Aldous Huxley Biography

Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley’s screenplay of Alice in Wonderland may have been rejected by Walt Disney because it used too many big words, but the rest of the world really appreciated Huxley’s writing. Had it not been for a disease that affected his eyesight, though, Huxley might never have become a famous author. Born in 1894, he came from a family of distinguished scientists and wanted to follow in their footsteps. His poor vision, however, forced him to give up that dream. Instead, he first turned to teaching, which Huxley proved not very good at—lucky for the literary world. He then began to focus solely on his writing, digging deeper into himself through practiced meditation, until he eventually produced his masterpiece, Brave New World, in 1932.

Facts and Trivia

  • Huxley was denied U.S. citizenship (though he lived in the States for thirty years) because he refused to play any part in the military defense of the United States.
  • George Orwell, author of the books 1984 and Animal Farm, was one of Huxley’s students.
  • Huxley took the drug LSD while he lay on his death bed.
  • Huxley died on the same day as President John F. Kennedy and C. S. Lewis, famed author of The Chronicles of Narnia.
  • Huxley is so influential he’s even managed to penetrate pop culture. The Beatles used a picture of him on the cover of their album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.


(History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: Through far-sighted, iconoclastic thought and prolific, diverse writings, Huxley not only recorded but also transcended his age, greatly enriching intellectual life for the twentieth century and beyond.

Early Life

Aldous Leonard Huxley, the third son of Leonard Huxley and Julia Frances Arnold, descended from two distinguished families: one known for high achievement in the sciences and the other equally renowned for contributions to education and literature. On his father’s side, Thomas Henry Huxley, the eminent biologist and popularizer of English naturalist Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, was Aldous’s grandfather. On his mother’s side, Dr. Arnold of Rugby was his great-grandfather, Matthew Arnold (poet and educator) was his great uncle, and the novelist Mrs. Humphrey Ward was his aunt. His schoolmaster father became an editor of the Cornhill Magazine, and his mother founded a very successful school for girls.

Huxley attended Hillside Preparatory School and then was sent to Eton at age fourteen. He was an intellectually precocious youth who had already almost reached his full height of 6 feet 4 inches. A few months later Huxley suffered the first of three losses that deeply affected him. In November of 1908, his much-loved mother died of cancer at age forty-five. Years later, he expressed some of the devastation he experienced in Eyeless in Gaza (1936), perhaps his most autobiographical novel.

In 1911 came another life-altering trauma. He contracted a serious eye disease that resulted in near blindness for eighteen months, forced him to leave Eton, and left him visually handicapped for the rest of his life. Not knowing whether he would ever see again, Huxley faced this crisis with courage and patience by teaching himself to read Braille. Although he eventually recovered some sight, his visual impairment caused him to abandon his plan to become a doctor.

A third tragedy occurred in 1914 when his older brother, Trevenen, committed suicide at age twenty-four, a victim of depression over his failure to achieve first-class honors at Oxford University and a place in the Civil Service. An unhappy love affair may have been an additional factor, but Huxley believed it was “just the highest and best in Trev—his ideals—which have driven him to his death.” Failure to achieve academic distinction might be a disappointment for an ordinary person, but to be a Huxley was to be aware that one is not ordinary, and Trevenen, a particularly sensitive young man, was destroyed by his failure to live up to his brilliant promise. Huxley’s other brother, Julian, achieved eminence as a biologist and a writer.

These early shocks left their mark on Huxley: His visual impairment caused him to turn toward literature rather than science, and much of the literature he created reflected a concern with physical suffering, malignant disease, decay, and death. Additionally, his brother’s death seemed a demonstration of the potentially tragic conflict between ideals and reality and of the way that ideals can take on a life of their own and even kill if held too rigidly or unrealistically. It is unsurprising to find that skepticism about conventional social values as well as pleas for agnosticism, tolerance, and pacifism became characteristics of his works.

Despite the need to read with a magnifying glass, Huxley attended Balliol College, Oxford, where he wrote and published poems and short stories, finished with first honors in English, and won the Stanhope Historical Essay Prize. His allowance ended when he graduated from Oxford, and his lack of money prevented him from marrying Maria Nys, a young Belgian he had met at Lady Ottoline Morrel’s country house, Garsington Manor. A brief, unhappy stint as a schoolmaster at Eton and Repton from 1916 to 1919, during which time he continued to write, convinced him that the only way remaining to make a living was to become a professional writer. After his marriage to Maria at Bellem, Belgium, in 1919, Huxley began working as a literary journalist for various publications, at the same time working on his novels, short stories, and essays. Finally, after the publication of three works of fiction (Limbo, 1920; Chrome Yellow, 1921; and Mortal Coils, 1922), three collections of poems (The Burning Wheel, 1916; The Defeat of Youth, 1918; and Leda, 1920), and a book of essays (On the Margin, 1923), Huxley signed the first of many three-year contracts with Chatto & Windus Publishers (an arrangement that continued throughout his life), which finally provided financial security for Aldous, Maria, and their three-year-old son, Matthew. Huxley eventually produced forty-seven books of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and plays.

Life’s Work

Huxley’s satirical novels of the 1920’s established him as a major, although controversial, writer. Critics attacked Antic Hay (1923), Those Barren Leaves (1925), and Point Counter Point (1928) for promoting attitudes of sexual permissiveness, emotional detachment, postwar disillusionment, cynicism, brutality, and even hatred of existence. They complained that his characters lacked depth and were unsympathetic. (A few of his friends, such as D. H. Lawrence and Lady Ottoline Morrell, recognized themselves in the novels and were not pleased). The perennial issue became Huxley’s whole approach...

(The entire section is 2233 words.)

Aldous Huxley Biography

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

After studying literature at Oxford University, Aldous Huxley began writing for the magazine Athenaeum in London and also reviewing plays for the Westminster Gazette in 1919. By 1921, having already published four volumes of verse, Huxley embarked on a career as a free-lance writer. His early novels Chrome Yellow (1921), Antic Hay (1923), and Point Counter Point (1928), depictions of social decadence, began to establish his reputation; Brave New World (1932) confirmed it.

Brave New World has remained his most widely read work. A portrayal of a nightmarish twenty-fifth century dystopia, the novel presents a world in which technology seduces people into becoming willing automatons by providing them with creature comforts and drug-induced happiness. Genetic engineering, meanwhile, produces appropriate numbers of people with appropriate levels of intelligence to fill the requirements of society, thereby eliminating the potential for rebellion as well as such individual virtues as creativity, bravery, and fidelity. It was not, however, the novel’s horrific description of technology but its portrayal of sexual freedom and drug use that led to Brave New World being banned from some school curricula and many libraries.

Huxley’s later work developed these themes while also introducing new ones. Ape and Essence (1948) offers a vision of a future dominated by savage individualism, as the survivors of an atomic holocaust struggle to live on; it, too, is a future ravaged by technology. With Eyeless in Gaza (1936), Huxley began to advocate a philosophy of mysticism, and he pursued this view for much of the rest of his life. Following his move to California in 1937 for reasons of health, he wrote Gray Eminence (1941), a study of a sixteenth century priest who had to choose between a life of reclusive meditation and calls to serve the political interests of the French crown. Huxley later suggested in The Doors of Perception (1954) that the use of psychoactive drugs might be a shortcut to mystical experience. His advocacy of drugs made him a favorite of the youth culture of the 1960’s and won for him a place among those pictured on the cover of the Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). During the 1960’s, The Doors of Perception was banned from some school districts’ reading lists.

Aldous Huxley Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Aldous Leonard Huxley was born on July 26, 1894, in Godalming, Surrey, to a family with eminent intellectual credentials in both the arts and the sciences. Often cited by critics are elements in Huxley’s work related to Huxley’s genealogical connections with science on one hand and the liberal arts on the other. His scientific connections came through his paternal grandfather, T. H. Huxley, an eminent biologist, and his elder brother, Julian Huxley, also an eminent biologist, while his liberal arts connections came through his mother’s relation to the important literary critic, poet, essayist, and moralist, Matthew Arnold.

Huxley was educated at Hillside School, Eton, and Balliol College, Oxford University; Oxford University serves as the background of some of Huxley’s short stories, such as “Happily Ever After” and “Cynthia.” Huxley’s early serious eye ailment, which abated after almost resulting in blindness and an end to his education, is partly reflected in his treasuring of the visual arts and classical music, which are constantly referred to in both his nonfiction and fiction. During World War I, which is referred to in many of his short stories, Huxley was exempted from military service but did agricultural work (like the protagonist of “Farcial History of Richard Greenow”) in aid of the war effort.

After graduation with an honors degree in English literature from Oxford, Huxley briefly taught school and then...

(The entire section is 428 words.)

Aldous Huxley Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Aldous Leonard Huxley was born at Laleham, near Godalming, Surrey, on July 26, 1894. His father, Leonard Huxley, a biographer and historian, was the son of Thomas Henry Huxley, the great Darwinist, and his mother, Julia, was the niece of poet Matthew Arnold. Julian Huxley, Aldous’s older brother, would grow up to become a famous biologist. With this intellectual and literary family background, Huxley entered Eton at the age of fourteen. He had to withdraw from school within two years, however, owing to an attack of keratitis punctata that caused blindness. This event left a permanent mark on his character that was evident in his reflective temperament and detached manner. He learned to read Braille and continued his...

(The entire section is 375 words.)

Aldous Huxley Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Aldous Leonard Huxley was born on July 26, 1894, in Laleham, near Godalming, Surrey, England, the third son of Dr. Leonard Huxley, a teacher, editor, and writer, and Julia Arnold, niece of Matthew Arnold and sister of novelist Mrs. Humphrey Ward. Aldous was also the grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley, a well-known scientist, and the brother of scientist Sir Julian Huxley.

Huxley had planned on a career as a physician, but an affliction with nearly total blindness while studying at Eton altered his plans, and, upon partial recovery three years later, he entered Balliol College, Oxford, and earned a degree in English literature. While Huxley was at Oxford, World War I began, and he was refused enlistment because of his...

(The entire section is 979 words.)

Aldous Huxley Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In Brave New World, which describes a future society that seems perfectly orderly, harmonious, and controlled but which is actually depraved, unhappy, and hellish, Aldous Huxley embodies his principal ideas. He also embodies them in Point Counter Point, in a diffuse portrait of imbalanced characters in early twentieth century England.

One of those principal ideas is that humanness and authentic human values involve recognition of and participation in all the dichotomies of human existence: emotion and intellect, mind and body, body and soul, love and hate, self-concern and concern for others. Without that balance and total development, humans are doomed to incomplete, and often tragic, lives. The other...

(The entire section is 162 words.)

Aldous Huxley Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Aldous Leonard Huxley, the spokesman of the so-called literary modernists, is one of the best chroniclers of the generation that came to maturity between World Wars I and II, especially of the artistic and intellectual elements of that generation. He was born into an eminent family, which bequeathed to him several strains of Victorian intellectualism. His father, Leonard Huxley, a professor of Greek, was the son of Thomas Henry Huxley, the biologist and chief defender of Charles Darwin’s theories. His mother, Julia Huxley, was the niece of Matthew Arnold. Huxley’s elder brother, Julian, was also a respected biologist and a prolific writer.

Aldous Huxley was educated at Eton College and the University of Oxford. He...

(The entire section is 988 words.)

Aldous Huxley Biography

(Novels for Students)
Aldous Huxley Published by Gale Cengage

Aldous Huxley was born on July 26, 1894, in Laleham near Godalming, Surrey, England, but he grew up in London. His family was well-known for...

(The entire section is 572 words.)