Huxley, Aldous

Tagged: Author

(1894-1963) UK author and man of letters whose fame was freshest in the 1920s, a decade which his work captured with precision, conveying as it did an overwhelming sense of the psychic aftermath of World War One; most of his best fiction, like Antic Hay (1923) and Point Counter Point (1928), was written then. From 1937 he lived in America, a residency which survived unfortunate experiences as a Hollywood screenwriter (see California).

Huxley is today almost certainly remembered most widely for his seminal Dystopia, Brave New World (1932), a book which established such words as "soma" (originally from Sir Thomas More's Utopia [1517]) and "feelie" in the English language, and which contributed to social and literary thought a definite model of pharmacological totalitarianism. (Soma is a kind of psychedelic Drug used as a social control; the feelies are multisense – or Virtual Reality – movies, developed for the same reason.) Brave New World depicts a future Earth in which the expression of dissonant emotions and acts is rigorously controlled from above, ostensibly for the betterment of all, though in fact the motives of those in power are, as always, self-serving. The analysis of Eugenics is savage and (in the context of the early 1930s) well-timed: babies, prior to being decanted, are chemically adjusted to mature into the body-type and intelligence required at that moment by society, and as a result enter into the appropriate castes, from Alpha to Epsilon (see Genetic Engineering). Sex and all other relationships are casual, without dissonance or affect or will. As in any dystopia, certainly those written within the comparatively long-breathed and contemplative Scientific Romance mode, the story not only illustrates and exposes this plastic paradise, but also incorporates significant discussions about the issues raised. One protagonist goes to a Savage Reservation (where, as a kind of control, a few old-style humans are permitted their exemplary culture) and there rescues a woman in trouble; he returns with her and her Savage son to the central society. To this she proves unable to adjust: after disgusting Brave New World residents through her display of visible diseases and her horrifying descent into age, she overdoses despairingly on soma. Her son does little better, though the fracas he causes gains him and two discontented citizens an interview with Mustapha Mond, one of the ten World Controllers, who argumentatively justifies the price paid for stability. When the unconvinced Savage attempts to live alone and so to replicate the conditions necessary for the creation of high art, he is soon driven by the mass Media into hanging himself.

As argument and as Satire, Brave New World is a compendium of usable points and quotable jibes – the substitution of Ford for God being merely the best known – and has provided material for much subsequent fiction. Its pessimistic accounting of the sterility and human emptiness of utopian communities shaped by a reductive scientism has caused the book to be read as a decisive refutation of some later Utopias of H G Wells – e.g. Men Like Gods (1923), whose wooden Optimism about inevitable science-based progress even Wells himself could not manage to support with much imaginative conviction – nor did he seriously attempt to do so in his greater works. Brave New World's greatness as a Dystopia – as with Yevgeny Zamiatin's We (trans 1926), Katherine Burdekin's Swastika Night (1937), Karin Boye's Kallocain (1940) and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) – can be seen most clearly perhaps in the retrospect opened to view in its closing pages: for the heart of the dystopian vision, as expressed in all four texts, lies in an apprehension that things may freeze shut at the moment of the deepest possible historical terror – the Ground Zero moment, the unending moment of amnesia fix (see Horror in SF), when the wheel of history no longer turns, and all that can be foreseen is a hanged man swinging in the wind, or a boot stamping on a human face forever. Brave New World Revisited (coll 1958), assembled with its predecessor as Brave New World; & Brave New World Revisited (omni 1960), is a nonfiction series of essays on Brave New World themes from the perspective of twenty-five years later; unfortunately, by treating Brave New World in terms of its success or failure at Prediction, Huxley almost comically slights the prophetic gravitas of his great novel, abandoning his brilliant dramatizing of "Fordism", with its conjoining of assembly-line production and assembly-line citizens, for which he substitutes an early (but prophetically decrepit) techno-utopianism.

After moving to America, Huxley published several novels of genre interest. After Many a Summer Dies the Swan (November 1939-March 1940 Harper's Magazine as "After Many a Summer: A Novel in Five Parts"; 1939; vt After Many a Summer 1939) is a savage Satire in which a newspaper tycoon, owner of BEVERLEY PANTHEON, The Personality Cemetery, discovers that the Earl of Gonister, born in the eighteenth century, still survives, though he has suffered Devolution into a grotesque ape-like creature (see Apes as Human; Serge Voronoff); and one of the protagonists of Time Must Have a Stop (1944) undergoes posthumous experiences after his death in 1929; these experiences, which are treated in a mystical vein, include Precognitive dreams in which he is exposed to World War Two.

Two further novels continue the utopia/dystopia debates of Brave New World. Ape and Essence (1948), a far more savage tale than After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, is set in a Ruined-Earth Los Angeles (see California), in 2108 CE, a century after the final atomic and bacteriological Future War. From the Southern Hemisphere, which has been left untouched, a New Zealander visits America to do research, and there discovers a literally devilish society: human nature and science have gone savagely wrong, and females – now contemptuously known as "vessels" – come into oestrus for only two weeks in the year, after Belial Day, held in honour of the deity who has persuaded Americans that it is OK to punish those who demonstrate their guilt by having been previously punished, and to torture "enemies". The pessimism of the book is unalleviated, and its presentation, as a kind of ideal filmscript, horrific and disgusted. Island (1962) presents a utopian alternative to the previous books, though without much energy. Pala – the Island in question – is set safely in the Indian Ocean, and has long enjoyed a mildly euphoric existence, sustained spiritually by religious practices derived from Tantric Buddhism, and physically by moksha, a sort of benign soma, whose psychedelic effects – as shared by the inhabitants of Pala in unison – smooth the rough edges of the world. But the book itself is powerless to convince.

Huxley was at his most striking in those of his novels, some technically sf, whose fictional content leads to intense reflections, on the part of their protagonists and antagonists, of cogently dramatized issues of significance. The literacy of his style, and the apparent sophistication of his later guru-like medications on transcendental issues, have perhaps impressed traditional sf readers and critics more than he deserved. But with Ape and Essence, and overwhelmingly with Brave New World, he laid down models for conceiving human destiny that seem all the more true in essence as the decades pass. Huxley was a better prophet than he knew. [JC]

see also: Anthropology; Automation; Biology; Critical and Historical Works About SF; Evolution; Futures Studies; Futurology; History of SF; Immortality; Leisure; Machines; Mainstream Writers of SF; Music; Perception; Sociology; Technology; Theatre.

Aldous Leonard Huxley

born Godalming, Surrey: 26 July 1894

died Los Angeles, California: 22 November 1963

works (selected)

series

Brave New World

individual titles

collections and stories

about the author

A few selections from the very many critical studies.

links

Previous versions of this entry

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