Mr. Norris Changes Trains – Christopher Isherwood

MNCTThis novel describes well the decadence of pre-Hitler’s Germany: dining cars on trains, made-up jobs to save unemployment, German bureaucracy with its officials hurrying about with files.

It also portrays effeminacy: ‘Held my hand for long time’, welcomed me to the shadow of my humble roof-tree’, a greybeard with one foot in the tomb. How cruel youth is, was too delicate to go to school, had a house full of bronzed boys who played practical jokes on him, beautiful things-the flesh cannot give us happiness, only the spirit, ‘So particular..more like a lady than a gentleman’, thinning eyebrows, not plucking, never shaves himself, potions and lotions, a suit for every day, nine years’ money spent in two and silk underclothes.

Baron (Kuno) von Pregnitz wears a monocle, ‘tortured himself daily on an electric horse’, has ‘taken a great fancy to you’, his ‘foot pressed on mine under the table, his ‘hand took mine under the fur rug’ in car, invites him in, he devoted himself entirely to the shy boy Piet

Then there’s the politics of the period: election posters being written over with different candidates, “Are you of true Aryan descent?”, “Had they no national pride to be mixing with Jews who were ruining their countries?” “There’s lots of old scores being paid off nowadays.”

Many are in exile: the vagrant and exiled status. ‘I couldn’t change into a different character; therefore I must change my domicile’ – Davidson. The pursuit of lifestyle requires a journey away from British class system – the world at large is their finishing school. Is the tourist more a parasite than a pioneer? ‘The type of tourist who takes in the whole of Rome in one day.’ There is aloneness and separation, the search for a homeland, the sexual rebel. Isherwood later contrasts his sinful European self with his redeemed American Vedanta self.

 Social Class: British fiction is invariably considered from a middle/upper class male point of view. The working class male may be an object of desire but is rarely the protagonist. ‘Christopher’s kind are able to adventure outside their own class and society.’ The new kind of homosexual is accepting, proud and defiant.

Regarding older men, there is a fascination with eccentricities in portraying individuals whom respectable society would shun, especially comic pathos of older men. In later novels they are portrayed more fully as individuals, not just as pawns in the game against ‘the others’. Narrators are often weak characters fascinated by strength of character – the popular image of the homosexual male

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