Aldous Huxley’s novels present, on the whole, a bitterly satiric and cynical picture of contemporary society. Recurring themes in these works are the egocentricity of the people of the twentieth century, their ignorance of any reality transcending the self, their loneliness and despair, and their pointless and sordid existence. Devoid of any sense of ultimate purpose, the world often appears to Huxley as a wilderness of apes, baboons, monkeys, and maggots, a veritable inferno, presided over by the demon Belial himself. The dominant negativism in the novelist’s outlook on life is pointedly and powerfully revealed by Will Farnaby, a character in Huxley’s book Island, who is fond of saying that he will not take yes for an answer.
Although Huxley finds the contemporary world largely hopeless, he reveals the possibility of redemption. Little oases of humanity, islands of decency, and atolls of liberated souls generally appear in his fictional worlds. A good number of his characters transcend their egos, achieve completeness of being, recognize the higher spiritual goals of life, and even dedicate their lives to the service of an indifferent humanity. Even Will Farnaby, who will not take yes for an answer, finally casts his lot with the islanders against the corrupt and the corrupting world. It is true that these liberated individuals are not, in Huxley’s novels, a force strong enough to resist the onward march of civilization toward self-destruction, but they are nevertheless a testimony to the author’s faith in the possibilities of sanity even in the most difficult of times. No one who agrees with Huxley’s assessment of the modern world will ask for a stronger affirmation of faith in human redemption.
Huxley believed that humankind’s redemption lies in the attainment of “wholeness” and integrity. His concept of wholeness did not, however, remain the same from the beginning to the end of his career. As he matured as a novelist, Huxley’s sense of wholeness achieved greater depth and clarity. Under the influence of D. H. Lawrence, Huxley viewed wholeness in terms of the harmonious blending of all human faculties. Writing under the influence of Gerald Heard, he expanded his idea of wholeness to include a mystical awareness of the unity of humanity with nature. Influenced by the Eastern religions, especially Hinduism and Buddhism, Huxley gave his concept of wholeness further spiritual and metaphysical depth.
In Crome Yellow, his first novel, Huxley exposes the egocentricity of modern human beings, their inability to relate to others or to recognize any reality, social or spiritual, outside themselves, and the utter pointlessness of their lives. Jenny Mullion, a minor character in the novel, symbolically represents the situation that prevails in the modern world by the almost impenetrable barriers of her deafness. It is difficult for anyone to carry on an intelligent conversation with her. Once, early in the book, when Denis Stone, a poet, inquires of Jenny if she slept well, she speaks to him, in reply, about thunderstorms. Following this ineffectual conversation, Denis reflects on the nature of Jenny Mullion: Parallel straight linesmeet only at infinity. He might talk for ever of care-charmer sleep and she of meteorology till the end of time. Did one ever establish contact with anyone? We are all parallel straight lines. Jenny was only a little more parallel than most.
Almost every character in the novel is set fast in a world that he or she has made and cannot come out of that world to establish contact with others. Henry even declaims, “How gay and delightful life would be if one could get rid of all the human contacts!”...
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He is of the view that “the proper study of mankind is books.” He obviously undertook his history of his family, which took him twenty-five years to write and four years to print, in order to escape human contacts. If Henry is occupied with the history of Crome (his family home), Priscilla, his wife, spends her time cultivating a rather ill-defined malady, placing bets, reading horoscopes, and studying Barbecue-Smith’s books on spiritualism. Barbecue-Smith busies himself with infinity. Bodiham, the village priest, is obsessed with the Second Coming. Having read somewhere about the dangers of sexual repression, Mary Bracegirdle hunts for a lover who will provide her with an outlet for her repressed instincts. Denis broods constantly over his failure as a writer, as a lover, and as a man. Scogan, disdainful of life, people, and the arts, finds consolation only in reason and ideas and dreams about a scientifically controlled Rational State where babies are produced in test tubes and artists are sent to a lethal chamber.
Although a good deal of interaction occurs among the guests at Crome, no real meetings of minds or hearts take place among them; this failure to connect is best illustrated by the numerous hopeless love affairs described in the novel. Denis, for example, loves Anne, but his repeated attempts to convey his love for her fail. Anne, who is four years older than Denis, talks to him as if he were a child and does not know that he is courting her. Mary falls in love with Denis only to be rebuffed. She then makes advances to Gombauld, the painter, with no better result. Next, she pursues Ivor, the man of many gifts and talents, and is brokenhearted to learn that she means nothing to him. She is finally seen in the embrace of a young farmer of heroic proportions, and it is anybody’s guess what comes of this affair. Even the relationship between Anne and Gombauld, which showed every promise of maturation into one of lasting love, meets, at the end, the same fate as the others.
Thumbing through Jenny’s red notebook of cartoons, Denis suddenly becomes conscious of points of view other than his own. He learns that there are others who are “in their way as elaborate and complete as he is in his.” Denis’s appreciation of the world outside himself comes, however, too late in the novel. Though he would like to abandon the plan of his intended departure from Crome, particularly when he sees that it makes Anne feel wretched, he is too proud to change his mind and stay to try again with her. The characters in Crome Yellow thus remain self-absorbed, separated from one another, and hardly concerned with the ultimate ends of life. Scogan betrays himself and others when he says, “We all know that there’s no ultimate point.”
Antic Hay, Huxley’s second novel, presents, like Crome Yellow, an inferno-like picture of contemporary society. The novel is dominated by egocentric characters living in total isolation from society and suffering extreme loneliness, boredom, and despair. Evidence of self-preoccupation and isolation is abundant. Gumbril Junior continually dwells on his failings and on his prospects of getting rich. He retires every now and then to his private rooms at Great Russell Street, where he enjoys his stay, away from people. Lypiatt, a painter, poet, and musician, is without a sympathetic audience. “I find myself alone, spiritually alone,” he complains. Shearwater, the scientist, has no interest in anything or anyone except the study of the regulative function of the kidneys. Mercaptan is a writer whose theme is “the pettiness, the simian limitations, the insignificance and the absurd pretentiousness of Homo soi-disant Sapiens.”
The men and women in Antic Hay, each living in his or her private universe, are unable to establish any true and meaningful relationships with one another. Myra Viveash is cold and callous toward men who come to her and offer their love: Gumbril Junior, Lypiatt, Shearwater, and others. She contemptuously lends herself to them. Lypiatt, hopelessly in love with her, finally takes his life. Gumbril, deserted by Myra, feels vengeful; in turn, he is cruelly cynical in his treatment of Mrs. Rosie Shearwater. Because of his carelessness, he loses Emily, who might have brought some happiness and meaning into his life. Engaged in his scientific research, Shearwater completely ignores his wife, with the result that she gives herself to other men. These men and women can easily find sexual partners, but that does not close the distances between them: They remain as distant as ever.
On the eve of Gumbril’s intended departure from London for the Continent, Gumbril and Myra ride in a taxi the entire length and breadth of the West End to meet friends and invite them to a dinner that night. Their friends are, significantly enough, engaged in one way or another and shut up in their rooms—Lypiatt writing his life for Myra, Coleman sleeping with Rosie, and Shearwater cycling in a hot box in his laboratory. Despite the lovely moon above on the summer night and the poignant sorrow in their hearts, Gumbril and Myra make no attempt to take advantage of their last ride together and come closer. Instead, they travel aimlessly from place to place.
Those Barren Leaves
Huxley’s next novel, Those Barren Leaves, shows how people who might be expected to be more enlightened are as self-centered as the mass of humanity. The setting of the novel, which deals with a circle of British intellectuals in Italy, immediately and powerfully reinforces the fact of the characters’ social isolation.
Mrs. Lilian Aldwinkle, a patroness of the arts and a votary of love, wants to believe that the whole world revolves around her. As usual, she is possessive of her guests, who have assembled at her newly bought palace of Cybo Malaspina in the village of Vezza in Italy, and she wants them to do as she commands. She is unable, however, to hold them completely under her control. In spite of all her efforts, she fails to win the love of Calamy, and later of Francis Chelifer; Chelifer remains unmoved even when she goes down on her knees and begs for his love. She sinks into real despair when her niece escapes her smothering possessiveness and falls in love with Lord Hovenden. Well past her youth, Mrs. Aldwinkle finds herself left alone with nobody to blame but herself for her plight.
Miss Mary Thriplow and Francis Chelifer are both egocentric writers who are cut off from the world of real human beings. Miss Thriplow is obsessed with her suffering and pain, which are mostly self-induced. Her mind is constantly busy, spinning stories on gossamer passions she experiences while moving, talking, and loving. Conscious of the unreality of the life of upper-class society, Chelifer gives up poetry and also the opportunity of receiving a fellowship at Oxford in favor of a job as editor of The Rabbit Fanciers’ Gazette in London. The squalor, the repulsiveness, and the stupidity of modern life constitute, in Chelifer’s opinion, reality. Because it is the artist’s duty to live amid reality, he lives among an assorted group of eccentrics in a boardinghouse in Gog’s court, which he describes as “the navel of reality.” If Miss Thriplow is lost in her world of imagination and art, Chelifer is lost in “the navel of reality”—equidistant from the heart of reality.
Through the character of Calamy, Huxley suggests a way to overcome the perverse modern world. Rich, handsome, and hedonistic, Calamy was once a part of that world, but he no longer enjoys running after women, wasting his time in futile intercourse, and pursuing pleasure. Rather, he spends his time reading, satisfying his curiosity about things, and thinking. He withdraws to a mountain retreat, hoping that his meditation will ultimately lead him into the mysteries of existence, the relationship between human beings, and that between humanity and the external world.
Calamy’s withdrawal to a mountain retreat is, no doubt, an unsatisfactory solution, particularly in view of the problem of egocentricity and isolation of the individual from society raised in Those Barren Leaves and Huxley’s two preceding novels. It may be noted, however, that Calamy’s isolation is not a result of his egocentricity: He recognizes that there are spheres of reality beyond the self.
Point Counter Point
Many critics regard Point Counter Point, Huxley’s first mature novel, as his masterpiece, a major work of twentieth century fiction. By introducing similar characters facing different situations and different characters facing a similar situation, a technique analogous to the musical device of counterpoint, Huxley presents a comprehensive and penetrating picture of the sordidness of contemporary society.
Mark Rampion, a character modeled on D. H. Lawrence, sees the problem of modern man as one of lopsided development. Instead of achieving a harmonious development of all human faculties—reason, intellect, emotion, instinct, and body—modern man allows one faculty to develop at the expense of the others. “It’s time,” Rampion says, “there was a revolt in favor of life and wholeness.”
Huxley makes a penetrating analysis of the failure of his characters to achieve love and understanding. Particularly acute is his analysis of Philip Quarles, a critical self-portrait of the author. Since a childhood accident that left him slightly lame in one leg, Philip has shunned society and has developed a reflective and intellectual temperament. As a result of his constant preoccupation with ideas, the emotional side of his character atrophies, and he is unable to love even his wife with any degree of warmth. In the ordinary daily world of human contacts, he is curiously like a foreigner, not at home with his fellows, finding it difficult or impossible to enter into communication with any but those who can speak his native intellectual language of ideas. He knows his weakness, and he tries unsuccessfully to transform a detached intellectual skepticism into a way of harmonious living. It is no wonder that his wife, Lilian, feels exasperated with his coldness and unresponsiveness and feels that she could as well love a bookcase.
Philip, however, is not as hopeless a case of lopsided development as are the rest of the characters who crowd the world of Point Counter Point. Lord Edward Tantamount, a forty-year-old scientist, is in all but intellect a child. He is engaged in research involving the transplantation of the tail of a newt onto the stump of its amputated foreleg to find out if the tail will grow into a leg or continue incongruously to grow as a tail. He shuts himself up in his laboratory most of the day and a good part of the night, avoiding all human contact. Lady Edward, his wife, and Lucy Tantamount, his daughter, live for sexual excitement. Spandril, who prides himself on being a sensualist, actually hates women. Suffering from a sense of betrayal by his mother when she remarries, he attracts women only to torture them. Burlap wears a mask of spirituality, but he is a materialist to the core. Molly, pretty and plump, makes herself desirable to men but lacks genuine emotional interest. The novel contains an assortment of barbarians (to use the language of Rampion) of the intellect, of the body, and of the spirit, suffering from “Newton’s disease,” “Henry Ford’s disease,” “Jesus’ disease,” and so on—various forms of imbalance in which one human faculty is emphasized at the expense of the others.
Point Counter Point presents an extremely divided world. None of the numerous marriages, except that of the Rampions, turns out well, nor do the extramarital relationships. Both Lilian Quarles and her brother, Walter Bidlake, have problems with their spouses. Lilian plans to leave her husband, Philip, and go to Everard Webley, a political leader, who has been courting her, but the plan is terminated with Webley’s murder. After leaving his wife, Walter lives with Marjorie Carling, but within two years he finds her dull and unexciting. Ignoring Marjorie, who is pregnant with his child, Walter begins to court Lucy Tantamount, a professional siren, who, after keeping him for a long time in a state of uncertainty, turns him away. John Bidlake, the father of Lilian and Walter, has been married three times and has had a number of love affairs. Sidney Quarles, the father of Philip, has had many secret affairs. Disharmony thus marks the marital world presented in the novel, effectively dramatized by means of parallel, contrapuntal plots.
Mark and Mary Rampion serve as a counterpoint to the gallery of barbarians and lopsided characters in the novel. Although Mary comes from an aristocratic family and Mark belongs to the working class, they do not suffer from the usual class prejudices. Transcending their origins, they have also transcended the common run of egocentric and self-divided personalities. They have achieved wholeness and integrity in personality and outlook. There is no dichotomy between what they say and what they do. Mark’s art is a product of lived experience, and his concern for it is inseparable from his concern for life.
Though the dominant mood of Huxley’s early novels is one of negativism and despair, the Rampions exemplify the author’s faith in the possibility of achieving individual wholeness and loving human relationships. The Rampions may not be able to change the state of affairs in the modern world, but their presence itself is inspiring; what is more, they are, unlike Calamy of Those Barren Leaves, easily accessible to all those who want to meet them.
Brave New World
Brave New World, Huxley’s best-known work, describes a centrally administered and scientifically controlled future society in a.f. 632 (a.f. standing for After Ford), around six hundred years after the twentieth century. It is difficult to recognize the people of Huxley’s future World State as human beings. Decanted from test tubes in laboratories, the population of the “brave new world” comes in five standardized varieties: Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons. The members of each group are genetically conditioned to carry out particular tasks. By various methods of psychological conditioning, they are trained to live in total identification with society and to shun all activities that threaten the stability of the community. The State takes full care of them, including the emotional side of their life. All their desires are satisfied; they do not want what they cannot get. With substitutes and surrogates such as the Pregnancy Substitute and the Violent Passion Surrogate, life is made happy and comfortable for everyone. Although people have nothing of which to complain, they seem to suffer pain continually. Relief from pain is, however, readily available to them in the drug soma, which is distributed by the State every day.
Sentiments, ideas, and practices that liberate the human spirit find no place in Huxley’s scientific utopia and are, in fact, put down as harmful to the stability of the community. Parentage, family, and home become obsolete. Sex is denuded of all its mystery and significance: Small children are encouraged to indulge in erotic play so that they learn to take a strictly matter-of-fact view of sex, and men and women indulge in copulation to fill idle hours. Loyalty in sex and love is regarded as abnormal behavior. Love of nature and the desire for solitude and meditation are looked upon as serious maladies requiring urgent medical attention. Art, science, and religion are all considered threatening. Patience, courage, self-denial, beauty, nobility, and truth become irrelevant to a society that believes in consumerism, comfort, and happiness.
Huxley shows how some people in the “brave new world,” despite every care taken by the State to ensure their place in the social order, do not fall into line. Bernard Marx yearns for Lenina Crowne and wants to take her on long walks in lonely places. Helmholtz Watson’s creative impulses demand poetic expression. Even Mustapha Mond, the Resident Controller of Western Europe, is somewhat regretful over his abandonment of scientific research in favor of his present position. People who stubbornly refuse to conform to the social order are removed promptly by the State to an island, where they can live freely according to their wishes.
It is through the character of John, the Savage, from the Reservation that Huxley clearly exposes the vulgarity and horror of the brave new world. Attracted to civilization on seeing Lenina, the Savage soon comes to recoil from it. In a long conversation with Mustapha Mond, the Savage expresses his preference for the natural world of disease, unhappiness, and death over the mechanical world of swarming indistinguishable sameness. Unable to get out of it, he retires to a lonely place where he undertakes his purification by taking mustard and warm water, doing hard labor, and resorting to self-flagellation.
In Brave New World, Huxley presents a world in which wholeness becomes an object of a hopeless quest. Later, looking back at the novel, he observed that this is the most serious defect in the story. In a foreword written in 1946, he said that if he were to rewrite the book, he would offer the Savage a third alternative: Between the utopian and the primitive horns of his dilemma would lie the possibility of sanity—a possibility already actualized, to some extent, in a community of exiles and refugees from the brave new world living within the borders of the Reservation.
Eyeless in Gaza
In Eyeless in Gaza, Huxley returns to the subject of egocentric modern man deeply buried in intellectual preoccupations, sensuality, ideology, and fanaticism. Sensualists abound in Eyeless in Gaza. The most notorious among them are Mrs. Mary Amberley and her daughter, Helen Ledwidge, both mistresses at different times to Anthony Beavis, the central character in the novel. Believing in “sharp, short, and exciting” affairs, Mary keeps changing lovers until she is prematurely old, spent, and poor. When nobody wants to have her anymore, she takes to morphine to forget her misery. Helen marries Hugh Ledwidge but soon realizes that he is incapable of taking an interest in anything except his books. To compensate for her unhappy married life, she goes from man to man in search of emotional satisfaction. Indeed, sensuality marks the lives of most of the members of the upper-class society presented in the novel.
In addition to sensualists, various other types of single-minded characters share the world of Eyeless in Gaza. Brian, one of Anthony’s classmates and friends, suffers from a maniacal concern for chastity, and his mother shows a great possessiveness toward him. Mark, another of Anthony’s classmates, becomes a cynical revolutionary. John Beavis, Anthony’s father, makes philology the sole interest of his life. There are also Communists, Fascists, Fabians, and other fanatics, all fighting for their different causes.
Anthony Beavis is estranged early in his life from men and society after the death of his mother. He grows into manhood cold and indifferent to people. He finds it a disagreeable and laborious task to establish contacts; even with his own father, he maintains a distance. He does not give himself away to his friends or to the women he loves. Elements of Sociology, a book Beavis is engaged in writing, assumes the highest priority in his life, and he is careful to avoid the “non-job,” personal relations and emotional entanglements that might interfere with his work’s progress. As he matures, however, Beavis aspires to achieve a sense of completeness above the self: “I value completeness. I think it’s one’s duty to develop all one’s potentialities—all of them.” At this stage, he believes in knowledge, acquired by means of intellect rather than by Laurentian intuition. He is interested only in knowing about truth, not experiencing it like a saint: “I’m quite content with only knowing about the way of perfection.” He thinks that experience is not worth the price, for it costs one’s liberty. Gradually, he realizes that knowledge is a means to an end, rather than an end in itself, a means to achieve freedom from the self. After being so enlightened, he feels genuine love for Helen, who remains unmoved, however, because of her past experiences with him. From Dr. Miller, the anthropologist, Beavis learns how to obliterate the self and achieve wholeness through love and selfless service. He has a mystic experience of the unity of all life and becomes a pacifist to serve humankind.
After Many a Summer Dies the Swan
In After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, his first novel after his move to California, Huxley satirized the frenzied attempts made by people of the twentieth century to enrich their lives, stressing that the peace that comes with transcendence can bring an enduring joy. Huxley illustrates the vacuity of modern life through the character of Mr. Stoyte, an old California oil magnate living amid every conceivable luxury and comfort. With endless opportunities before him to make more money and enjoy life (he keeps a young mistress of twenty-two), Stoyte wants to live as long as he can. He finances Dr. Obispo’s research on longevity in the hope that he will be able to benefit from the results of the doctor’s experiments. He acquires the valuable Haubert Papers, relating to the history of an old English family, in order to discover the secret of the long life of the Fifth Earl, and he hires Jeremy Pordage, an English scholar, to arrange the papers. Dr. Obispo and his assistant, Pete, are basically no different from Mr. Stoyte in their outlooks. They believe that they will be rendering a great service to humanity by extending the life span, little realizing that growing up, as they conceive it, is really growing back into the kind of apelike existence represented by the life of the Fifth Earl. Jeremy Pordage has no real interest in anything except literature, and he too betrays a narrowness of outlook.
Propter exemplifies Huxley’s dedicated search for more-than-personal consciousness. Retired from his university job, he spends his time helping poor migrant workers, trying to find ways of being self-reliant, and thinking about the timeless good. He argues that nothing good can be achieved at the human level, which is the level of “time and craving,” the two aspects of evil. He disapproves most of what goes on in the name of patriotism, idealism, and spiritualism because he thinks that they are marks of humankind’s greed and covetousness. One should, in his view, aim for the highest ideal: the liberation from personality, time, and craving into eternity.
Time Must Have a Stop
Bruno Rontini, the mystic saint in Time Must Have a Stop, observes that only one out of every ten thousand herrings manages to break out of his carapace completely, and few of those that break out become full-sized fish. He adds that the odds against a human being’s spiritual maturation today are even greater. Most people remain, according to him, spiritual children.
Time Must Have a Stop presents the obstacles that Sebastian Barnack has to face before he can reach full spiritual maturation. If egocentricity and single-mindedness are the main hurdles for Philip Quarles and Anthony Beavis, Sebastian’s problems are created by his weak personality, shaped by his puritanical and idealistic father. Sebastian possesses fine poetic and intellectual endowments, but he is disappointed with his own immature appearance. Even though he is aware of his superior gifts, he looks “like a child” at seventeen. Naturally, his relatives and friends take an adoptive attitude toward him and try to influence him in different ways. Eustace, his rich and self-indulgent uncle, teaches him how to live and let live and enjoy life. Mrs. Thwale helps him to overcome his shyness in a most outrageous manner. Many others also try to mold Sebastian’s destiny and prevent him from achieving true self-realization.
Huxley offers further insights into Propter’s mystical faith through the character of Bruno Rontini, under whose guidance Sebastian finally receives enlightenment. Bruno believes that there is only one corner of the universe that one can be certain of improving, and that is one’s own self. He says that a person has to begin there, not outside, not on other people, for an individual has to be good before he or she can do good. Bruno believes that only by taking the fact of eternity into account can one free one’s enslaved thoughts: “And it is only by deliberately paying our attention and our primary allegiance to eternity that we can prevent time from turning our lives into a pointless or diabolic foolery.” Under the guidance of Bruno, Sebastian becomes aware of a timeless and infinite presence. After his spiritual liberation, he begins to work for world peace. He thinks that one of the indispensable conditions for peace is “a shared theology.” He evolves a “Minimum Working Hypothesis” to which all men of all countries and religions can subscribe.
Ape and Essence
Huxley’s increasing faith in the possibility of man’s liberation in this world did not, at any time, blind him to man’s immense capacity for evil. Ape and Essence describes how man’s apelike instincts bring about the destruction of the world through a nuclear World War III. New Zealand escapes the holocaust, and in 2108 c.e., about one hundred years after the war, the country’s Re-Discovery Expedition to North America reaches the coast of Southern California, at a place about twenty miles west of Los Angeles, where Dr. Poole, the Chief Botanist of the party, is taken prisoner by descendants of people who survived the war. Though some Californians have survived the war, the effects of radioactivity still show in the birth of deformed babies, who are liquidated one day of the year in the name of the Purification of the Race. Men and women are allowed free sexual intercourse only two weeks a year following the Purification ceremony so that all the deformed babies that are born in the year are taken care of at one time. Women wear shirts and trousers embroidered with the word “no” on their breasts and seats, and people who indulge in sex during any other part of the year, “Hots” as they are called, are buried alive or castrated and forced to join the priesthood, unless they are able to escape into the community of “Hots” in the north. The California survivors dig up graves to relieve the dead bodies of their clothes and other valuable items, roast bread over fires fueled by books from the Public Library, and worship Belial.
Introducing the film script of Ape and Essence, Huxley suggested that present society, even under normal conditions, is not basically different from the society of the survivors depicted in the novel. Gandhi’s assassination, he says, had very little impact on most people, who remained preoccupied with their own petty personal problems. Under normal conditions, this unspiritual society would grow into the kind of society represented by Dr. Poole and his team. Dr. Poole is portrayed as a middle-aged child, full of inhibitions and suppressed desires, suffering under the dominance of his puritanical mother.
Ironically, Dr. Poole experiences a sense of wholeness in the satanic postatomic world, as he sheds his inhibitions and finds a free outlet for his suppressed desires during the sexual orgies following the Purification ceremony. Declining the invitation of the Arch Vicar to join his order, Dr. Poole escapes with Loola, the girl who has effected his awakening, into the land of the “Hots.” Through the episode of Dr. Poole, Huxley suggests that self-transcendence is possible even in the worst of times.
The Genius and the Goddess
The Genius and the Goddess describes how Rivers, brought up like Dr. Poole of Apes and Essence in a puritanical family, undergoes a series of disturbing experiences in the household of Henry and Katy Maartens, which apparently lead him into a spiritual awakening in the end. Rivers joins the Maartens household to assist Henry, the “genius,” in his scientific research. He is shocked when Katy, the “goddess,” climbs into his bed and shocked again when he sees Katy, rejuvenated by her adultery, performing her wifely devotions with all earnestness, as if nothing had happened. To his further bewilderment and shock, he discovers that he is sought by the daughter as well. The mother outwits the daughter, but Katy and Rivers face the danger of being exposed before Henry. Rivers is, however, saved from disgrace when the mother and daughter both are killed in a car accident. Rivers is an old man as he narrates the story of his progress toward awareness. Though his final awakening is not described, one can safely infer from his attitude toward his past experiences that he has risen above Katy’s passion and Henry’s intellect to a level outside and above time and has achieved a sense of wholeness. There is, indeed, no way of telling how grace comes.
As previously noted, Huxley creates in almost every novel an island of decency to illustrate the possibility of achieving liberation from bondage to the ego and to time even amid the chaos of modern life. This island is generally represented by an individual or a group of individuals, or it is simply stated to be located in some remote corner of the world. In his last novel, Island, Huxley offers a picture of a whole society that has evolved a set of operations, such as yoga, dhyana (meditation), maithuna (yoga of love), and Zen, to achieve self-transcendence and realize the Vedantic truth, tat tvam asi, “thou art That.”
On Huxley’s island of Pala, the chief concern underlying child care, education, religion, and government is to ensure among the citizens a harmonious development of all human faculties and an achievement of a sense of completeness. To save their children from crippling influences, the parents of Pala bring up one another’s children on a basis of mutual exchange. In school, children are taught the important aspects of life from biology to ecology, from sex to religion. They are taken to maternity hospitals so that they can see how children are born; they are even shown how people die. No one subject or area is given exclusive importance. The credo is that “nothing short of everything will really do.” When they come of age, boys and girls freely engage in sex. Suppressed feelings and emotions are given an outlet in a vigorous type of dance. An admixture of Hinduism and Buddhism is the religion of the people, but there is no orthodoxy about it. “Karuna,” or compassion, and an attention to “here and now,” to what is happening at any given moment, are the basic tenets of their way of life. Moksha medicines are freely available to those who want to extend their awareness and get a glimpse of the Clear Light and a knowledge of the Divine Ground. As people know how to live gracefully, they also know how to die gracefully when the time for death comes. The country has followed a benevolent monarchy for one hundred years. The nation is aligned neither with the capitalist countries nor with the communists. It is opposed to industrialization and militarization. It has rich oil resources but has refused to grant licenses to the numerous oil companies that are vying to exploit Pala. Will Farnaby, the journalist who has managed to sneak ashore on the forbidden island, is so greatly impressed by the imaginative and creative Palanese way of life that he abandons the mission for which he went to the island, which was to obtain, by any means possible, a license for the South East-Asia Petroleum Company to drill for oil on the island.
Huxley fully recognizes the extreme vulnerability of the ideal of integrity and wholeness in the modern world. The state of Pala has, for example, incurred the displeasure of both the capitalist and Communist countries through its policy of nonalignment. Many big companies are resorting to bribery in an effort to get a foothold on the island. Colonel Dipa, the military dictator of the neighboring state of Randang-Lobo, has expansionist ambitions. While Pala is thus threatened by the outside world, corruption has also set in from within. Dowager Rani and Murugan, her son, disapprove of the isolationist policies of the island and want their country to march along with the rest of the world. On the day Murugan is sworn king, he invites the army from Randang-Lobo to enter the island and massacre the people who have been opposed to his progressive outlook.
Huxley’s novels not only present the horrors of the modern world but also show ways of achieving spiritual liberation and wholeness. Huxley is among the few writers of the twentieth century who fought a brave and relentless battle against life-destroying forces. Untiringly, he sought ways of enriching life by cleansing the doors of perception in his attempt to awaken his readers to the vital spiritual side of their beings.