Literary skills were not the only thing that raised Christopher Isherwood to the pedestal of fame and led to his celebrity status. This stardom was also influenced by his involvement in films, a sex scandal (Christopher dated a teenager who was almost thirty years younger) and his public exploration of homosexual identity. The trouble for Mr Isherwood was that he was not just any ordinary gay man, in accordance to his literary view, the ordinary gay man is vain, fashion and image conscious, and sexually driven (you are allowed to disagree with Christopher, but in general, think of all the DNA magazine covers with their almost naked men posing, staring sleazily to the camera lens, and who buys those magazines…yes that’s right!). He explored this own stereotype of course but he was also very devoted to Hinduism and befriended many significant swamis as result. The combination of religion and gay men/women may not make the most simplest of dishes, yet ‘A meeting by the river’ harmoniously and cleverly creates both a delicious and intriguing one.
The book is a collection of letters and diary entries written by two brothers. Patrick is a film producer who is temporarily away from his family in London, working in Los Angeles and having an affair with a sweet, handsome youth. The other, Oliver is a Hindu follower in India who is on the brink of committing a life to Hinduism and about to become a swami. Through the exchanges of these letters, diary entries, internal dialogues, thoughts and opinions, we discover the fears and delicate vulnerabilities of the two brothers.
In the 1950’s when homosexuality was strictly forbidden and severely judged, Patrick’s acceptance in society is at risk due to his sexual relations with a young man. He is of course afraid of people judgements, especially those of his family. Oliver’s dignity is at risk as he is about to commit his life to Hinduism, he is afraid of failing his own courage and dignity if he’s not able to abide to his commitment. He’s also afraid of being humiliated by his family for being a young, juvenile idealist who may not be able to live up to his ideals. When it is agreed that the brothers would meet in India on Patrick’s return journey to London, the story reaches it’s climax, with both of their fears somewhat uncovered. In an effort to put a drapery over their fears and vulnerabilities, they each place many assumptions and condescending opinions on each other’s life and choices. An example is Patricks declaration that
‘The plain truth is that these little swamis have never had sex of any kind themselves and therefore they simply cannot imagine what sex means to two people who love each other, how much more than sex it can become…”
I am of the opinion that misunderstandings like these from those who do not appreciate religion can easily create conflict, fear and set illusionary boundaries upon life. Mr Isherwood cleverly points out that a life must have a balance of duty, responsibility and human connections in order for it to kindle desire, passion and pleasure. For a life that concerns only pleasures and desires, it is no more than a beautiful garment being placed over a coat hanger.
While writing ‘A meeting by the river’ I believe Mr Isherwood was having an internal dialogue between his two-selves, one was sexually driven and the other was the spiritual exploratory self. Though there are many obvious contradictions when one puts ‘religion’ and ‘sex’ together, Christopher was able to break down the conceptual meanings of the two ideas and find a foundation, a common ground, for both to stand on. Consequently he was able come to an understanding of peace and internal harmony. That foundation is simply an unfathomable sense of acceptance, and an unconditional love for life and the hidden currents that drive it.