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Prater Violet by Christopher Isherwood

Prater Violet (1946)

by Christopher Isherwood

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This is an odd little book. It’s a fictionised autobiographical account of Isherwood working with an Austrian film director in London in 1933, I think, when there was upheaval in Vienna where Bergmann’s (Isherwood's fictitious name for Berthold Viertel) family was. So, Isherwood has changed the names – apart from his and set the book before the second world war even though he wrote it in 1945-6. Perhaps he fictionalised it in order to protect identities but I found that aspect a bit of a clash. I guess the book, though, gives an insight into the way a film was produced then – but really I didn’t learn anything new. That Isherwood himself had left England just before the outbreak of war makes me wonder what he was hoping this book would do for his reputation.

Some parts amused me, especially those to do with Bergmann’s extravagant behaviour. ‘At the zoo he identified a baboon, a giraffe, and a dromedary with three of our leading politicians, and reproached them publicly with their crimes. In the National Gallery he explained, with reference to Rembrandt portraits, his theory of camera-angles and the lighting of close-ups, so loudly and convincingly that he drew a crowd away from one of the official lecturers, who was naturally rather annoyed.’

As in many of Isherwood’s books, we have him as a quietly talented narrator focusing on someone else and their behaviour and interactions. Only at the end does he come round to the big questions of life (who are we? what keeps us going?) applying them to himself. There’s some rather fatalistic thinking here but I found it added a bit of depth and made for an effective ending. ( )
  evening | Jul 1, 2017 |
A lovely but light fictional recreation of "Christopher Isherwood"'s experiences in the movie business in England before the outbreak of WW2.

Friedrich Bergmann is the real character of the book, the Viennese director of the eponymous film, and though his reactions to the news of the events of 1938 in Austria, we learn of the general indifference of Britain to Nazi-ism immediately before the outbreak of WW2, such as the comment that people were joking about holidays in Europe next summer, if there is a Europe!

Overall this was a light and remarkably quick read. ( )
  CarltonC | Aug 14, 2009 |
This is quite a succinct book, really being a mini Biography of the larger than life, Viennese film director Friedrich Bergmann during the pre-WWII period that Isherwood worked with him on the film Prater Violet. But he is an extremely entertaining, unrelenting and observant writer, who writes with great affection about a man who, for a while, seemed like a father to him.

This was a very amusing read, but the larger, darker background story of the prelude to war and of day to day loneliness isn't lost. He is not afraid to laugh at himself, and the images that he creates are wonderful - here's a bit that had me laughing out loud at the beginning:

"He was off the line. I jiggled the phone for a moment, stupidly, with vague indignation. Then I picked up the directory, found Imperial Bulldog's number, dialled the first letter, stopped. I walked across to the dining-room door. My mother and my younger brother Richard were still sitting at breakfast. I stood just inside the doorway and lit a cigarette, not looking at them, very casual.
'Was that Stephen?' my mother asked. She generally knew when I needed a cue-line.
'No.' I blew out a lot of smoke, frowning at the mantelpiece clock. 'Only some movie-people.'
'Movie-people!' Richard put down his cup with a clatter. 'Oh, Christopher! How exciting!'
This made me frown harder.
After a suitable pause my mother asked with extreme tact: 'Did they want you to write something?'
'Apparently,' I drawled, almost too bored to speak."

...I'm smirking as I read it right now! ( )
1 vote flissp | May 16, 2009 |
It is a marvelous moment when Isherwood, as narrator, casts off his "camera" disguise and lays bare his up-until-then unsuspected personal feelings. The character of the expatriate film director is a comic gem. ( )
  jburlinson | Dec 26, 2008 |
Simply written, and rather easily understood novel that explores Isherwood's thoughts regarding the German refugees he came into contact with while WWII was raging. One of his more successful efforts. ( )
  tsinandali | Oct 29, 2005 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0816638616, Paperback)


The classic novel on the golden era of film, now back in print!

Originally published in 1945, Prater Violet is a stingingly satirical novel about the film industry. It centers around the production of the vacuous fictional melodrama Prater Violet, set in nineteenth-century Vienna, providing ironic counterpoint to tragic events as Hitler annexes the real Vienna of the 1930s. The novel features the vivid portraits of imperious, passionate, and witty Austrian director Friedrich Bergmann and his disciple, a genial young screenwriter-the fictionalized Christopher Isherwood.

"Prater Violet, in my view, is one of the best short novels in English written in this century." Stanley Kauffmann

"Prater Violet is the most charming novel I have read in a long time. . . . a novel about movie writers, which is yet a novel about the life of every serious artist." Diana Trilling

"A deliberate historical parable. Prater Violet resembles the episodes in Goodbye to Berlin and keeps up the same high level of excellence." Edmund Wilson

A major figure in both twentieth-century fiction and the gay rights movement, Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986) is also the author of Down There on a Visit, Lions and Shadows, The Memorial, The World in the Evening, and A Meeting by the River, all available in paperback editions from the University of Minnesota Press.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:16 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

'Prater Violet' is one of the most accomplished short novels of the century. Set against the plight of Austria & the rise of fascism this is at once a comic portrait of the film industry & an analysis of the relationship between art & life. Originally published: London: Methuen, 1946.… (more)

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Christopher Isherwood's book Rise of the Ancients - Annuna was available from LibraryThing Member Giveaway.

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