Reading a book by Aldous Huxley is like being entertained by a host who is determined that one should not suffer a moment's boredom and works perhaps a bit too hard to ensure one's continual amusement. The fruit of his considerable erudition is lavished on his readers in flattering profusion: quotations from literature, references to art, history and science—if one takes the allusion, it is with a pleasant sense of sharing the author's culture, and if not one is privileged to learn a new fact or to hear an unusual and provocative point of view. For this reason Mr. Huxley is an ideal novelist for young men: remarkably intelligent, genuinely sophisticated, he takes for granted these enviable qualities in his readers. His first three novels, Crome Yellow, Antic Hay and Those Barren Leaves, and the stories, essays and poems of that period, represent a perfect form of undergraduate literature: elegant, informed, irreverent, ironic, as it seems amoral yet serious, they appeared at a time—the early 1920's—when the scene was set for brilliant young men and when to be a brilliant young man was the most rewarding thing to be…. Mr. Huxley could not forever maintain a position of gay and destructive criticism; a constructive remedy had to be proposed and the entertainer had to make room for the teacher. In his later novels, the feast of diversion spread before his readers is no less rich than before, but it has become slightly indigestible.
Point Counter Point, which was first published in 1928, brings his earlier manner to a point of culmination and contains the germ of his later development. Formidably long, it introduces a host of representative characters (several of whom are clearly derived from real people) and sets them talking at each other. A complexity of design resulting from the large dramatis personae gives the novel's construction a superficial resemblance to that of Gide's Les Faux-Monnayeurs, which had appeared three years earlier; but neither Point Counter Point nor Eyeless in Gaza, in which Mr. Huxley later exploited a confusing time sequence, can lay claim to technical innovations. Mr. Huxley has never been an experimental writer; he...
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Brave New World is actually … a satire not so much of the future as of the present: of the future as it is implicit in the present. Huxley resorts to future remoteness for the same reasons that other Utopian satirists had earlier resorted to geographical or past remoteness (e.g. More, Swift or Anatole France): in order to gain the necessary distance and detachment to more effectively satirize the present. Huxley's satirical point in this novel is that if the present continues to "progress" as it is "progressing" now, then the inevitable result must be a brave new world. (p. 451)
That the United States is the present model for Huxley's vision of the future emerges even more clearly from an essay entitled, "The Outlook for American Culture, Some Reflections in a Machine Age," published in 1927. Huxley begins this essay with the observation that "speculating on the American future, we are speculating on the future of civilized man." According to Huxley, one of the most ominous portents of the American Way of Life is that it embraces a large class of the people who "do not want to be cultured, are not interested in the higher life. For these people existence on the lower, animal levels is perfectly satisfactory. Given food, drink, the company of their fellows, sexual enjoyment, and plenty of noisy distractions from without, they are happy." (p. 455)
Brave New World is the fictional extension of Huxley's earlier views on the nature of American "culture"; it is a portrait of the Joy City spread over the whole globe. And...
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Island (1962), Huxley's last novel, presents as many facets of his comprehensive vision for man and community as he was able to commit to print before his death in 1963…. The book is Huxley's solemn and, in many ways, unique remedy for psychic atrophy and the specter of the bomb in the world of the 1960's. (p. 149)
Huxley's fairly complex vision stems from his conviction that any operative ideal would have to be based on a syncretic approach to the problem of existence. (p. 150)
Huxley distinguishes carefully the two main traditions of Hindu philosophy: the ancient Hinayana tradition, which taught total renunciation of the world and the quest for perpetual Nirvana; and the more recent Mahayanist tradition, which sought awakening through a responsible if delicate recognition of the world…. In its tolerance and flexibility, Mahayana offers enlightenment not only to the monk in isolation but to the layman in society as well. That branch of Eastern thought which Huxley pursued left him intellectual elbow-room to satisfy both his mystical and reformative urges. (p. 151)
One of Huxley's strongest ideals promoted in Island is the desire that Western and Oriental worlds accept and learn from each other…. The merger between East and West in Island is not defined exhaustively. Like most sweeping ideals, it eludes complete description. But the direction of the union is toward a Tagorist synthesis of Western progress with Eastern spirituality…. Huxley's comprehensive mysticism is not just a Western retreading of Taoist ideology, but also a positive counterpoint to the problems of separation, alienation and incommunication which he delineates in his other novels. Huxley always sought an ideal which would permit him to experience and express existence as an entity rather than a fragment, and the educative ideals of Island aim toward a similar objective for Everyman. (pp. 151-53)
Huxley conveys to his readers some of his more difficult ideology in Island through an interesting use of symbol. In truth, the nature of Huxley's subject frequently requires a symbolic description because many of his mystical precepts elude literal explanation. (p. 154)
The very title of the book, Island, suggests a pattern of symbolism latent in Huxley's thought for many years…. For Huxley in the 1920's existence seemed bewilderingly pluralistic; the world appeared to be inhabited by a group of irreconcilably heterogeneous individuals. Huxley seems never to have altered his belief in the multiplicity and...
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Despite the fact that their tone perceptively darkens, Aldous Huxley's first three novels—and for freshness and exuberance they may be his finest comic achievement—seem at first glance much too similar. The same characters appear from one novel to the next under different names that one tends to regard as aliases; and the situations, though never repetitious, seem ultimately to support a basic repertoire of themes. Thus an examination of Crome Yellow (1921) leaves one as thrilled with Huxley's first novel as his original audience was. But if a perusal of Antic Hay (1923) and Those Barren Leaves (1925) follows immediately, one may conclude that Huxley has written the same novel three times. This is not a thoroughly misguided judgment, but rather an imprecise one and therefore it states negatively what is actually a positive accomplishment.
What Huxley has done, however, is to go over and over the same themes but never from precisely the same angle and never with the same results. The heroes of the first two novels are defeated in different ways by similar problems whereas the third protagonist enjoys a tentative, modified, perhaps only temporary success. Each time his hero confronts the central problems and fails, Huxley has someone similar to him, but also different, try over again from a slightly different approach.
When these three novels are looked at as a sort of trilogy, they remain infinitely readable in themselves but also take on an added significance in that the thematic alterations they catalogue reveal in microcosm the direction in which Huxley will develop in terms of ideas as well as craftsmanship. The changes the three novels exhibit in their handling of the same set of themes show Huxley doing between 1921 and 1925 what he would only permanently accomplish and accept by 1934 with the appearance, in Eyeless in Gaza, of his first full-fledged mystic-hero. At the same time, the increasing mastery of structure and technique from novel to novel and the sense one has that all three novels are really one book with three complementary, perhaps even contrapuntal, sets of characters and events make the many-layered complexity of Point Counter Point (1928) inevitable. (pp. 81-2)
The theme of ineffectual communication spans [Crome Yellow] while permeating the majority of scenes. The direction of these scenes is towards a sort of awakening wherein Denis [the protagonist], who has concluded that people are uncrossing parallel lines, is suddenly forced to look at himself as he appears to others….
[A young poet who tries to make reality conform to his own expectations,] Denis has a fund of patterns to impose on events but is seldom prepared for experience itself. To him, life is a rehearsable play. He blocks out scenes with himself in the central role and attempts to stage them. The missed cues and unexpected replies that follow as the interpretation of Pharaoh's dream that is written and directed by Denis Stone falls apart provide excellent comedy. (p. 82)
Language, a perennial problem for Huxley characters, even for the artificially stabilized society of Brave New World, stands between Denis and reality the way Keats' sensuous richness threatened his involvement with society. Denis regards words as though they were things. They become his substitute for reality and his conversation deteriorates into one long fallacy of misplaced concreteness…. Denis' centrifugal use of language takes him away from reality and into a private world….
In Denis' propensity for quotes and for the continual transformation of life into art, Huxley satirizes his own tendency to be too precious, overly multisyllabic, and, at times, esoterically erudite. Rehearsed scenes, ready-made phrases, words instead of things—these are the barriers Denis imposes between himself and life. He is the first in a series of Huxley characters who personify a paradoxical union of egotism and shyness. (p. 83)
The possibility of realizing the intricateness of other people to the same extent one is aware of complexity in oneself frightens Denis and intrigues Huxley. Denis must come to terms with "the vast conscious world outside himself." In so doing, he can no longer imagine himself the world's sole intelligent being, nor ignore the fact that others are "in their way...
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The essay has become a neglected form. The rush of progress has made it too expensive to print what essayists have to say, and we regret it even more than the loss of the short story. For it cheers us to listen to an amusing man of great intelligence, especially when he talks about himself. Huxley satisfies this desire in [Along the Road] more than anywhere else. He is talking about the great things in his own civilisation and we shall see in [Beyond the Mexique Bay] that when he wanders in alien lands among peoples whose civilisations are remote, he loses something of his tone. (p. 121)
Huxley's normal tone in [Proper Studies] is well-mannered, straightforward and easy. The pace...
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[One] of the most impressive achievements of Point Counter Point lies within [the] area of experimentation with form and its close integration with the central theme of the novel. By placing within the story a writer who is jotting down notes for an essentially new type of novel the author openly acknowledges this intention, and his well-known Quaker Oats image of a novel about a novelist writing a novel underscores the point…. [The] novel being planned by Philip Quarles is actually the outer novel, Point Counter Point, in which he is a participant. Any innovations, therefore, which he suggests for his own projected book must be taken as applying directly to Huxley's own experiments with form....
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