Aldous Huxley

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Introduction

(Short Story Criticism)

Aldous Huxley 1894–-1963

British-American novelist, short story writer, essayist, poet, and playwright. See also Aldous Huxley Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 3, 4, 5, 8, 18.

Huxley's short stories, all written between 1920 and 1930, cover a relatively short period in his prolific forty-seven-year writing career. The author celebrated for “novels of ideas,” in particular the “dystopian” novel Brave New World, is little remembered today for his short fiction, but they do reflect in less complex structure many of the concerns he developed in his mature works. These include the search for order in chaos; the fragmentation, decay, and lack of wholeness and values in postwar society; the hostility of a world that thwarts ambition and expectations; and the artist's quest for identity. Most of the stories are witty and satirize modern values, particularly among the upper class, and display a sometimes bitter skepticism at the meaningless of life. While they were received fairly well during his life, later scholars of Huxley's work have generally ignored the stories, as it is agreed that the author's important ideas and concerns are given a far more eloquent voice in his novels. However, the stories continue to be appreciated for their wry humor, brilliant observation, sophisticated literary style, and skeptical view of humanity in post-World War I England.

Biographical Information

Huxley was born in 1894 in Surrey, England, to an intellectually prominent family. His father, Leonard, was a respected essayist and editor, and his grandfather, Thomas Henry Huxley, was a leading biologist and proponent of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. He was also the great-nephew of the poet Matthew Arnold, the grandson of the Reverend Thomas Arnold, and the nephew of the novelist Mrs. Humphrey Ward. Huxley's brother, Julian, would eventually become a noted biologist and his half-brother, Andrew, would win the 1963 Nobel Prize for his work in physiology. The early years in Huxley's life were passed happily in a stimulating, intellectual household. He was known as a sensitive boy and one who showed a mystical bent early on. But a series of tragedies befell Huxley in his teenage years. In 1908 his mother died of cancer, two years later he contracted an eye disease that permanently damaged his sight, and in 1914 his brother Trevenen committed suicide. These events had a profound effect on the concerns and mood of Huxley's writing.

While at Oxford from 1913 to 1916 Huxley started editing literary journals and began writing. In 1916, he published his first volume of poetry. He married a young Belgian refugee, Maria Nys, in 1919, and a year later his son, Matthew, was born. That year he also published his first volume of stories, Limbo to mild critical acclaim; two years later he produced another volume, Mortal Coils. Huxley gained wider recognition with his novel Crome Yellow; by 1923 his reputation was sufficiently secure that Chatto and Windus agreed to publish two of his works of fiction each year for the next three years. In 1923 Huxley and his wife moved to Italy, where they lived for four years. While abroad he wrote and published the novels Antic Hay and Those Barren Leaves and two volumes of short fiction, Little Mexican and Other Stories and Two or Three Graces and Other Stories. Huxley's volume of stories, Brief Candles, appeared in 1930, two years after the release of his highly acclaimed novel of ideas, Point Counter Point, which secured his reputation as one of the important literary figures of his day.

After 1930, Huxley's work began to reflect his increasing concern with humanistic ideas and ideals as well as politics. This is most vividly shown in Brave New World, his ironic satire of a utopia, which warns us against the dangers of political manipulation and technological development. In the late 1930s Huxley moved to California, where he became a screenwriter and developed his interest in mysticism, Eastern thought, and mind-altering drugs; he examines his...

(The entire section is 27,475 words.)