English novelist and critic, grandson of the prominent biologist T. H. Huxley (see further below) and brother of Julian Huxley, who also was a biologist. Aldous Huxley’s production was wide. Besides novels he published travel books, histories, poems, plays, and essays on philosophy, arts, sociology, religion and morals. Among Huxley’s best known novels is BRAVE NEW WORLD, which is one of the classical works of science fiction along with George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty Four. The word “utopia” comes from Thomas More’s novel Utopia. In his later years Huxley wrote two books about mind-altering drugs.
“Half of the human race lives in manifest obedience to the lunar rhythm; and there is evidence to show that the psychological and therefore the spiritual life, not only of women, but of men too, mysteriously ebbs and flows with the changes of the moon. There are unreasoned joys, inexplicable miseries, laughters and remorses without a cause. Their sudden and fantastic alternations constitute the ordinary weather of our minds. These moods, of which the more gravely numinous may be hypostasized as gods, the lighter, if we will, as hobgoblins and fairies, are the children of the blood and humours. But the blood and humours obey, among many other masters, the changing moon. Touching the soul directly through the eyes and, indirectly, along the dark channels of the blood, the moon is doubly a divinity.” (from ‘Meditations of the Moon’ in Music at Night and Other Essays, 1931)
Aldous Huxley was born in Godalming, Surrey into a well-to-do upper-middle-class family. On his mother’s side he was related to Matthew Arnold, the great British humanist, and his father, Leonard Huxley, was a biographer, editor, and poet. He first studied at Eton College, Berkshire (1908-13). When Huxley was fourteen his mother died. At the age of 16 Huxley suffered an attack of keratitis punctata and became for a period of about 18 months totally blind. By using special glasses and one eye recovered sufficiently he was able to read and he also learned braille. Despite a condition of near-blindness, Huxley continued his studies at Balliol College, Oxford (1913-15), receiving his B. A. in English in 1916. Unable to pursue his chosen career as a scientist — or fight in World War on the front — Huxley turned to writing. He worked for the War Office in London in 1917, and taught briefly at Eton College and Repton. His first collection of poetry appeared in 1916 and two more volumes followed by 1920. In 1919-20 he was member of the editorial staff of Athenaeum under Middleton Murray, Katherine Mansfield’s husband. Huxley wrote biographical and architectural articles and reviews of fiction, drama music and art.
“I met, not long ago, a young man who aspired to become a novelist. Knowing that I was in the profession, he asked me to tell him how he should set to work to realize his ambition. I did my best to explain. ‘The first thing,’ I said, ‘is to buy quite a lot of paper, a bottle of ink, and a pen. After that you merely have to write.’” (from ‘Sermons in Cats’ in Music at Night)
In 1920-21 Huxley was drama a critic for Westminster Gazette, an assistant at the Chelsea Book Club and worked for Condй Nast Publications (1922). His first novel, CROME YELLOW (1921), a witty criticism of society, appeared in 1921. Huxley’s style, a combination of brilliant dialogue, cynicism, and social criticism, made him one of the most fashionable literary figures of the decade. He was a friend of Lady Ottoline Morrell and the Bloomsbury group, which included such writers as Virginia Woolf, Clive Bell, Lytton Strachey, and E. M. Forster. In eight years he published a dozen books, among them POINT COUNTER POINT (1928), in which the numerous characters, among them D. H. Lawrence, Murray, Mansfield, and the author himself, are compared to instruments in an orchestra, and each character plays his separate portion of Huxley’s vision of life. Later these early works, mostly satirical comments on contemporary events, have been criticized for their rather one-dimensional characters, which the author used as a mouthpiece to say ‘almost everything about almost anything’ — as Huxley once described the nature of the essay. In DO WHAT YOU WILL (1929) Huxley predicts that Karl Marx’s Proletariat becomes “a bourgeoisie with oily instead of inky fingers”, compares the first motion picture in which spoken dialogue is heard, ‘The Jazz Singer’, to a “brimming bowl of hog-wash”, and sees that at out time “monotheism has lost the value which circumstances once gave it. It lacks political utility, and to the individual it is a poison.” In the essay ‘Fashions on Love’ he defends D. H. Lawrence’s doctrine of the ‘natural love’ but rejects “the sexual impulse, which now spends itself purposelessly...”
During the 1920s Huxley formed a close friendship with D. H. Lawrence with whom he traveled in Italy and France. For most of the 1920s Huxley lived in Italy. In the 1930s he moved to Sanary, near Toulon, where he wrote Brave New World, a dark vision of a highly technological society of the future. In it Huxley turned upside down H. G. Wells’ scientific optimism. Developments in sciences and cultural changes in his own time inspired much of imagination — such as mass production, which revolutionized industry, air travel, glamorized by Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, behaviorist psychology, and explorations in genetics. Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) also was among the books he read for the novel. In the book Huxley answered to fears of hopes of wide variety of his readers and in its first year it sold a total of twenty-eight thousand copies in England and in the United States, and enjoyed respectable sales throughout the remainder of the century.
In the1930s Huxley was deeply concerned with the Peace Pledge Union. He moved in 1937 with the guru-figure Gerald Heard to the United States, believing that the Californian climate would help his eyesight, a constant burden. After this turning point in his life, Huxley abandoned pure fictional writing and chose the essay as the vehicle for expressing his ideas. He also wrote screenplays in collaboration with Christopher Isherwood for film studios, but did not gain success in this field. Among their unproduced film treatments was Jacob’s Hands, a story about healing powers and disappointment in love. Huxley also was a regular contributor to Vedanta and the West, the magazine Isherwood edited while a discipline of Swami Prabhavananda.
Brave New World (1932) — A cry of warning and nightmarish black comedy of a future society. — The Nine Year War, a global holocaust, has reshaped the word. In the year 632 after Ford (i.e., the 26th century) the world has attained a kind of scientifically balanced communist utopia. Universal happiness is preserved by psychotropic drugs. Religion, art, theoretical science — central Western institutions as we know them now — have vanished. Life is free of illness and old age. Scientists are able to produce babies who will fit their future job exactly. There are five types of humans, ranging from the intellectually superior Alphas to the semimoronic Epsilons. Alpha-Plus Bernard Marx resists soma, the soporific drug carried by all citizens. It helps to stop any signs of stress or dissatisfaction and longing for a fuller life. Eventually Bernard is exiled to Iceland. John the Savage, raised in a reservation of American Indian primitives, abandoned by his mother in a primitive outpost, comes into this world. John is thinking, feeling individual, who has read Shakespeare and witnessed primitive religious rituals. Bernard brings John and his ruined Beta-Minus mother Linda to England. When his mother dies of an overdose of the feel-good drug, John swells a violent revolt. He engages in a dialogue with the World Controller Mustapha Mond and debates the merits of freedom and passion. He is harassed as a freak of the accepted social order. In the end the Savage yields to the temptations of the carefree world, and kills himself in disgust. — The book received mixed critics. H. G. Wells was offended by what he regarded as Huxley’s betrayal of science and the future. Bertrand Russell and Hermann Hesse recognized the serious intent beneath the surface of playful wit. The novelist, essayist and critic C. P. Snow dismissed in a 1959 review both Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948) and Brave New World especially for their pessimism about scientific progress and social purpose.
Several of Huxley’s screenplays never got filmed. His best screenplays for Hollywood included MGM’s Pride and Prejudice (1940). The first film project offered was an adaptation of Galsworthy’s Forsyte Saga, which Huxley turned down, explaining in a letter, “Even the lure of enormous lucre could not reconcile me to remaining closeted for months with the ghost of the late poor John Galsworthy. I couldn’t face it.’’ In 1938 he wrote an uncredited treatment for Madame Curie, directed by Mervyn LeRoy. With John Houseman and Robert Stevenson he worked for the 20th Century-Fox film Jane Eyre (1944), starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. Woman’s Vengeance (1947), directed by Zoltan Korda and starring Charles Boyer and Jessica Tandy, was based on Huxley’s story ‘The Gioconda Smile.’
“One Folk, One Realm, One Leader. Union with the unity of an insect swarm. Knowledgeless understanding of nonsense and diabolism. And then the newsreel camera had cut back to the serried ranks, the swastikas, the brass bands, the yelling hypnotist on the rostrum. And here once again, in the glare of his inner light, was the brown insectlike column, marching endlessly to the tunes of this rococo horror-music. Onward Nazi soldiers, onward Christian soldiers, onward Marxists and Muslims, onward every chosen People, every Crusader and Holy War-maker. Onward into misery, into all wickedness, into death!” (from Island, 1962)
BRAVE NEW WORLD REVISED appeared in 1958. He stated that in writing Brave New World he had failed to recognize the ominous potential of nuclear fission, “for the possibilities of atomic energy had been a popular topic of conversation for years before the book was written.” He believed that individual freedom was much closer to extinction than he had imagined. Huxley’s other later works include THE DEVILS OF LOUDON (1952), depicting mass-hysteria and exorcism in the 17th-century France. ISLAND (1962) was an utopian novel and a return to the territory of Brave New World, in which a journalist shipwrecks on Pala, the fabled island, and discovers there a kind and happy people. But the earthly paradise is not immune to the harsh realities of oil policy. BRAVE NEW WORLD REVISITED (1959) was a sequel to his classic novel. Huxley compared the predictions of his earlier work with subsequent developments in science and society. In 1963 appeared LITERATURE AND SCIENCE, a collection of essays.
In 1954 Huxley published an influential study of consciousness expansion through mescaline, THE DOORS OF PERCEPTION (see Jim Morrison) and became later a guru among Californian hippies’. He also started to use LSD and showed interest in Hindu philosophy. In 1961 Huxley suffered a severe loss when his house and his papers were totally destroyed in a bush-fire. Little survived apart from the manuscript of Island. Huxley died in Los Angeles on November 22, 1963. In the media news of his death were overshadowed by the assassination of President Kennedy. Huxley was married twice. In 1919 he married Maria Nys, a Belgian, who died 1956. They had one son. In 1956 he married the violinist and psychotherapist Laura Archera.
As a essayist Huxley was concerned about the power of science and technology. His skepticism caused much controversy among his readers. Huxley’s philosophical cul-de-sac led him finally to seek answers from mysticism and the thought of the East. Among Huxley’s most puzzling ideas was the education of the human being as ‘amphibian’, one capable of living in different environments. Late in his life Huxley remarked, “It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one’s life and find at the and that one has no more to offer by way of advice that ‘Try to be a little kinder.’”
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I have tried to remember the familiar places, —
The pillared gloom of the beechwoods, the towns by the sea, —
I have tried to people the past with dear known faces,
But you were haunting me.
Like a remorse, insistent, pitiless,
You have filled my spirit, you were ever at hand;
You have mocked my gods with your new loveliness:
Broken the old shrines stand.
The Life Theoretic
While I have been fumbling over books
And thinking about God and the Devil and all,
Other young men have been battling with the days
And others have been kissing the beautiful women.
They have brazen faces like battering-rams.
But I who think about books and such —
I crumble to impotent dust before the struggling,
And the women palsy me with fear.
But when it comes to fumbling over books
And thinking about God and the Devil and all,
Why, there I am.
But perhaps the battering-rams are in the right of it,
Perhaps, perhaps... God knows.
Aldous Leonard Huxley — Two early poems
Original of this text:
Anna Zhdanova: 'Aldous Leonard Huxley'
Formatted by: O. Dag
Last modified on: 2020-01-07