Interviewer: Did you first meet Aldous Huxley out here?
Isherwood: Yes, I met him when I first came out here, in 1939. I had never known him in England.
Interviewer: Would you talk a little about your association with Huxley.
Isherwood: Huxley was a person who was at once seemingly remote and yet extremely loveable and even in his own way quite gregarious. It’s a paradox about that man that he had such an enormously wide range of interests that there was nobody he couldn’t talk to. You’d find him, after seeming so distant and shy, deep in conversation with the most unlikely people about their professions and problems and being very knowledgeable about them and, what is more, really anxious to learn more from these people and really succeeding in learning more and constantly adding to his stock of knowledge. He had the most tremendous kind of overall acquaintance with the doings and problems of mankind and the whole contemporary situation. It’s particularly irritating to hear people talk about him as though he lived far off in a tower. My God, who wanted to go to Sacramento to save Chessman’s life? Who spoke out about some of the strikes we’ve had down here? He was involved in all kinds of things, and you find that he actually did something about them. He was marvelous in that way. He was so concerned. He was tremendously concerned toward the end of his life about the menace of the population explosion, and he took the trouble to inform himself. He had all the facts and the figures, and he overwhelmed people who tried to put forward some kind of outmoded, prejudiced attitude, because he knew what he was talking about.
Interviewer: Yes, and he always had so much refreshing common sense about all these things.
Isherwood: He was a most wonderfully common-sensical man. He was very much against what he used to call the Tiefe, the deepness of mind of the German intellectual. And I recall — I put this down in my little article about him the other day — that one day toward the end of his life he came back from some college where they had all been discussing DH Lawrence, who as you know was a very close friend of Huxley’s — I think largely because they were such polar opposites — and he said, “You know, I didn’t understand one word they said from start to finish.” And then he said a marvelous thing. He said, “You know, the trouble is that everything nowadays has to be regarded as a science, and so the professors of literature feel that they ought to have a technical jargon which nobody can understand.” Well, of course it is terribly hard to write an English sentence and amazingly easy to create misunderstandings. I, being the sort of person I am, naturally tend, as I suppose we all do to some extent, to support my weaknesses with aggression. And so, since I can’t understand the great mass of writing about ideas, I always say: “Well, that just means they can’t write, it’s all double talk, it’s woolly, it’s so vague, I can’t read philosophy.” And then I get very aggressive and talk about obscurantism. And my great ally in this was Huxley, oddly enough, because Huxley, the Huxley, that most intellectual of creatures, never wrote a line in his life I can’t understand. He had the most astounding clarity and could discuss the most abstruse subjects.
Interviewer: Was it Huxley who first got you interested in Vedanta?
Isherwood: Gerald Heard and Aldous Huxley were both very interested. They had heard about this Hindu monk, Swami Prabhavananda, who is the representative of a very large order of monks in India, an order which has had centers in this country for many years. There has been a center in San Francisco since just before the earthquake and centers in New York even before that, and Prabhavananda had come down here to open a center in Los Angeles about the end of the 1920s. I am not sure whether it was Huxley or Heard who first met him. They both took a great liking to him and conceived a great respect for him, and in due course introduced me to him quite shortly after I arrived. Then I got more and more interested in what Prabhavananda had to teach.
George Wickes, 1965
Q: Point counterpoint makes me think of Huxley and the conjunction that is made between your names sometimes. Do you see your careers as in any way similar? How would you differentiate between them?
A: I think we’re the most dissimilar creatures alive. I’m very fond of Huxley personally and we’ve been friends now for about twenty years. But Aldous, in the first place, is an intellect, and I’m a purely intuitive person.
Q: Spender in World Within World spoke of that aspect of you. He said that you had no opinions about anything, that you were wholly and simply interested in people. Does that still hold — did it hold then?
A: Well, I see now how right I was, in a way, but I think I said it in those days out of a kind of aggression. I don’t think I meant it quite in the way I would now. Of course I have opinions, in fact very strong opinions, about a lot of quite specific things. But what I think was good, or good for me — the right way for me to do things — was that I can really only understand things through people.
Q: Would you say that that is the primary difference between yourself and Huxley?
Stanley Poss, 1960
Conversations with Christopher Isherwood