History of the Text
Last Updated on December 4, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 465
Publication History and Reception: Born to an educated, upper-class British family, Aldous Huxley began his writing career with satirical pieces describing the society around him. Huxley had already established himself as an essayist, journalist, and poet when he began writing novels in 1921. Published in 1932, Brave New World has always been a controversial novel. Initially, Huxley was accused of plagiarizing We, a 1924 novel by Yevgeny Zamyatin, though Huxley denied having read it. Many of the initial responses to Brave New World were negative. Readers were confused and offended by Huxley’s portrayal of the future and the novel’s philosophical musings. The novel was widely banned by schools and libraries, and it remains on many banned book lists to this day. However, some medical doctors felt that Huxley’s portrayal of the future of science wasn’t entirely unfounded. Other critics described Huxley’s novel as “masterly,” while some Western economists celebrated it as a criticism of socialism. Today, the novel enjoys great popularity as a work of science fiction, dystopian fiction, and social critique. In 1999, Modern Library ranked Brave New World fifth on its list of the greatest novels of the twentieth century.
A Modernist Take on Science Fiction: Huxley wrote in the years between World War I and World War II and was influenced by both literary modernism and the rapid developments in science and technology in the twentieth century.
- Modernism: Modernism developed in the early twentieth century and reconceptualized traditional methods of story-telling. Modernists experimented with point of view, narrative sequencing, and psychologically complex characterization. Huxley was a part of the Bloomsbury Set, a group of modernist writers who would socialize and share each other’s works. Other members included Virginia Woolf and T. S. Eliot.
- Modernist Techniques in Brave New World: Many aspects of the narrative development in Brave New World exemplify modernist techniques. The narrator provides detailed, intimate knowledge of the characters’ psychological experiences. Often, readers have more information about the characters than the characters themselves. Further, there are moments when the narrative of the story becomes completely abstracted, such as the dialogue at the end of chapter 3 or the philosophical discussion that comprises chapters 16 and 17.
- Science Fiction: Huxley was also writing in the tradition of science fiction that had been established in the nineteenth century by writers such as Mary Shelley and H. G. Wells. Such writers imagined possible effects that technology and scientific development could have on present or future societies. Brave New World takes technological and scientific advances of the early twentieth century—factory production, industrialization, genetic science—and imagines what such advances might lead to in a fictitious future. Most consider the World State depicted in the novel to be a dystopia, a vision of the future that is frightening, negative, or unsettling.