Animal Love


Picture: Isherwood and Bachardy by David Hockney


Pet names. We all have them for each other….mostly we like to keep them private. Do we give each other pet names to distance ourselves from sentimentality? Is it a way of playing about with the most serious nature of love and commitment?

I just finished reading the introduction by Katherine Bucknell to The Animals Love Letters between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy. I put the book down, took a deep breath and decided that I didn’t need to read the rest. At least for right now. Those thirty-five pages left me feeling that I understood the beautiful and sometimes troubling essential essence of the relationship between the two men and had no need to delve further. Usually putting a book down and not opening it again after one chapter would signal the worst; not this time though. It made me contemplate not only my own relationship but reflect upon the mere snippets I know about other people’s relationships both past and present.

These two men met when one was 18 and the other 48. They were together for thirty-three years until Christopher died in 1986. The letters span from 1956 to 1970, when they were only apart briefly and began to rely on the telephone.

The relationship is often seen as the seminal depiction of a successful gay relationship – one that not only survives outside love interests but that craves these to fulfil itself. It seems to me that the creation of two animal characters – Christopher the horse and Don the cat – allowed the two men to express so much of who they were and what they were feeling about each other that it was through this they made their love last. And these men were in true love. Animals don’t experience guilt or regret and live in the present, they never consider why, they just do. Pure love is truly animalistic in its best sense.

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