Aldous Huxley Huxley, Aldous (Vol. 8)

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Huxley, Aldous (Vol. 8)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Huxley, Aldous 1894–1963

A British-American novelist, essayist, short story writer, poet, critic, and playwright, Huxley was noted in his early works for a satiric tone, while his later works express a concern for the political and social problems of contemporary society. The grandson of Darwinist T. H. Huxley and brother of scientist Julian Huxley, Aldous Huxley retained a central interest in science. His concern with societal problems and his continuing interest in science coalesce in his most famous work, Brave New World. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, 4, 5.)

[Huxley's] excursions into political philosophy were most notable for the uncompromising pacifism which drove him into his self-imposed Californian exile. He was, most of the time, miserable there during the war years, unavoidably prone to feelings of guilt in the bad years. He had brought the misery on himself because he remained to so large an extent the prisoner of the Victorian rationalism in which he had been brought up and against which he constantly rebelled. In true rationalist style, he seems never to have believed in evil as a positive force. This seems to have made him incapable of grasping the significance of Hitler, and of the inevitability through him of World War Two, and allowed Huxley in his last years to divert his enormous talent into the unreal and fatuous Wellsian serenities of Island (written in 1960)….

One might have supposed that Huxley's self-exile, his separation from his normal environment—and in Los Angeles, of all uninspiring places—would have had a damaging effect on his talent. This did not happen. Some of his best writing belongs to these years. Grey Eminence, written in 1940 and 1941, is a masterly performance. His first novel since 1936, Time must have a stop (published in 1944), was Huxley's own favourite among his fiction. It is a brilliant invention, though … I cannot believe that it is more than that. The Perennial Philosophy, published in the next year, 1945, is perhaps the book by which Aldous Huxley will be best known to future generations. The most horrifying of all his novels, Ape and Essence, was published in 1948. It is a book of great and terrible power….

After 1950, he wrote books which are better described as brilliant pieces of controversy rather than masterpieces, with one exception. One of them, The Doors of Perception, is still a matter of lively controversy today. At the risk of sounding prudish, I give my opinion that it would have been better if he had not published this book. If one reads it, one quickly appreciates that Aldous Huxley's attitude to drug-taking was responsible, reasonable and morally justifiable. He saw the dangers in his tolerant view of the use of certain drugs. What he did not see was that the fact of his name appearing on a book which, superficially viewed, seemed to approve of drug-taking, would give enormous encourgement to pushers of pot and suchlike…. He underestimated, even though aware of the possibility, its harmful latency. He continued to think of evil as a negative force.

Christopher Sykes, "The Unhappy Pacifist," in The Listener (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1974; reprinted by permission of Christopher Sykes), October 17, 1974, p. 511.

[Aldous Huxley] was haunted by the vision of two possible futures. One, the most likely, was of destruction, war and ever-increasing tyranny in an overpopulated world. The other was that of the "pragmatic dream" that he advanced in his last essay-novel, Island: psychologists must be given power to disqualify certain types of people from ever getting into positions of power. The economic system must be cured of overproduction and the world of overpopulation. Scientists, psychologists, educators who have mustered techniques which could bring life closer to the "pragmatic dream" should be given every opportunity to do so. This is the Huxleyan Utopia of a happiness brought about by scientific techniques. It is the opposite of his somber vision of a world made...

(The entire section is 3,914 words.)