Featured Reading Guide
‘The best prose writer in English’ Gore Vidal Celebrated as a masterpiece from its first publication, A Single Man is the story of George Falconer, an English professor in suburban California left heartbroken after the death of his lover Jim. With devastating clarity and humour, Christopher Isherwood shows George s determination to carry on, evoking the unexpected pleasures of life as well as the soul s ability to triumph over loneliness and alienation. ‘A virtuoso piece of work…courageous…powerful’ Sunday Times
About the Book
‘The best prose writer in English’ Gore Vidal Celebrated as a masterpiece from its first publication, A Single Man is the story of George Falconer, an English professor in suburban California left heartbroken after the death of his lover Jim. With devastating clarity and humour, Christopher Isherwood shows George s determination to carry on, evoking the unexpected pleasures of life as well as the soul s ability to triumph over loneliness and alienation. ‘A virtuoso piece of work…courageous…powerful’ Sunday Timestop
Christopher Isherwood interview/review
There is no interview available for this reading guide, but you may find the following useful:
THEME AND STYLE
Isherwood observes his character as if he were in an aquarium, in the third person: ‘He crosses the front room, which he calls his study, and comes down the staircase. The stairs turn a corner; they are narrow and steep. You can touch both handrails with your elbows, and you have to bend your head, even if, like George, you are only five eight. This is a tightly planned little house. He often feels protected by its smallness; there is hardly room enough here to feel lonely…’
When A Single Man was originally published, it shocked many by its frank, sympathetic, and moving portrayal of a gay man in midlife.
Edmund White called the book ‘one of the first and best novels of the modern Gay Liberation ‘
A Single Man was Christopher Isherwood’s favourite work.
View here an article about the initial impact and critical reception of A Single Man by Isherwood’s diary editor Katherine Bucknall.
• George – a middle-aged homosexual professor, grieving for his dead partner
• Jim – George’s lover now dead
• Dorothy – wife of Jim
• Mr. Strunk – neighbour of George
• Mrs. Strunk – wife of Mr. Strunk
• Charlotte – friend of George and Jim
• Kenny Potter – student of George
• Lois – girlfriend of Kenny and student of George
‘His key postwar work. A quarter-century ahead of its time in its portrayal of a quotidian homosexual life, it inspired a generation of gay writers in Britain and the US’
‘This mix of humour and stoicism in the face of pent-up grief is essential Isherwood’
‘His own highly personal form of fiction [is one] in which simple sentences strike a note of great intimacy with the reader as if to a close personal friend, and a sense of total honesty is sought. This style, witty, observant, nostalgic, exact, was Isherwood’s great contribution to modern literature’ Financial Times
‘He had dazzling talents as a writer. His literary production was pre-eminent for its wit, humour, charm of style and narrative skill… A Single Man can be almost considered as his masterpiece’ Guardian
‘The best prose writer in English’
‘What Isherwood has caught with supreme brilliance is the texture of life itself in George’s person. He is a homosexual; he sees people in terms of his own sexuality.’
The novel has recently been made into a film starring Colin Firth, directed by fashion designer Tom Ford. View the film trailer.top
Starting Points for Discussion
- ‘Wry, suddenly manic, constantly funny, surprisingly sad, this novel catches the texture of life itself.’
Is this your impression of the novel?
- The novel takes place over the space of one day. Why do you think the author chose to place his novel in such a short span of time?
- Explore George’s moods throughout the day, how does the first person narrative affect our sympathies and understandings of each of the characters?
- George plays many roles in the novel, monster to the neighbouring kids, flirtatious friend to Charley, caring visitor to the dying, respectable professor. Explore the idea of performance in the novel and the idea that we are all asked to perform certain roles in life.
- George is a grieving man who acutely misses the easy communication that existed in his relationship with Jim. Explore the gaps and misunderstandings in the conversations throughout the novel.
- Did you find the novel bleak? Where is the humour found?
- The novel shocked many on publication. Look at the way desire is represented.
- Reading A Single Man is a liberating experience. Do you agree?
- The novel has been adapted into a film by Tom Ford, watch the trailer (or film). Does Ford’s depiction of the novel differ from your own?
Other Books by Christopher Isherwood
A Single Man
In this brilliantly perceptive novel, a middle aged professor living in Cal…
In 1939 Christopher Isherwood and W.H. Auden emigrated together to the United…
Goodbye To Berlin
‘I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking,’…
Lions & Shadows
In this largely autobiographical book Isherwood gives a fascinating account of…
Christopher Isherwood settled in California in 1939 and spent the war years …
Mr Norris Changes Trains
After a chance encounter on a train the English teacher William Bradshaw starts…
The Berlin Novels
MR NORRIS CHANGES TRAINS The first of Christopher Isherwood’s classic ‘Berlin’…
Suggested Further Reading
- Mr Norris Changes Trains ~ Christopher Isherwood