Huxley, Aldous (Vol. 18)
Huxley, Aldous 1894–1963
Huxley was a British-American novelist, essayist, short story writer, poet, critic, and playwright. Huxley was interested in many fields of knowledge and his ideas on science, philosophy, religion, and other topics are woven throughout his novels of ideas. 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, 11.)
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....
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Peter E. Firchow
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...
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Donald J. Watt
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...
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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...
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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 is equable, suitable to expository work; and he attracts us as an essayist should, because he is an interesting person, with sensible reactions to a difficult world. Society is in flux; a civilisation appears to be destroying itself, but is in fact becoming explosively something new, with almost limitless possibilities of social evolution. (pp. 132-33)
[The essays of Proper Studies] do not acquire the force of a connected argument, but a thread of connection runs through them, and this increases their impact. Their greatest interest is that they adumbrate the themes he will pursue in Ends and Means and The Perennial Philosophy. Everything in the later books is here in embryo. And here too are the...
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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.
The "multiplicity of viewpoint" which Philip decides to adopt for his novel has, of course, long been seen as in some way relevant to the main novel, but only in a very restricted sense, as helping to create those ludicrous juxtapositions and incongruous polarities which contribute to its wit. (pp. 378-79)
The reason for Philip's enthusiasm [for the concept of multiple viewpoints in a novel] is clear. Such an approach will enable him to explore the most perplexing element introduced by scientific thought—that, as the title of the novel suggests, no settled or controlling view seemed possible any longer. Each standpoint was cancelled out by a counter point…. From one standpoint we are shown the absurd...
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