Aldous Huxley Huxley, Aldous (Vol. 1)

Aldous Huxley book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download Aldous Huxley Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Huxley, Aldous (Vol. 1)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Huxley, Aldous 1894–1963

A British-American novelist, essayist, poet, and playwright, Huxley was noted for his satire. Among his novels are Point Counter Point, Eyeless in Gaza, Brave New World, Time Must Have a Stop, and Island.

The problem of what to do with new knowledge has always presented itself to the writer after a burst of philosophical or scientific activity…. The early novels of Aldous Huxley are obsessed with this problem. Knowledge destroys value. We believe that we have a vision of ultimate reality, until we learn that it is all glandular, that every emotional conviction of value can be explained away physiologically…. God as a sense of warmth about the heart as opposed to God as 2+2=4; music as a series of sound waves impinging on a physiological organism and music as something significant and moving—these are expressed by Huxley as irreconcilable alternatives. Both explanations seem to be true, yet each seems to deny the other. If the dilemma is posed in this way, the only solution would seem to be either complete scepticism or complete irrationality, and neither scepticism nor irrationality can provide a proper environment for great art. Huxley's early novels are witty fables designed to illustrate this dilemma; he takes us on a conducted tour of dried up wells, sources of value which no longer yield anything because the curse of knowledge has struck them: we know too much about how they came to be what they are.

David Daiches, in his The Present Age in British Literature, Indiana University Press, 1958, pp. 103-05.

Huxley's versatility has enabled him to probe into nearly every aspect of the modern era; and his novels and essays read like an intellectual tour of man's endeavors to lift himself from selfishness into self-effacement, from materialism into mysticism. More moralist and sermonizer than fictionist, Huxley seems himself to have tried every new idea for size before committing it to paper. In each area of experience, he has sought some justification for an absolute, if, at times, even the absolute denial of absolutes, but usually some kind of divine reality which would give meaning to an otherwise inane existence…. Huxley, without attaining the heights of great literature, has attempted to reveal the underlying discontent of the twentieth century, and in so doing has demonstrated a range greater than that of any other novelist of his time….

Aldous Huxley's reputation was made in the decade or so following the First World War, in which his disillusionment, reflected in his playful but bitter humor and in his mordant portrayal of human futility, fitted an era that reduced positive values to witty ironies. Huxley's freedom from traditional values, his license in discussing world-weary practitioners of sex, and his detached, ironical manner gave him stature as a sophisticate with a wry awareness of the world's corruption. Ideas, rather than carefully drawn characters or dramatic situations, were the stuff of his novels…. When these ideas came together, however, they created a dialectic more of conflicting philosophies than of living people. In such terms, Huxley's novels rarely attain the status of "literature"; closer to tracts or fictional essays, they have been called, among other things, "novels of ideas." Therefore, to apply literary standards to Huxley's fiction is often futile, for his characters, situations, and dramatic conflicts simply fail to sustain the work as a whole….

However, after we recognize Huxley's novelistic shortcomings … there still remains his value as a spokesman for the twentieth century. For of contemporary novelists, Huxley, perhaps more than any other, has run the range of modern ideas and has involved himself in every possible intellectual stance while attempting to find cures for society's malaise. The ills of the modern world, so consciously dissected by every major novelist, when complemented by Huxley's own disgust with life, create an inferno-like atmosphere of...

(The entire section is 3,160 words.)