The Diary of a Diary

Kathleen and Frank

by Christopher Isherwood
Simon & Schuster, 512 pp., $10.00

In reading Mr. Isherwood’s latest book—since in it he always refers to himself as Christopher, I shall henceforth call him by his first name—it may be helpful to recall the three crises through which, according to Erik Erikson, anybody who merits an autobiography must pass: the crisis of Identity, the crisis of Generativity, and the crisis of Integrity. Roughly speaking, these occur in youth, middle age, and old age respectively, but they usually overlap, and the intensity and duration of each varies from individual to individual.

In the Identity crisis, the young man is trying to find the answer to the question, “Who am I really, as distinct from what others believe or desire me to be?” This is a crisis of consciousness. The Generativity crisis is a crisis of conscience. The question now to be answered is: “I have done this and that; my acts have affected others in this way or that. Have I done well or ill? Can I justify the influence that, intentionally or unintentionally, I have had on others?” Both the Identity and the Generativity crises are preoccupied with freedom and choice. The Integrity crisis of old age is concerned with fate and necessity. As Mr. Erikson puts it, it demands:

…the acceptance of one’s one and only life-cycle as something that had to be and that, by necessity, permitted of no substitutions, the knowledge that an individual life is the accidental coincidence of but one life-cycle with but one segment of history.

As I read it, Kathleen and Frank is Christopher’s attempt, wholly successful in my opinion, to solve his Integrity crisis. As he himself writes in his Afterword:

Christopher saw how heredity and kinship create a woven fabric; its patterns vary, but its strands are the same throughout. Impossible to say exactly where Kathleen and Frank and Richard and Christopher begin; they merge into each other…. Christopher has found that he is far more closely interwoven with Kathleen and Frank than he had supposed, or liked to believe.

And as he went on reading he made another discovery. If these diaries and letters were part of his project, he was part of theirs, for they in themselves were a project too….

By now Christopher’s project has become theirs…. For once the Anti-Son is in perfect harmony with his Parents, for he can say, “Our will be done!” Kathleen and Frank will seem at first to be their story rather than his…. Perhaps, on closer examination, this book may prove to be chiefly about Christopher.

Since I am Christopher’s junior by only two and a half years, I am bound, of course, to compare his situation with my own. Thus, I cannot imagine myself keeping a personal diary. In mine I enter only social engagements, lately the death of friends, when in the city, household incidents like getting the bathroom wash-basin unclogged, when in the country, natural phenomena like the weather, the first cuckoo, or the first …

This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $94.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.

If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.