Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 984

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.

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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 augment one another.

Huxley’s popularity began with the publication of Crome Yellow and grew with each successive novel, especially with the people of his own generation, which indicates that Huxley spoke for his peers, that his unresolved contradictions were theirs as well, and that they welcomed such a mirroring—which was, after all, a focusing of their confusions and despair.

Crome Yellow also is an entertaining work, in part because of its setting, an ancient and splendid English country house standing amid sumptuous gardens in a beautiful countryside, at the end of a train ride that passes through stations with such names as Spavin Delawarr, Knipswich for Timpany, and Camlet-on-the-Water. In the grand house itself, there are secret doors, winding staircases, parapets, and towers. As they dine in style or stroll the garden paths, Huxley’s characters may articulate radical notions concerning the end of civilization as they know it, and the feeling resulting from the massive destruction and loss of life during World War I may color their behavior, but much proceeds according to traditions that have succeeded through many generations, and a sense of coziness and safety mitigates the dire predictions that are voiced in much of Crome Yellow.

The characters are certainly entertaining—or the caricatures, one might almost call them, for Huxley is a gifted cartoonist in prose. The red sketchbook that Jenny Mullion keeps, and at which Denis steals a look, is an emblem of the novel, which...

(The entire section contains 984 words.)

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