illustrated portrait of English author Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley

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The diversity of Aldous Huxley’s more than sixty books encompasses nine collections of poetry (the largest selection being in Verses and a Comedy); several plays (The Gioconda Smile, pb. 1948, based on his short story of this title, also was the basis of Huxley’s screenplay for the 1948 feature film A Woman’s Vengeance); numerous essays, gathered in several collections (the most convenient being the Collected Essays of 1959); and monographs on biography (for example, the 1941 study of Cardinal Richelieu, Grey Eminence), travel (for example, Beyond the Mexique Bay, 1934), politics and science (for example, Brave New World Revisited, 1958), philosophy (for example, The Perennial Philosophy, 1945), art and literature (for example, Vulgarity in Literature, 1930), and psychology and religion (for example, The Doors of Perception, 1954). He also wrote eleven novels, from Crome Yellow, in 1921, to Island, in 1962. He is perhaps most famous for his dystopian novel Brave New World (1932), which in many ways eerily prefigured modern society.


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The recipient of awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1959) and the British Royal Society of Literature (1962), Aldous Huxley has been most praised and studied for his novels, in which—as with his short fiction—he distinctively blends witty prose style, allusion, irony and satire, and symbolism. His targets have ranged from modern British society (as in Point Counter Point, 1928), to modern American society (particularly Los Angeles and Hollywood, as in After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, 1939, and Ape and Essence, 1948), to the bleak view of a future totalitarian world, dominated by sex and drugs, in his science-fiction work Brave New World. Huxley’s essays have been widely commended, though not much written about, while his short fiction has not received the attention that it merits.

Other literary forms

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In addition to the novel, Aldous Huxley wrote in every other major literary form. He published several volumes of essays and won universal acclaim as a first-rate essayist. He also wrote poetry, plays, short stories, biographies, and travelogues.


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Aldous Huxley achieved fame as a satiric novelist and essayist in the decade following World War I. In his article “Aldous Huxley: The Ultra-modern Satirist,” published in The Nation in 1926, Edwin Muir observed, “No other writer of our time has built up a serious reputation so rapidly and so surely; compared with his rise to acceptance that of Mr. Lawrence or Mr. Eliot has been gradual, almost painful.” In the 1920’s and the early 1930’s, Huxley became so popular that the first London editions of his books were, within a decade of their publication, held at a premium by dealers and collectors. Huxley’s early readers, whose sensibilities had been hardened by the war, found his wit, his iconoclasm, and his cynicism to their taste. They were also impressed by his prophetic gifts. Bertrand Russell said, “What Huxley thinks today, England thinks tomorrow.” Believing that all available knowledge should be absorbed if humanity is to survive, Huxley assimilated ideas from a wide range of fields and allowed them to find their way into his novels, which came to be variously identified as “novels of ideas,” “discussion novels,” or “conversation novels.” His increasing store of knowledge did not, however, help him overcome his pessimistic and cynical outlook on life.

Huxley’s reputation as a novelist suffered a sharp decline in his later years. In his 1939 work The Novel and the Modern World , literary critic David Daiches took a highly critical view of Huxley’s novels, and since then, many other critics have joined him. It is often asserted that Huxley was essentially an essayist whose novels frequently turn into intellectual tracts. It has also been held that his plots lack dramatic...

(This entire section contains 322 words.)

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interest and his characters are devoid of real substance. Attempts were made in the late twentieth century, however, to rehabilitate Huxley as an important novelist. In any case, no serious discussion of twentieth century fiction can afford to ignore Huxley’s novels.

Discussion Topics

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How does Aldous Huxley’s title Point Counter Point relate to the structure of the novel?

Miranda in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest (pr. 1611, pb. 1623) says, “O brave new world/ That has such people in it.” How does Huxley’s use of the phrase establish the tone of his novel?

Which novel, Huxley’s Brave New World or George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), now seems more prophetic? Justify your answer.

Huxley came from a family in which several members were notably scientific. What is his attitude toward science as expressed or implied in his best-known novels?

In claiming the right to be unhappy, is the Savage in Brave New World conceding that technologically controlled beings are indeed happy?


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Baker, Robert S. The Dark Historic Page: Social Satire and Historicism in the Novels of Aldous Huxley, 1921- 1939. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982. An interesting study of history and satire in Huxley’s work. Includes a bibliography and an index.

Brander, Laurence. Aldous Huxley: A Critical Study. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1970. One of the few general studies of all Huxley’s major work, going beyond most other book-length Huxley studies, which focus on the novels. Includes a short, nineteen-page chapter on all the short stories, arranged chronologically by separate sections on each of Huxley’s five collections from 1920 to 1930; consequently, “Sir Hercules,” one of Huxley’s more important stories, lifted by Huxley directly from his novel Crome Yellow and only included for the first time in Twice Seven, and then the Collected Short Stories, is omitted.

Deery, June. Aldous Huxley and the Mysticism of Science. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996. Examines Huxley’s knowledge of science and the place of mysticism and science in history. Includes and bibliography and an index.

Desmond, Adrian. Huxley: From Devil’s Disciple to Evolution’s High Priest. London: Penguin, 1997. For a review of this work see Magill’s Literary Annual review.

Holmes, Charles M. Aldous Huxley and the Way to Reality. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1970. A survey of autobiographical meanings and development in Huxley’s works, with brief treatment of “After the Fireworks,” “Cynthia,” “Eupompus Gave Splendour to Art by Numbers,” “Farcical History of Richard Greenow,” “The Gioconda Smile,” “Green Tunnels,” “The Monocle,” “Nuns at Luncheon,” “The Rest Cure,” “The Tillotson Banquet,” and “Young Archimedes.”

Meckier, Jerome, ed. Critical Essays on Aldous Huxley. New York: G. K. Hall, 1996. Thoughtful essays on the author’s oeuvre. Bibliographical references and an index are included.

Murray, Nicholas. Aldous Huxley: A Biography. New York: St. Martin’s, 2003. Murray’s 500-plus page biography and intellectual history is a wide-ranging survey of Huxley’s writing and his social, personal, and political life. The book stretches from Huxley’s early satirical writing to his peace activism, from his close relations and friendships with Hollywood filmmakers and other intellectuals, to his fascination with spirituality and mysticism. Illustrations, bibliography, and index. For a review of this work see Magill’s Literary Annual review.

Nance, Guinevera A. Aldous Huxley. New York: Continuum, 1988. Nance’s introductory biographical chapter reflects her emphasis on Huxley’s novels of ideas. The novels, which are discussed at length, are divided into three chronological groups, with the utopian novels coming in the second group. Supplies a detailed chronology and a fairly extensive bibliography.

Schubert, Maria. “The Use of Irony in Aldous Huxley’s Short Fiction.” In A Salzburg Miscellany: English and American Studies, 1964-1984. Vol. 2. Edited by James Hogg. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1984. 181- 214. Interesting discussion of the contrast between Huxley’s life and the irony and satire of his short fiction, along with patterns and groupings among the stories.

Woodcock, George. Dawn and the Darkest Hour: A Study of Aldous Huxley. New York: Viking Press, 1972. Stresses the novels and nonfiction, but has brief comments on all the short stories in separate brief sections on each of Huxley’s five story collections from 1920 to 1930 scattered throughout the book, which is chronologically arranged. “Sir Hercules” is treated in a section dealing with Huxley’s Crome Yellow.


Critical Essays