Aldous Huxley

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Huxley, Aldous (Vol. 3)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Huxley, Aldous 1894–1963

A British-American novelist, essayist, poet, and playwright, Huxley earned his early reputation as a brilliant satirist. Vaguely optimistic and witty in his early novels, Huxley used his intellectual and sermonizing later novels to vent his increasing disgust with contemporary society. Critics often contend that his novels are not fiction at all, but fictionalized essays.

Point Counter Point is supposed to be the ruthless, not to say scientific, anatomizing of Huxley's world. Its fundamental artistic weakness is that that world as a living organism never comes into existence. It is as though Huxley is so keen to dissect that he cannot first take the trouble to create. His novel entirely lacks the sense of what makes the wheels go round in life. Even more than in the novels of his spiritual (and technical) successor, Jean-Paul Sartre, life is replaced by parasitism, a state of affairs tolerable only if the author is himself fully aware of it.

Such vitality as Point Counter Point possesses is the vitality of a sharp, if cynical, intelligence exercising itself on certain situations and individuals which it has seen through rather than seen imaginatively.

Arnold Kettle, in his An Introduction to the English Novel, Volume Two (copyright © 1960 by Arnold Kettle; reprinted by permission of Hutchinson & Co., Publishers, and Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.), Hutchinson, 1960, p. 168.

Aldous Huxley held a unique position in the literature of his age. He essayed many forms; and was eminent in all. He was a brilliant novelist, a subtle critic of literature, music, painting, a fascinating essayist; and in youth a beautiful poet. In all his work he combined an acute searching intelligence enriched by deep learning with a sparkling literary accomplishment. His books were at once deeply interesting and continuously entertaining.

The unique position, however, which he held in his age was not due to his literary gifts alone. Aldous Huxley was also an influence on men's ideas, even on their conduct. I have been told by more than one distinguished man that the living author who had affected their lives most was Aldous Huxley; for in the formative period between thirteen and twenty he had, as it were, 'released' them, had freed their spirits from the conventions of the past and the inhibiting conditions of the present age. He was able to do this because he blended two strains rarely found in one man. They were the product of his distinguished heredity. In Aldous Huxley's veins flowed the blood of Matthew Arnold and of Thomas Henry Huxley. From both he drew something. Arnold had bequeathed to him a sensitive imagination soaked in the culture of the past, Huxley an adventurous scientific curiosity disciplined by a stern regard for truth. Aldous Huxley did not find it easy to satisfy both sides of his nature: and much of his life was spent in search of a faith. Yet the fact that he combined in himself these two strains was a necessary condition of his achievement and his influence. It enabled him in an especial way to grasp the contemporary predicament….

[To] the literary and scientific strains in him he added a religious strain. Though scientific, his mind was not materialistic. He had a profound sense of some spiritual reality, not to be apprehended by the senses, existing beyond the confines of time and space, serene, inviolate, ineffable. He was never able to pin down this awareness in a dogmatic formula: he did not attempt to chart the limits and extent of this spiritual region. Nor was there ever any question of his accepting the account of it given by any of the orthodox churches. None the less, the spiritual world was intensely real to him, irradiating his soul with 'bright shoots of ever-lastingness' and imbuing it with a fortitude that stood the shocks inflicted on him by fate. Aldous Huxley was threatened all his life by blindness, and in his last years he came to know that certain death was coming to him soon. Yet always he...

(The entire section is 4,087 words.)