Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download Aldous Huxley Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Huxley, Aldous (Vol. 4)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Huxley, Aldous 1894–1963

Huxley was a British-American novelist, essayist, critic, poet, and playwright. Trained in medicine, he was always interested in science; later in life he turned to mysticism and was preoccupied with the occult. His vast learning and searching intelligence are apparent in all of his forty-five books.

Point Counter Point with its counterpointed narratives might be described as a multiple 'novel of ideas'; while Eyeless in Gaza hardly belongs to the original genre at all. The conversion theme of this novel demanded a more complex analysis of character and a narrative which stretched over four decades, neither of which could be accommodated within the basically static structure of the 'novel of ideas'. The result was Huxley's most ambitious experiment in form; it contains some of his highly developed characters, and, in spite of the copious notebook extracts, it can hardly be dismissed as a lengthy essay with added entertainments.

The utopian novels, Brave New World and Island, deserve special mention as they both carry a heavy burden of exposition. This, in itself, does not necessarily point to failure: the 'novel of ideas' by its very nature allows for a large measure of expository material. Perhaps the only criterion we can apply is that the exposition should be lively and that it should be tempered by a measure of dialectical opposition. Brave New World, which originated as a parody of the Wellsian utopias, is largely satirical and the expository material never loses its incisive quality. Island, on the other hand, as the portrait of an ideal society, offers little scope to the satirist—here the community itself is the norm and only such a peripheral character as the Rani of Pala, a Madame Blavatsky figure, allows for true Peacockian caricature. Further, the savage in Brave New World supplies a dialectical opposition which Will Farnaby totally fails to provide in Island. As a result the ideas lack the dramatic qualities they possess in the earlier novels. This is not to say that Island is completely without merit as a 'novel of ideas'; it is redeemed to a large extent by its sheer intellectual density and the wealth of ideas which it has to offer, but it is the one major novel to which the criticism of 'a lengthy essay with added entertainments' might fairly be applied. In conclusion, it must be said that it is not the least of Huxley's achievements that he has revived an outmoded form, to which only one major English novelist had previously aspired, and blessed it with the touch of his genius. Under Huxley, the 'novel of ideas' has approached the status of a major art form. (pp. 14-15)

Eyeless in Gaza, Huxley's single complete expression of the conversion theme, his first novel to restore the meaning, stands central to his work as a whole. Everything he wrote earlier is in a sense preparatory, everything subsequent a tailing off, except for the final utopian vision of Island. After Crome Yellow the theme of moral regeneration, leading to Anthony Beavis's conversion, is latent in all the novels of the nineteen-twenties. (pp. 19-20)

The search for a more desirable way of life is clearly the most important single theme in Huxley's novels. What distinguishes Huxley's work from that of other moralists is the treatment of this theme within the framework of the 'novel of ideas'. The idea of conversion, for example, is central to both Eyeless in Gaza and Tolstoy's Resurrection but it is clear that apart from their parallel themes the two works have little in common. It is not just that Huxley's form and characterization owe nothing to the nineteenth-century novel, the whole moral climate has changed. In the eighteen-nineties, Tolstoy could appeal to what was still a traditional morality: to Nekhlyudov, at grips with the problems of a stricken conscience and the Tsarist penal code, Christianity was still a powerful moral force. For Anthony Beavis, no such traditional morality existed: science had made Christian dogmas intellectually...

(The entire section is 8,299 words.)