as the hero. Needless to say, this version of Lions and Shadows is never published. And yet – its structure and themes so clearly stayed with him that, a decade later, he re-used the title for the present book. An indication, perhaps, of unfinished business, of the need (as he puts it) “to find some place, no matter how humble, in the scheme of society.” This is, of course, the same desire that leads him to Berlin – a desire that’s very much at the heart of Christopher and His Kind. So I guess the two books aren’t so different after all. But hey, even a writer as skilled as Isherwood can’t be right all the time.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Leonie

    Autobiographical novel about artistic development in connection with the formation of identity and friendship. Covers Isherwood’s last years at school, his time at Cambridge, particularly focusing on Isherwood’s development of a grotesque rural fantasy world with a friend, and a little on his drifting, questing time after Cambridge. I found Isherwood’s performatively unsparing baring of his meek formlessness a little irritating at times but I found this very readable and liked its exploration of Autobiographical novel about artistic development in connection with the formation of identity and friendship. Covers Isherwood’s last years at school, his time at Cambridge, particularly focusing on Isherwood’s development of a grotesque rural fantasy world with a friend, and a little on his drifting, questing time after Cambridge. I found Isherwood’s performatively unsparing baring of his meek formlessness a little irritating at times but I found this very readable and liked its exploration of the stories we tell ourselves and other people and the way in which these very private, personal narratives can grow into something that can stand alone and go off into the world without you — though this last stage isn’t covered here but looked forward to. It was interesting to see how heavily Isherwood and his friends depend on one another for their interest in their creative endeavours, literally and almost literally to the extent of co-composition.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dominic Carlin

    Quite enjoyed a lot of this. The bit before university? Great. The bit at university? Really great. That first bit after university? Oh so very plodding. That bit where he goes back to be a medical student? Pretty good.

  8. 5 out of 5

    R.K. Cowles

    3 1/4 stars

  9. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Jones

    Yummy yummy yummy and then MORE yummy .....❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jerry

    Christopher Isherwood manages to make this story about a boy coming to terms with having grown up comfortably well-off and having missed the major defining event of his lifetime to then, World War I both interesting and worthy. It’s basically a story about a writer becoming a writer, which is a tale strewn with pitfalls. Isherwood does not gloss over the silliness of young writers, or how their immaturity convinces them to avoid hard choices in their writing. Looking back, as he does, he highlig Christopher Isherwood manages to make this story about a boy coming to terms with having grown up comfortably well-off and having missed the major defining event of his lifetime to then, World War I both interesting and worthy. It’s basically a story about a writer becoming a writer, which is a tale strewn with pitfalls. Isherwood does not gloss over the silliness of young writers, or how their immaturity convinces them to avoid hard choices in their writing. Looking back, as he does, he highlights many of those mistakes, such as thinking London was the world. It was the only big city I really knew, and so it was a synthesis of all big cities; it fed my place-romanticism and my boundless dreams of travel. Most of his young writing, and his young discussions about writing with his friends, involved a self-censorship about any sort of test of manhood: …we young writers of the middle ’twenties were all suffering, more or less subconsciously, from a feeling of shame that we hadn’t been old enough to take part in the European war. The shame, I have said, was subconscious: in my case, at any rate, it was suppressed by the strictest possible censorship. And, of course, the universal problem of the early writer, that I wanted to achieve my object without unnecessarily hurting anyone’s feelings. His growth as a writer is a real growth, not marked by literary epiphanies; in many cases he highlights his growth simply by using it. There’s an aside toward the end where he describes how bad he was at addressing the reader in his novels; he did it so naturally that I did not realize, until thinking over the scene later (it is about a mode of writing) that he was, in saying he had no facility addressing the reader, very unobtrusively addressing the reader. There are also interesting glimpses into the past, also undoubtedly with symbolic intent, such as, in the fog, having to get out of their car and wrap mufflers around the headlight—literally, covering them with scarves to dim them. The book’s weakness is also its strength, or vice versa, that nothing really happens on screen. All change is at at least one remove, inside the characters, and even further when reading how the elder Isherwood writes about the younger. But it’s all very good. He held the ’cello as though a very beautiful young girl had fainted in his arms.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Nicola Pierce

    On a bit of an Isherwood trail at the moment, this is my second read by him while I'm already immersed in a third ('Goodbye to Berlin'), there is just something immediately likeable about his voice. He doesn't take himself too seriously although you can't deny his commitment to his writing. This is his autobiographical account of his journey to writer-hood which involved writing a few bad novels, accepting blunt and honest criticism from the family writer-friend, acting the artist, getting himse On a bit of an Isherwood trail at the moment, this is my second read by him while I'm already immersed in a third ('Goodbye to Berlin'), there is just something immediately likeable about his voice. He doesn't take himself too seriously although you can't deny his commitment to his writing. This is his autobiographical account of his journey to writer-hood which involved writing a few bad novels, accepting blunt and honest criticism from the family writer-friend, acting the artist, getting himself expelled from Cambridge and quickly deciding he wanted to be a doctor and then, in his first year of medicine, deciding just as fast that he was quite, quite mistaken. In the background, his family, who I would have loved to have read more about, were unfailingly supportive of him, no matter what. I think, for anyone interesting in writing, it's compelling stuff.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Richard Jespers

    As I examine this copy borrowed from the Texas Tech University main library, I see that it is accessioned in 1964. By examining the date due slip, I can see I’m the third person to check out this book since 1972—making me a rare cat indeed. In remarks at the beginning, Isherwood says that his book “is not, in the ordinary journalistic sense of the word, an autobiography; it contains no ‘revelations’; it is never ‘indiscreet’; it is not even entirely ‘true’” (7). He goes on to state that the book As I examine this copy borrowed from the Texas Tech University main library, I see that it is accessioned in 1964. By examining the date due slip, I can see I’m the third person to check out this book since 1972—making me a rare cat indeed. In remarks at the beginning, Isherwood says that his book “is not, in the ordinary journalistic sense of the word, an autobiography; it contains no ‘revelations’; it is never ‘indiscreet’; it is not even entirely ‘true’” (7). He goes on to state that the book is a record of a man, him, in his twenties, as he forges ahead in his life as a young novelist. This young artist makes a short trip to France. He attends university in England. “I had not been in Cambridge a fortnight before I began to feel with alarm that I was badly out of my depth. The truth, as I now discovered for the first time, was that I was a hopelessly inefficient lecturee. I couldn’t attend, couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t take proper notes” (62). He records the meaning that relationships there give him, including Mr. Holmes, a benefactor of sorts. “Isherwood the artist was an austere ascetic, cut off from the outside world, in voluntary exile, a recluse” (97). He co-writes narratives with a close friend. One book in particular, a “Hynd and Starn” story, would be accompanied with fireworks, gramophone, and dialogue would be spoken. Copies would be free. “Our friends would find, attached to the last page, a pocket containing banknotes and jewels; our enemies, on reaching the end of the book, would be shot dead by a revolver concealed in the binding” (114). Isherwood simply doesn’t live long enough; today’s technology might have afforded him at least a few of these book innovations! At the end of his second year Isherwood deliberately fails his exams by giving nonsensical answers. At the time, because the professors and administration act as if he has simply chosen to leave Cambridge, no one knows what he has done. Failure is painful, but he believes he is right to strike out on his own. “Suppose I stayed on and did, somehow, get a degree: what would become of me? I should have to be a schoolmaster. But I didn’t want to be a schoolmaster—I wanted, at last, to escape from that world. I want to learn to direct films . . . [h]ow I longed to be independent, to earn money of m own! And I had got to wait another whole year!” (125). After leaving Cambridge, Isherwood takes a series of positions, one as a personal secretary, another as an English tutor for young pupils. During this time he also teaches himself how to write. A dear friend, also a writer, “Chalmers,” asserts his theories, and Isherwood concurs: “‘I saw it all suddenly while I was reading Howards End . . . Forster’s the only one who understands what the modern novel ought to be . . . Our frightful mistake was that we believed in tragedy: the point is, tragedy’s quite impossible nowadays . . . We ought to aim at being essentially comic writers . . . The whole of Forster’s technique is based on the tea-table: instead of trying to screw all his scenes up to the highest possible pitch, he tones them down until they sound like mothers’-meeting gossip . . . In fact, there’s actually less emphasis laid on the big scenes than on the unimportant ones: that’s what’s so utterly terrific. It’s the completely new kind of accentuation—like a person talking a different language . . . .’” (173-4). Isherwood chronicles his early experiences as a novelist: “. . . I had sent the manuscript, already, to two well-known publishers. They had refused it, of course. One of them wrote saying that my work had ‘a certain literary delicacy, but lacked sufficient punch’—a pretty damning verdict, when your story ends with a murder” (205). He indirectly addresses the idea of being gay, as well as the issue of being an artist, critical of society: “Does anybody ever feel sincerely pleased at the prospect of remaining in permanent opposition, a social misfit, for the rest of his life? I knew, at any rate, that I myself didn’t. I wanted—however much I might try to persuade myself, in moments of arrogance, to the contrary—to find some place, no matter how humble, in the scheme of society. Until I do that, I told myself, my writing will never be any good; no amount of talent or technique will redeem it: it will remain a greenhouse product; something, at best, for the connoisseur and the clique” (247-8). He writes of the Great War: “I came to regard Lester as a ghost—the ghost of the War. Walking beside him, at midnight, on the downs, I asked him the question which ghosts are always asked by the living: ‘What shall I do with my life?’ ‘I think,’ said Lester, ‘that you’d make a very good doctor.’" Isherwood had already tried that at Cambridge and failed! Most of all Isherwood continues to modify his craft: “Therefore epics, I reasoned, should start in the middle and go backwards, then forwards again—so that the reader comes upon the dullness half-way through, when he is more interested in the characters; the fish holds its tail in its mouth, and time is circular, which sounds Einstein-ish and brilliantly modern” (297). Early on, “a lady novelist who was an old friend of our family,” reads his manuscript and in part tells him: “‘If you really have talent, you know, you’ll go on writing—whatever people say to you’” (119). Isherwood takes her advice and—twenty books later—never looks back, except, of course, to write about it!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Fiona

    This is a pretty light and easy to read account of his life up to his more well known time in Berlin, which seemed to be mostly fairly uneventful. It's mostly worth reading for the descriptions of the people he met, especially W.H. Auden, who is pretty easily recognisable even though he's been renamed Hugh Weston in this book. It could easily be skipped if you're looking for more salacious details of his life which you can find in his other books but I found it pretty charming and enjoyable to r This is a pretty light and easy to read account of his life up to his more well known time in Berlin, which seemed to be mostly fairly uneventful. It's mostly worth reading for the descriptions of the people he met, especially W.H. Auden, who is pretty easily recognisable even though he's been renamed Hugh Weston in this book. It could easily be skipped if you're looking for more salacious details of his life which you can find in his other books but I found it pretty charming and enjoyable to read anyway.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    A charming, fascinating semi-autobiography of Christopher Isherwood's late teens and early twenties. It's fascinating in part for its partially fictionalised portraits of people like W H Auden and Stephen Spender, and of course for Isherwood's carefully constructed self-portrait. It's also interesting in what is conspicuously absent - any direct exploration either of his relationship with his family, and his sexuality.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mason

    Though slow to start, Isherwood's memoir of his college mistakes and early-mid 20s adventures is as relevant a guide as ever for the aspiring writer looking to break free from the expectations of a "normal life"... whatever that means.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Isabella

    A painfully relatable read. As an aimless twentysomething graduate/dropout myself, I felt personally called out on several occasions by Isherwood's self-deprecating humor about his own twenties. Bro!!! I feel you.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    A rambling insight into one novelist journey from schoolboy to published author in 1920s England. Contains many interesting portraits of the his friends, Auden and Upward. All thinly disguised in the form of a novel.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Daphne Vogel

    Delightful. It's a decidedly critical look at the class that Isherwood himself was a part of, a fictionalized autobiography of his younger years taking us by the hand into his Berlin era.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rob Walter

    There are certainly interesting and entertaining elements to this book. However, I didn't enjoy it as much as might have for two reasons. Firstly, there is too much going that he doesn't talk about. How can a memoir of the years between 18 and 25 have so little mention of sex? Anyone who knows the bare facts of Isherwood's life can answer this question, but it nevertheless makes this a frustratingly truncated book. On the one hand it's interesting to read about what he did with his sublimated se There are certainly interesting and entertaining elements to this book. However, I didn't enjoy it as much as might have for two reasons. Firstly, there is too much going that he doesn't talk about. How can a memoir of the years between 18 and 25 have so little mention of sex? Anyone who knows the bare facts of Isherwood's life can answer this question, but it nevertheless makes this a frustratingly truncated book. On the one hand it's interesting to read about what he did with his sublimated sexual energy, but it would be more interesting if he had at least felt able to acknowledge its existence. The second reason I didn't quite connect with the book is that I found too much space was given to the fictional worlds and silly games that he invented with friends. It would be remiss not to describe them a bit, but there was too much detail for me and I must admit to skimming a few sections as a result. Nevertheless, there are passages where Isherwood's arch humour shines and his prose hums along very nicely. I mostly read this because I had it on my shelf and I know it precedes Christopher and His Kind, but I might take a bit of a break from Isherwood before I read that book, because I don't want the hangover of some of the self-indulgent elements of Lions and Shadows to spoil it for me.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Scot

    This is the first of Isherwood's many autobiographical writings in that hazy area between memoir and roman a clef, published in 1938. It is, as all his books are, very self-deprecating and like most of his work, shines at evoking a deeper appreciation of a time, place, and social system that now seems so long gone and distant. This covers, roughly, his experiences at school, at university, living in a Bohemian neighborhood in London, working as a secretary and tutor, and taking a try at medical s This is the first of Isherwood's many autobiographical writings in that hazy area between memoir and roman a clef, published in 1938. It is, as all his books are, very self-deprecating and like most of his work, shines at evoking a deeper appreciation of a time, place, and social system that now seems so long gone and distant. This covers, roughly, his experiences at school, at university, living in a Bohemian neighborhood in London, working as a secretary and tutor, and taking a try at medical school, though all along his clear and primal focus is to be the next great and highly celebtrated English author. Many of the references dealing with his days at school and at university are no doubt confusing and arcane for 21st century readers, certainly American ones, as he assumes his audience knows the English education system of that day quite well and have no doubt endured (or experienced) it themselves. The work ends with the promise of new adventure as he joins a friend in Berlin, to experience the freedoms and opportunities for aesthetes and artists that city offered to the avant garde during the Weinmar Republic. Students of literature and literary history might have some fun deconstructioning the adolescent and young adult chums Isherwood depicts here, trying to decipher which represents W. H. Auden, which Stephen Spender, and so on.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Laetitia Wu

    Lions and Shadows is a semi-autobiographical bildungsroman that charts the becoming of Isherwood the writer as an artist, first losing direction, and yet never wavering in his determination to find a path. After reading this book, I admire him more for the following reasons: - His bravery in writing about "The Test" during the 30's, albeit a veiled account if not given the benefit of hindsight. - His constantly whirring mind and evident dedication to his art, through expositions of friendships f Lions and Shadows is a semi-autobiographical bildungsroman that charts the becoming of Isherwood the writer as an artist, first losing direction, and yet never wavering in his determination to find a path. After reading this book, I admire him more for the following reasons: - His bravery in writing about "The Test" during the 30's, albeit a veiled account if not given the benefit of hindsight. - His constantly whirring mind and evident dedication to his art, through expositions of friendships formed with other literary characters. They're brilliant. - His unquenchable humour and wit belies an underlying strength of mind (ok I might have romaniticised this a bit). It provides a glimpse into Isherwood's mind, and the endlessly fascinating world through his lens. "I am a camera with its shutter open"... comes to mind frequently while reading this book. Here, one can already see Isherwood adapting to the role of the passive observer (to be further refined into later works, where the narrator becomes ensconced into a participating character) - but not quite there yet - and the explosions of personality scattered throughout brings the book and its images to life.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Veronica

    'Lions and Shadows' is one of Christopher Isherwood's biographies; this one details the end of his time at prep school, his short Cambridge career, and on through to the publication of his first novel. 'Lions and Shadows' prompted me to want to read an Isherwood novel. Though, I think it may have been more enjoyable if I already had. Ironically without 'Lions and Shadows" I imagine it would not have occurred to me to do so. The writing is very dense, with little, to no, dialogue. I would rarely re 'Lions and Shadows' is one of Christopher Isherwood's biographies; this one details the end of his time at prep school, his short Cambridge career, and on through to the publication of his first novel. 'Lions and Shadows' prompted me to want to read an Isherwood novel. Though, I think it may have been more enjoyable if I already had. Ironically without 'Lions and Shadows" I imagine it would not have occurred to me to do so. The writing is very dense, with little, to no, dialogue. I would rarely read more than three pages in one sitting. However, upon placing the book down I would ponder it for the rest of the day. There was a good deal to chew on and I already know that I will sight 'Lions and Shadows' as inspiration of a future project. The imagined world that he and his chum develop and discuss as an escape to their seclusion at Cambridge is the most intriguing part of the book. The monstrous characters that inhabit this false world of "Mortmere" twist and morph as Isherwood matures. Finally they fade into the background, but not before Isherwood describes a wonderfully competent Mortmere tale or morality.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Howells

    So having finished his diaries, I've dipped into more of Isherwood's work. This is another of his 'fictionalised autobiographies' - a bit like his Berlin Novels - this time covering the period from school, through University and up to the point he leaves for Germany. Isherwood and his friends (including Auden and Spender albeit under pseudonyms) can come across as pretentious (mind you who doesn't cringe looking back at their youth?) and you can't help feeling he was a bit of an idiot when he de So having finished his diaries, I've dipped into more of Isherwood's work. This is another of his 'fictionalised autobiographies' - a bit like his Berlin Novels - this time covering the period from school, through University and up to the point he leaves for Germany. Isherwood and his friends (including Auden and Spender albeit under pseudonyms) can come across as pretentious (mind you who doesn't cringe looking back at their youth?) and you can't help feeling he was a bit of an idiot when he deliberately flunked his exams and got booted out of Cambridge. Some bits are odd - his descriptions of Mortmere (essentially a village of eccentric characters made up by him and a friend they hoped to turn into a novel ) don't really need to be there but overall he paints a compelling picture of youth and what it feels like to be young, fearless and facing a life of limitless possibilities. As a result I've just gone and ordered a few more of his books so I'll be 'living with' Isherwood for a while yet.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ruth Brumby

    I was disappointed that this book seemed so self-indulgent and did not have much reflection from a distance on the young man who in the 1920s was unconcerned about money, lacked empathy with the troubles of others, especially those of another class, was politically naive. It's surprising that he should expect readers to be interested in the details of the fantasy world that fascinated him into his twenties, or in the dire plots of early failed novels. I was interested in information about the ti I was disappointed that this book seemed so self-indulgent and did not have much reflection from a distance on the young man who in the 1920s was unconcerned about money, lacked empathy with the troubles of others, especially those of another class, was politically naive. It's surprising that he should expect readers to be interested in the details of the fantasy world that fascinated him into his twenties, or in the dire plots of early failed novels. I was interested in information about the time and the book improved towards the end. he was only 34 when he wrote it. Perhaps too soon to look back on ones youth.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    What I loved about this book were the crazy, detailed fictional worlds in the stories that Christopher and his friend would make up to entertain themselves. They never wrote them down, because to do so would mean committing to a certain beginning, middle, and end of the story, and that was something they just couldn't do. It amazes me that Isherwood was able to discipline himself enough to become a prolific writer of stories, plays, and novels. Lions and Shadows is a wonderful depiction of the i What I loved about this book were the crazy, detailed fictional worlds in the stories that Christopher and his friend would make up to entertain themselves. They never wrote them down, because to do so would mean committing to a certain beginning, middle, and end of the story, and that was something they just couldn't do. It amazes me that Isherwood was able to discipline himself enough to become a prolific writer of stories, plays, and novels. Lions and Shadows is a wonderful depiction of the interior life of a budding writer.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Molly

    I read this immediately following Berlin Stories, and I liked it much better. The Isherwood who narrates this book seems to have a lot more distance from the Isherwood who appears as a main character, which also means that the Isherwood character gets to be a ::character:: instead of just the impartial observer he is in Berlin stories. I am pretty sure that this book is going to fall into the collection of books I am compelled to make silly allusions to all the time. I can't believe that I haven' I read this immediately following Berlin Stories, and I liked it much better. The Isherwood who narrates this book seems to have a lot more distance from the Isherwood who appears as a main character, which also means that the Isherwood character gets to be a ::character:: instead of just the impartial observer he is in Berlin stories. I am pretty sure that this book is going to fall into the collection of books I am compelled to make silly allusions to all the time. I can't believe that I haven't been able to do so before now.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Cesar Alvarez

    This is Isherwood's first autobiographical novel detailing his life from ages 17-25 (published when he was 34). Having read his three novels that preceded this one, I would say that the captivating writing style for which he is known for (and that I'm a fan of) really starts here. His attention to detail and the portraits of the people in his life are truly wonderful. I thought he could have cut some stuff out (like the long summaries of unpublished novels and the imaginary Mortmere world), but This is Isherwood's first autobiographical novel detailing his life from ages 17-25 (published when he was 34). Having read his three novels that preceded this one, I would say that the captivating writing style for which he is known for (and that I'm a fan of) really starts here. His attention to detail and the portraits of the people in his life are truly wonderful. I thought he could have cut some stuff out (like the long summaries of unpublished novels and the imaginary Mortmere world), but for the most part there was rarely a dull moment reading this.

  28. 4 out of 5

    George K. Ilsley

    If there is one thing more boring than a writer writing about writing projects that never came to be, it is writers writing about a painter who is painting a painting that does not exist. Perhaps if one is more familiar with the details of Isherwood's early writing career, Lions and Shadows would be more interesting. The writing projects that never were I found to be boring. I was also distracted wondering who is Auden? Who is Spender? Other times, the writing is so clear that one is pulled alon If there is one thing more boring than a writer writing about writing projects that never came to be, it is writers writing about a painter who is painting a painting that does not exist. Perhaps if one is more familiar with the details of Isherwood's early writing career, Lions and Shadows would be more interesting. The writing projects that never were I found to be boring. I was also distracted wondering who is Auden? Who is Spender? Other times, the writing is so clear that one is pulled along by the force of the current.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Basobi Das

    I am inching into the book, actually not inching but dragging myself along. Maybe because I am missing even a glimpse of myself, or because Isherwood comes across as a little too self-obsessed. 20s has varied shades, and I am missing many of them, the huge time gap may be undoing the charm, nevertheless I am sworn by myself to finish this in the shortest span possible. One might find me rewriting a review, but if not please consider my forgetfulness as the possible reason. The one section I have I am inching into the book, actually not inching but dragging myself along. Maybe because I am missing even a glimpse of myself, or because Isherwood comes across as a little too self-obsessed. 20s has varied shades, and I am missing many of them, the huge time gap may be undoing the charm, nevertheless I am sworn by myself to finish this in the shortest span possible. One might find me rewriting a review, but if not please consider my forgetfulness as the possible reason. The one section I have loved so far is when Baudelaire is discussed with a strange flair.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Eduardo

    This was an enjoyable fun read, Mr. Isherwood is amusing and he was quite the unique neurotic individual. He veils Auden & Spender in Mr. Weston & Mr. Savage but their personas shine thru this work, if you have not read Isherwood's classic Berlin Stories, start with this one as it ends with his leaving England for Berlin and his time there with Auden & Spender. This book is a great travel companion on a long bus, train, boat or airplane trip. This was an enjoyable fun read, Mr. Isherwood is amusing and he was quite the unique neurotic individual. He veils Auden & Spender in Mr. Weston & Mr. Savage but their personas shine thru this work, if you have not read Isherwood's classic Berlin Stories, start with this one as it ends with his leaving England for Berlin and his time there with Auden & Spender. This book is a great travel companion on a long bus, train, boat or airplane trip.

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