Huxley in Hollywood

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Aldous Huxley came from an upper-class, highly educated family. He and his brothers were expected not merely to do well but to excel at anything they attempted, especially in their academic endeavors. This pressure probably contributed to the suicide of Aldous’ brother Treneven; earlier, Treneven had been forbidden to marry the serving girl whom he had impregnated. Brother Julian, who was evidently homosexual, married a Swiss governess.

The emphasis in HUXLEY IN HOLLYWOOD falls on Aldous Huxley’s unconventional romantic liaisons. Both his first wife, Maria Nys Huxley, a Belgian refugee (with whom he had a son, Matthew), and his second wife, Laura Archera Huxley, are presented here as having a preference for their own sex, pursued with Huxley’s complicity. Indeed, throughout this biography, Dunaway appears to be inordinately preoccupied with questions of sexual orientation. Famous personages from the Hollywood of the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s often dropped by the Huxley household, but in this account their sexual preferences seem to matter more than their contributions to the arts or their personalities.

Huxley himself emerges as a neurotic, obsessed man. His reaction to the suffering of his first wife from breast cancer (mainly ignoring it) does not engender sympathy in the reader. He seems to have been pampered to the point that his social skills and grip on reality were equally weak. Dunaway’s attempts to explain Huxley’s idealistic pacifism and support of psychedelic drugs tend to make Huxley appear naive and fairly unintelligent, a conclusion belied by his works of fiction, if not his nonfiction. The text is supplemented by illustrations and a detailed index.