FIRST EDITION OF ISHERWOOD'S MR. NORRIS CHANGES TRAINS, THE FIRST IN A SERIES OF BERLIN-SET WORKS THAT SERVED AS THE INSPIRATION FOR
ISHERWOOD, Christopher. Mr. Norris Changes Trains. London: Leonard and Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press, 1935. Octavo, original green cloth, original dust jacket. $3800.
First edition of this smash success, the first in a series of Isherwood works that eventually inspired the musical Cabaret, one of 1730 copies printed by the Woolfs at the Hogarth Press.
Perhaps most often seen alongside Goodbye to Berlin in the Berlin Stories, Mr. Norris Changes Trains was the first creative work Isherwood wrote set against the backdrop of Nazi-era Berlin. Isherwood originally set out to write a work he called The Lost, a longer, looser work based on the people he encountered living as an expatriate in Berlin in the early 1930s. That version of his narrative—had it not endured drastic cuts—would have been his first work to introduce the character of Sally Bowles. However, Isherwood soon felt compelled to sharpen his focus and instead decided to follow events involving two different central characters: narrator William Bradshaw and the enigmatic Arthur Norris. The central conceit involves the circumstances that lead Mr. Norris to flee Berlin and his evasions across the U.S. and South America trying to escape an evil Nazi pursuer. Bowles, having found herself subject to Isherwood's red pen, instead first appeared in a 1937 eponymous novella, later included in Goodbye to Berlin, then Berlin Stories. While these works featuring Bowles are often credited with directly inspiring John Van Druten's acclaimed 1951 play, "I Am a Camera," later adapted into Cabaret, Mr. Norris Changes Trains, Isherwood's earliest Berlin work, remains Cabaret's earliest ancestor. Indeed, many of the most powerful elements of Cabaret are already present, from the tensions caused by unconventional sexual and political expression to the ever-tightening noose that defined life for noncomformers in Nazi Europe. Mr. Norris Changes Trains was first published in March 1935. "Isherwood had hoped for earlier publication, convinced in 1934 that war was imminent and might render his book meaningless…. Cyril Connolly (New Statesman and Nation), Edwin Muir (Listener), and William Plomer (Spectator), praised Isherwood's wit, satire, and originality" (Willis, 276-77). Leonard Woolf at the Hogarth Press was so impressed by the work that he approached Hugh Walpole for a quote and then took out a full-page advertisement in New Statesman and Nation. While Woolf was generally averse to flashy advertising, "he knew a popular success when he saw one" (Willis, 277). The novel proved tremendously successful, going into a second printing one month after the first and requiring reprintings even into the 1950s, well after the war was over. Owner signature of Eric Gillett, possibly the Daily Telegraph literary critic and senior editor at Collins (now HarperCollins).
Book extremely good, with a few spots of scattered foxing and soiling to interior, slight rubbing to extremities, mild toning to spine. Scarce dust jacket very good, with large spine chip affecting "Hogarth Press," a bit of rubbing and toning to extremities, and some splitting and an old verso repair to spine joints. An extremely good copy.