Aldous Huxley

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Francis Wyndham

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Reading a book by Aldous Huxley is like being entertained by a host who is determined that one should not suffer a moment's boredom and works perhaps a bit too hard to ensure one's continual amusement. The fruit of his considerable erudition is lavished on his readers in flattering profusion: quotations from literature, references to art, history and science—if one takes the allusion, it is with a pleasant sense of sharing the author's culture, and if not one is privileged to learn a new fact or to hear an unusual and provocative point of view. For this reason Mr. Huxley is an ideal novelist for young men: remarkably intelligent, genuinely sophisticated, he takes for granted these enviable qualities in his readers. His first three novels, Crome Yellow, Antic Hay and Those Barren Leaves, and the stories, essays and poems of that period, represent a perfect form of undergraduate literature: elegant, informed, irreverent, ironic, as it seems amoral yet serious, they appeared at a time—the early 1920's—when the scene was set for brilliant young men and when to be a brilliant young man was the most rewarding thing to be…. Mr. Huxley could not forever maintain a position of gay and destructive criticism; a constructive remedy had to be proposed and the entertainer had to make room for the teacher. In his later novels, the feast of diversion spread before his readers is no less rich than before, but it has become slightly indigestible.

Point Counter Point, which was first published in 1928, brings his earlier manner to a point of culmination and contains the germ of his later development. Formidably long, it introduces a host of representative characters (several of whom are clearly derived from real people) and sets them talking at each other. A complexity of design resulting from the large dramatis personae gives the novel's construction a superficial resemblance to that of Gide's Les Faux-Monnayeurs, which had appeared three years earlier; but neither Point Counter Point nor Eyeless in Gaza, in which Mr. Huxley later exploited a confusing time sequence, can lay claim to technical innovations. Mr. Huxley has never been an experimental writer; he is rather an accomplished popularizer of experiments recently made by others. Point Counter Point would be more amusing if it were less exhaustive, if its gallery of rogues and fools were less definitive; and Eyeless in Gaza might be easier to reread if its episodes were arranged in simple chronological order. The ideas of D. H. Lawrence dominate Point Counter Point, expounded at second-hand through the medium of a character called Mark Rampion. Rampion and his wife are possibly the first figures in Mr. Huxley's novels to be treated with a minimum of irony; yet the author's ironic attitude is infectious and his readers catch it by mistake; Rampion emerges, unintentionally, as a pretentious bore. However sympathetic to D. H. Lawrence as an artist Mr. Huxley may be, his own talent is naturally resistant to Lawrence's influence; an impression is given by Point Counter Point that the follies and vices of the time have been condemned from a position that is not truly the author's own.

Brave New World may well prove to be Mr. Huxley's most lasting book. Purely satirical and brilliantly prophetic, it is the last destructive work by an essentially destructive writer. By the time Eyeless in Gaza was published in 1935 Mr. Huxley had become a disciple of Gerald Heard…. From now on, an increasing concern with mysticism was to take control of Mr. Huxley's life and work, and the final pages of Eyeless in Gaza , which contain Anthony's spiritual meditation, point the way to all his future writing, including his last book about mescaline. Why does this development, so boldly constructive and apparently so consistent, not entirely satisfy? A certain element in his treatment of what he thinks disgusting weakens, in his novels, the force of his striving towards what he thinks pure. In spite of the case made out for...

(The entire section is 7,053 words.)