Aldous Huxley

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Huxley, Aldous 1894–1963

Huxley was a British-American novelist, essayist, short story writer, poet, critic, and playwright. His novels are generally considered novels of ideas: Huxley was interested in many fields of knowledge and his ideas on science, philosophy, religion, and other topics are woven throughout his fiction. His concentration on the philosophical content of a work led critics to find his fiction overly didactic and artistically unsatisfying. This tendency was adumbrated in his later works when, drawn to the philosophy of mysticism and discarding the more objective and satiric tone of his early novels, Huxley created characters that served as little more than mouthpieces for his ideas. Continually searching for an escape from the ambivalence of modern life, Huxley sought a sense of spiritual renewal and a clarification of his artistic vision in hallucinogenic drugs, an experience explored in one of his best known later works, The Doors of Perception. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, 4, 5, 8.)

Frederick J. Hoffman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Huxley has often demonstrated in his novels the fact that ideas may possess qualities which are comparable with those which animate persons—and this particularly in a period of time when ideas are not fixed, calculated, or limited by canons of strict acceptance or rejection. Ideas, as they are used in Huxley, possess, in other words, dramatic qualities. Dominating as they very often do the full sweep of his novels, they appropriate the fortunes and careers which ordinarily belong to persons. (p. 190)

The best examples of the novel of ideas are Huxley's novels of the 1920's. To be sure, he did not always use this form; nor is any of his novels purely a novel of ideas. In his shorter pieces, most notably in "Uncle Spencer," "Two or Three Graces," and "Young Archimedes," Huxley writes charmingly and sympathetically of persons and reveals a remarkable talent for a complete delineation of characters who are interesting almost exclusively as persons. But the works which mark the development of Huxley as a novelist—Chrome Yellow, Antic Hay, Those Barren Leaves, and Point Counter Point—are, each in its own way, novels of ideas. Rarely does a Huxley character give himself away directly; rarely if ever does Huxley fail to give him away. The position, the point of view, of the Huxley character is usually revealed in the course of Huxley's discussion of his tastes, his intellectual preferences, his manner of behaving himself in the society of his fellows. Thus the idea which each is to demonstrate becomes in the novel the point of view he adopts—or, actually, is. (pp. 194-95)

[In] the case of Huxley, there is a close interaction of the essayist with the novelist. They parallel each other for a time; they frequently supplement each other. The essayist is a sort of "supply station," to which the novelist has recourse. He is the "port of call" at which the novelist stops, to take on necessary and staple goods. The reputation of Huxley is chiefly that of the novelist. In another sense, however, he is the essayist-commentator upon twentieth-century morals and ideas. Just as his characters are often subordinate as persons to the ideas or points of view they express, so his novels as a whole are often mere carriers for the cargo of ideas which their author must retail.

The essayist's attempt to give animation to his ideas leads to the novel of ideas. In the course of Huxley's development as novelist, the characters of his creation stumble, swagger, or are carried through his novels, supported almost always by the essayist. (p. 197)

In the novels of the 1920's, the essayist in Huxley strode along with the novelist…. Beginning, perhaps, with Eyeless in Gaza, the essayist far exceeds the novelist…. [In Huxley's later novels, he] is alternately a caricaturist and an essayist; he is no longer a novelist of ideas, but a philosopher who knows not how gracefully to leave the house in which he has lived so graciously all his life. (p. 199)

Huxley is no longer...

(The entire section is 8,879 words.)