‘Sally Bowles’ by Christopher Isherwood

Undoubtedly the standout piece from Isherwood’s novel in short stories, Goodbye to Berlin, this story features Sally Bowles, a young English girl who has come to Berlin in the hope of finding work as a singer/actress. By the time she meets Christopher, Sally is just about scraping a living, singing (quite badly) at one of the city’s bars. Nevertheless, she makes quite an impression on Christopher, dressed as she is in black silk “with a small cape over her shoulders and a little cap like a page-boy’s stuck jauntily on one side of her head”.Fairly soon after their first meeting, Sally invites Christopher to tea at her lodgings, a gloomy semi-furnished place presided over by a rather eccentric old matron. Before long the pair strike up a somewhat unlikely friendship, spending time with one another on a fairly regular basis – much to the delight of Christopher’s landlady, Frl. Schroeder, who imagines Sally as a possible partner for her favourite boarder. It’s an utterly charming story, a wonderful tribute to a provocative character from Isherwood’s past.

First published by the Hogarth Press in 1937, and then in Goodbye to Berlin, The Hogarth Press, 1939 and The Berlin Novels, both currently available from Vintage