At a Glance
Aldous Huxley’s screenplay of Alice in Wonderland may have been rejected by Walt Disney because it used too many big words, but the rest of the world really appreciated Huxley’s writing. Had it not been for a disease that affected his eyesight, though, Huxley might never have become a famous author. Born in 1894, he came from a family of distinguished scientists and wanted to follow in their footsteps. His poor vision, however, forced him to give up that dream. Instead, he first turned to teaching, which Huxley proved not very good at—lucky for the literary world. He then began to focus solely on his writing, digging deeper into himself through practiced meditation, until he eventually produced his masterpiece, Brave New World, in 1932.
Facts and Trivia
- Huxley was denied U.S. citizenship (though he lived in the States for thirty years) because he refused to play any part in the military defense of the United States.
- George Orwell, author of the books 1984 and Animal Farm, was one of Huxley’s students.
- Huxley took the drug LSD while he lay on his death bed.
- Huxley died on the same day as President John F. Kennedy and C. S. Lewis, famed author of The Chronicles of Narnia.
- Huxley is so influential he’s even managed to penetrate pop culture. The Beatles used a picture of him on the cover of their album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Article abstract: Through far-sighted, iconoclastic thought and prolific, diverse writings, Huxley not only recorded but also transcended his age, greatly enriching intellectual life for the twentieth century and beyond.
Aldous Leonard Huxley, the third son of Leonard Huxley and Julia Frances Arnold, descended from two distinguished families: one known for high achievement in the sciences and the other equally renowned for contributions to education and literature. On his father’s side, Thomas Henry Huxley, the eminent biologist and popularizer of English naturalist Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, was Aldous’s grandfather. On his mother’s side, Dr. Arnold of Rugby was his great-grandfather, Matthew Arnold (poet and educator) was his great uncle, and the novelist Mrs. Humphrey Ward was his aunt. His schoolmaster father became an editor of the Cornhill Magazine, and his mother founded a very successful school for girls.
Huxley attended Hillside Preparatory School and then was sent to Eton at age fourteen. He was an intellectually precocious youth who had already almost reached his full height of 6 feet 4 inches. A few months later Huxley suffered the first of three losses that deeply affected him. In November of 1908, his much-loved mother died of cancer at age forty-five. Years later, he expressed some of the devastation he experienced in Eyeless in Gaza (1936), perhaps his most autobiographical novel.
In 1911 came another life-altering trauma. He contracted a serious eye disease that resulted in near blindness for eighteen months, forced him to leave Eton, and left him visually handicapped for the rest of his life. Not knowing whether he would ever see again, Huxley faced this crisis with courage and patience by teaching himself to read Braille. Although he eventually recovered some sight, his visual impairment caused him to abandon his plan to become a doctor.
A third tragedy occurred in 1914 when his older brother, Trevenen, committed suicide at age twenty-four, a victim of depression over his failure to achieve first-class honors at Oxford University and a place in the Civil Service. An unhappy love affair may have been an additional factor, but Huxley believed it was “just the highest and best in Trev—his ideals—which have driven him to his death.” Failure to achieve academic distinction might be a disappointment for an ordinary person, but to be a Huxley was to be aware that one is not ordinary, and Trevenen, a particularly sensitive young man, was destroyed by his failure to live up to his brilliant promise. Huxley’s other brother, Julian, achieved...
(The entire section is 2,805 words.)