All twenty-one of Aldous Huxley’s short stories, ranging from the five pages of “The Bookshop” and the six pages of “Fard” to the thirty-eight pages of “Happily Ever After” and “Chawdron,” are gathered in Collected Short Stories, which remains one of Huxley’s books readily available to readers. Omitted from Collected Short Stories are three novelettes scattered in Huxley’s five principal early story collections: “Farcical History of Richard Greenow” (in Limbo), “Uncle Spencer” (in Little Mexican), and “After the Fireworks” (Brief Candles). In nearly all these works, as in his longer fiction, Huxley’s witty prose style is used to expose, with irony and satire, the gap between the ideal and the real in various societies, individual human personalities, and human behavior. An example of how Huxley’s prose style skewers the greed, indolence, and parasitism of the British aristocracy can be found in the following sentence describing the forebears of Baron Badgery—Huxley frequently uses comic names for satire—in the opening of “The Tillotson Banquet”:They had been content to live and quietly to propagate their species in a huge machiolated Norman castle, surrounded by a triple moat, only sallying forth to cultivate their property and to collect their rents.
With adroit irony, Huxley counterbalances his hallmark polysyllabism in “propagate” and “machiolated” with the plainer, parallel, and alliterating “cultivate” and “collect”; he counterbalances the lazy pacifism behind the moated castle with the warlike “sallying forth” not for glory but for money. The pervasive reversal structure or ironic surprise ending of the stories, like Huxley’s prose style, helps convey the discrepancy between what people say or think and what they do, between plans or intentions and results, or between appearances and realities.
Frequently in the stories a main character attempts to impose on the world an oversimplified idealistic mental construct that must and does fail. Indeed, a recurrent theme is the duality in life between mind and body, idealism and pragmatism, or spirituality and high culture versus the physical world or materialism. Such duality is ingrained in the title character of “Farcical History of Richard Greenow,” who suffers a dissociative personality split between a male, antiwar, hard-edged, intellectual essayist of moderate means and a female, jingoistic, sentimental, middlebrow, monetarily successful novelist. In “The Death of Lully,” based on real persons and events, the spirituality of the title character, which drives him to Christian martyrdom in Muslim North Africa, contrasts with the carnality of a young couple on his sea-going transport, as well as with the commercialism of the captain, who wonders how to profit financially from his famous dying passenger. In “Sir Hercules,” the title character, a British baron, whose dwarf stature contradicts his given forename, attempts to build a miniaturized utopia on the family estate, with his equally diminutive, attractive, and aesthetically oriented wife; ironically, their son grows up large, loutish, cruel, and insensitive, spurring his parents’ suicide. In “The Monocle,” the title helps symbolize the story’s theme of defective or partial vision, which almost all the characters have, derived from their single, usually egocentric, focus on something, including young Gregory, the main character, who wears the monocle to appear to be more detached and upperclass than he really is, as well as the intellectual Spiller, who actualizes his name by his continual talk, often oblivious to his immediate surroundings. In “Fairy Godmother,” the rich Mrs. Escobar attempts to create the fairytale role of the story’s title for herself, heedless of the rarity of her good deeds toward the family she is giving charity to, as well as of the reality of what a young child might really want as a gift. Finally, in “The Claxtons,” the parent Claxtons, especially the wife, endeavor to create an idealized spiritual, vegetarian, economical household, despite Mrs. Claxton’s real envy of her rich relations and eventually her clandestine dietary cheating.
“Happily Ever After”
Interconnected with the conflict between ideal and real, mental and physical, is the persistent focus in the stories on romantic love—its sources, development, illusions, delusions, endurance, or transitoriness. In “Happily Ever After,” Huxley uses the fairytale overtones of the title as part of his satire on the real lives of characters, which contradict their romantic illusions; thus Guy Lambourne has the deluded naïveté, suggested by his surname, to believe that he is above the physical side of romantic love, realizing his mistake too late, since he is killed in World War I; also, at the...
(The entire section is 1993 words.)