A Single Man: Readers’ Forum

Dear readers,

Welcome to the discussion forum for Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man. With this forum, the University of Minnesota Press invites you to leave a comment and chat with other readers about all things A Single Man and Isherwood: Your favorite passages of the book; your thoughts on how the book and the film align; your reactions to UMP’s Reading Group Guide discussion questions; and anything in between.

James J. Berg, editor of Isherwood on Writing and co-editor (with Chris Freeman) of Conversations with Christopher Isherwood and The Isherwood Century, has agreed to help jump-start discussion. Here are a few questions complementary to those found in the Reading Group Guide:

1: Isherwood called his novel “A Single Man.” We know that George has lost his partner, Jim, in a car accident. But is that the only way in which George is “single”? How else does the title apply to the character?

2: The novel presents a day in the life of George. There are some famous examples of novels like this — James Joyce’s Ulysses and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. One common interpretation of this type of novel is that the main character is meant to be an Everyman (or Everywoman) that all readers identify with. In what ways can you identify with George? In what ways is this story one of everyday people, not just George, but Jim, Doris, Charlotte, etc.?

3: Edmund White, author of A Boy’s Own Story and The Married Man, called A Single Man “One of the first and best novels of the modern gay liberation movement.” One of the things that makes the novel significant is that George’s sexuality is never in question. It is not a problem for him to “deal with” — it is simply a part of his life. How does this novel differ in its handling of George’s sexuality from other books that you’ve read? What do you think about the way the movie handles George’s sexuality? What surprises you about George as a gay man in the 1960s?

Here are some recent links that address the film-vs.-book controversy:
The Times (London) interviews Isherwood’s surviving partner, Don Bachardy, who had a hand in the making of the film.
glbtq: Claude Summers addresses the film’s specific departures from the novel.

12 thoughts on “A Single Man: Readers’ Forum

  1. Good questions, Jim. Having not seen the movie, but very much wanting to, I'd ask you to overstep your bounds as moderator here and weigh in. Specifically, for Question 3, what did you think of the way the movie handles George's sexuality? Even more, does this movie's handling of his sexuality exceed or pale compared to handlings of that issue in other films you've seen? Where does the new film fall on a larger continuum of what's been seen?

  2. Thank you Jocelyn. First I'll say that I've only seen the film once and my impressions may change on further viewings.The film George is played by Colin Firth, who won the acting award at the Venice Film Festival for this role. He plays George very reserved and has described him as so uptight that he would fall apart if his cuff-links were wrong. The sexuality piece of George is very open and again not a \”problem.\” George is lonely and we see him being attracted to several men: the tennis players on campus, a presumed hustler at the liquor store, and his student Kenny. The sexuality is portrayed openly and I think honestly. George does not act on his desires on this particular day.

  3. I liked that the movie carried over from the novel the exchange between Kenny and George about the past, present, and future–Kenny isn't interested in the past, hates the present, and can't imagine the future. It's interesting to think about what the historical future held for college students like Kenny in the early Sixties–Vietnam, the Summer of Love, the Women's Movement, Gay Liberation, etc. I wonder if Isherwood gave any indication in his other writing about what would happen to this character. Kenny seems to be a reincarnation of Jim, almost. I read online that this novel was Isherwood's imagining of his life without Don Bachardy. I wonder if Jim and or Kenny owe any of their characters to this real-life counterpart. I see Bachardy was listed as a consultant on the film–curious about his responses to these characters.

  4. there is no character such as Carlos in the book, where the hell does he fit in the film?I've seen a clip from the film with Carlos & Carlos is not in the book..help me here.. :/

  5. What is the allusion to a 2nd dog ( a female dog) that is referenced in the movie? The cousin says only a male dog was found, in flashbacks we only see a male dog. Perhaps, the book is more clear.

  6. surprising because in the age of 60, people tended many prejudices about sexuality and especially on a person being gay, it is important that you have addressed the issue of homsexaulidad in the movie that way, I think part s lsd awareness helped bring down people and much prejudice.

  7. I also haven't seen the movie but I really want to watch it…Is there any site where I can download it or watch in HD? If you have an answer, please contact me, I'd be very grateful!

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