Huxley, Aldous (Vol. 11)
Huxley, Aldous 1894–1963
Huxley was a British-American novelist, essayist, short story writer, poet, critic, and playwright. His novels are generally considered novels of ideas: Huxley was interested in many fields of knowledge and his ideas on science, philosophy, religion, and other topics are woven throughout his fiction. His concentration on the philosophical content of a work led critics to find his fiction overly didactic and artistically unsatisfying. This tendency was adumbrated in his later works when, drawn to the philosophy of mysticism and discarding the more objective and satiric tone of his early novels, Huxley created characters that served as little more than mouthpieces for his ideas. Continually searching for an escape from the ambivalence of modern life, Huxley sought a sense of spiritual renewal and a clarification of his artistic vision in hallucinogenic drugs, an experience explored in one of his best known later works, The Doors of Perception. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, 4, 5, 8.)
Frederick J. Hoffman
Huxley has often demonstrated in his novels the fact that ideas may possess qualities which are comparable with those which animate persons—and this particularly in a period of time when ideas are not fixed, calculated, or limited by canons of strict acceptance or rejection. Ideas, as they are used in Huxley, possess, in other words, dramatic qualities. Dominating as they very often do the full sweep of his novels, they appropriate the fortunes and careers which ordinarily belong to persons. (p. 190)
The best examples of the novel of ideas are Huxley's novels of the 1920's. To be sure, he did not always use this form; nor is any of his novels purely a novel of ideas. In his shorter pieces, most notably in "Uncle Spencer," "Two or Three Graces," and "Young Archimedes," Huxley writes charmingly and sympathetically of persons and reveals a remarkable talent for a complete delineation of characters who are interesting almost exclusively as persons. But the works which mark the development of Huxley as a novelist—Chrome Yellow, Antic Hay, Those Barren Leaves, and Point Counter Point—are, each in its own way, novels of ideas. Rarely does a Huxley character give himself away directly; rarely if ever does Huxley fail to give him away. The position, the point of view, of the Huxley character is usually revealed in the course of Huxley's discussion of his tastes, his intellectual preferences, his manner of behaving...
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[The setting of Antic Hay] is Henry James's London possessed by carnival. A chain of brilliant young people linked and interlaced winds past the burnished front-doors in pursuit of happiness. Happiness is growing wild for anyone to pick, only the perverse miss it. There has been the single unpredictable, inexplicable, unrepeatable calamity of "the Great War." It has left broken hearts—Mrs. Viveash's among them—but the other characters are newly liberated from their comfortable refuges of Conscientious Objection, to run wild through the streets.
The central theme of the book is the study of two falterers "more or less in" their "great task of happiness," Mrs. Viveash and Theodore Gumbril. Everyone else, if young, has a good time. (p. 19)
The story is told richly and elegantly with few of the interruptions which, despite their intrinsic interest, mar so much of Mr. Huxley's story-telling. The disquisition on Wren's London should be in a book of essays but the parody of the night-club play is so funny that one welcomes its intrusion. The "novel of ideas" raises its ugly head twice only, in the scenes with the tailor and the financier, crashing bores both of them but mere spectators at the dance. They do not hold up the fun for long.
And there is another delicious quality. The city is not always James's London. Sometimes it becomes Mediterranean, central to the live tradition. The dance winds...
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Charles M. Holmes
[Huxley's] early poetry is a record of the highly complicated inner struggle which influenced, even determined the theme and the shape of his much more popular, much more successful fiction. After The Burning Wheel he quickly produced Jonah (… 1917), The Defeat of Youth (… 1918) and Leda (… 1920), and he appeared several times in the annuals Oxford Poetry and Wheels. Although this work shows some development in technique, some improvement in quality, it illustrates more clearly Huxley's shifting and ambivalent attitude toward the very practice of literary art. Like his fiction, Huxley's verse embodies his need to express himself entangled inextricably with the problem of how to do so. From the earliest poems the crucial inner conflict appears; Huxley tries various styles to express it; the need to choose a style then intensifies the conflict as Huxley is forced to choose between sincere expression and effective poetry. It is this dilemma I have attempted to follow, up to the point where Huxley virtually abandoned verse for fiction.
The first sign of inner conflict is a startling inconsistency between poems expressing a rebellious desire to shock and other poems voicing merely conventional sentiment. Huxley's first published poem, "Home-Sickness … From the Town," is as obviously anti-Victorian as anything he ever was to write…. As in so many of the novels, a deliberately shocking...
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Robert E. Kuehn
Aldous Huxley's career resembles that of several other eminent twentieth-century writers: he began as an enfant terrible and ended as a sage…. Each of his novels, from Crome Yellow through Island, is indisputably modern, even though the later books differ so radically from the earlier ones. Huxley seems to have been born mistrustful of received attitudes and disdainful of those creeds that provided his forebears with a sense of order, continuity, and spiritual composure. His intellectual temperament, if one may call it that, was skeptical, restless, experimental. In his youth he was a debunker of moribund truths; in middle age he became an ardent seeker of new truths or of fresh combinations of old truths. His zestful assault on the old order of things in Crome Yellow, Antic Hay, Those Barren Leaves, and pre-eminently in Point Counter Point gave way in time to a strenuous and eclectic attempt to find a new order, to fashion a "perennial philosophy" from disparate fragments of the human past. The transition was not quite as abrupt as it is sometimes made to seem: the road to mysticism is as clearly implied in Those Barren Leaves as is the road to orthodoxy in The Waste Land.
Huxley has always been a hero to the young, for his interests have consistently matched those of the generation just coming forward. Men fifteen years younger than Huxley have testified to the "liberating" effect of...
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[Island] embodies a collection of the right responses to problems that the brave new world handled badly. But there is even more to the novel than that. Unlike News from Nowhere, Looking Backward, and other positive views of the future, Island can be defended as a reasonably complex novel in which a would-be utopian's attempt at optimism is challenged by the possibility that his characters inhabit a Manichean universe…. Unlike most utopians, Huxley tries to confront several inescapably negative factors in his perfect society, and these ultimately convince him that utopia is not of this world…. I do not wish to discredit the novel's many positive aspects. However, these have been the exclusive focus of all the discussions of the novel to date, while Huxley's insistence that the novel is really about "the precariousness of happiness, the perilous position of any Utopian island in the context of the modern world" has been consistently ignored. One cannot overlook the presence and power of evil in Huxley's last complete novel, nor can one eliminate the author's suspicion that no temporal society can overcome them forever. Although Island is Huxley's conception of a model society, it also serves as the testing ground for some final questions: is utopia really possible? Will the rest of the world tolerate an ideal society, or is the nature of man and the universe too contaminated to leave such perfection alone?
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[The] paintings of Pieter Brueghel the Elder had a profound influence on the writing of Aldous Huxley. Huxley seems to have been attracted to Brueghel's attitude toward life. Both artists saw individuals as isolated, yet forming a pattern of existence. Both saw a juxtaposition of tragedy and comedy as the nature of both life and art. Both were fascinated recorders of social customs and events. Both celebrated life above art, seeing art as a tool to record reality rather than an ideal to shape reality. And because of their similar attitudes, Huxley used a number of Brueghel's painting techniques in prose.
The key to understanding the Huxley-Brueghel relationship lies in Huxley's 1925 essay on the artist, which appeared in Along the Road….
[Here] Huxley analyzes a number of Brueghel's paintings on the bases of both formal construction and literary meaning. (p. 365)
But the real importance of Brueghel to Huxley does not lie in the relative originality or merit of Huxley's comments on the painter. A more interesting question to the literary critic is the relationship between works of art in two media which are joined by a common attitude toward life. In this case, both artists have used the same basic methods of situational presentation; and Huxley seems to have gained technical insight and reinforcement from his examination of Brueghel's works.
Huxley was strongly attracted to...
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