Aldous Huxley published this, his first novel, when he was twenty-seven years old. Themes announced in this satirical, loosely knit work were to characterize his future production also: How can people of the modern world find the solutions required by the present to the age-old problems of humanity? What constitutes value? To what extent can historical imperatives be avoided, or, if they still mean something, to what extent can they continue to be implemented? In his justly famous novel of 1932, Brave New World, Huxley poses these problems in a way far more integral to the plot. In Crome Yellow, such questions—and putative solutions—are put in the mouths of various characters. Since none of these (even Denis Stone, the protagonist and from whose point of view events are seen) is clearly sympathetic, it is not possible to discern in which direction Huxley himself throws his weight. It is more a case of “a plague on all your houses”—nobody escapes Huxley’s satirical deconstruction. Romanticism is especially attacked, and such attacks are repeated and developed throughout what might be considered the trilogy formed by his first three novels—Crome Yellow, Antic Hay (1923), and Those Barren Leaves (1925)—and even through the seven-novel series, including Point Counter Point (1928), Brave New World, Eyeless in Gaza (1936), and After Many a Summer Dies the Swan (1939), that constitutes Huxley’s novelistic output up to 1939. Yet there are many Romantic elements in his writing.
Huxley’s work is rife with such contradictions. It well illustrates the poet William Butler Yeats’s aphorism that, if rhetoric is what results from one’s arguments with others, poetry is the outcome of one’s argument with oneself. For example, Huxley knew enough history to deplore the historicism of contemporary thinkers, yet was unable himself to avoid sweeping statements concerning historical tendencies. In Brave New World, the vision of the lockstep future is a nightmare, but the few nonconforming characters are not impressive either. Crome Yellow might have been a better book had Huxley found an organizing idea—Carl Jung’s theory of psychological types comes to mind—to impart a positive spin to the relativism of his people; as it stands, they tend to cancel each other out rather than complement and...
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