Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 916
Aldous Huxley was one of the most intellectual writers of the twentieth century. Classically educated, he was interested in a wide range of subjects, and his novels are primarily vehicles to present his intellectual and philosophical views. In Point Counter Point, he describes such books as novels of ideas.
Beyond being a structurally and thematically complex novel, Point Counter Point is a harsh, insightful portrait of London society in the 1920’s. D. H. Lawrence once praised it by saying that if the public truly understood Huxley’s message, they would be banning it rather than his own Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928). Not only a novel of ideas, Point Counter Point is also a roman à clef, in which the characters are thinly veiled portraits, or in this case caricatures of real people. Rampion is Huxley’s version of Lawrence, while Philip Quarles represents Huxley himself.
Huxley reveals the novel’s structure, as well as its theme, in the title. In music, “counterpoint” refers to notes added to the main melody, or the point, to create a second melody that combines with the first in an intended relationship. Philip Quarles, in his notebooks on writing, explains his desire to musicalize fiction. To do this, he thinks an author should “show several people falling in love or dying or praying in different ways.” This describes Huxley’s structure. Parallel relationships abound in the novel. Situations are introduced and later reappear with different characters. With this method, Huxley examines the central relationships in human lives: those between lovers, between parents and children, and between humans and God. The harmony sought in musical counterpoint rarely appears in this novel, however, for the society he presents lacks balance. This lack, in combination with the characters’ inability to combine feelings and intellect, passion and reason, lies at the novel’s core.
The very first scene sets the tone as Marjorie pleads with her lover, Walter, to stay, while at the same time she is too refined to make a scene. Clearly it would be better both for her and for the relationship if she would act on her feelings, but she is unable to do so. When Walter leaves to pursue the shallow, sadistic Lucy Tantamount, he knows he is behaving badly; indeed, he has spent his entire life trying to avoid imitating his father’s jolly careless sensuality but is unable to stop himself.
This first triangle is contrasted with the relationship between Philip and Elinor Quarles. Elinor loves Philip, but he is too intellectual to respond to her with feeling and has instead withdrawn into a dispassionate, analytical state where Elinor is unable to reach him. While they are in India, a full Moon reminds Elinor of evenings spent together in Hertfordshire when they were first in love. Although Philip understands what she means when she talks of the moon, he engages her in a debate about logic because he is unhappy about being interrupted. Discussing his feelings makes him uncomfortable and threatens his remote, frigid silence. Philip, like Walter, is fully aware of the flaws in his nature and wishes to respond differently, yet he, too, is unable to make the effort necessary to change. Elinor is driven into pursuing a relationship with Webley simply because he possesses the emotion Philip lacks. Almost all of the male-female relationships in the novel are similarly damaged.
Huxley also explores parent-child relationships and their later effect on adult behavior. While Philip and Elinor travel around the world, they entrust their young son to a nursemaid and the boy’s grandmother. Even when they return, they are not really a part of his...
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life. When he is ill, both Philip and Elinor resent being called to his bedside. Elinor comments that nature never intended her to have children. The most painful parent-child relationship exists between Spandrell and his mother. He can pinpoint one moment in his life, when he was fifteen years old and watching his mother as they skied in Europe, as the dividing line between the innocent happiness of his youth and the utter cynicism and contempt he now feels. After his mother married the arrogant General Knoyle, Spandrell deliberately started making the worst possible choices in everything. “He was spiting her, spiting himself, spiting God.” Again the lack of balance is clear.
Religion intrudes to some extent, but it is seen in most cases as promoting unnatural, rather than harmonious, behavior. Throughout their marriage, Marjorie’s husband, a drunken preacher, uses religion to torment her. Huxley criticizes saints and ascetics as unnatural. Rampion contemptuously describes Saint Francis of Assisi licking the sores of lepers not to help the lepers in any way but only to degrade himself. It is Spandrell, the degenerate cynic, who most desperately searches for God yet cannot change. Rampion finds him refusing “to be a man . . . either a daemon or a dead angel.”
All but two of the central characters in the novel—the artist Rampion and his wife, May—are missing balance. Rampion provides the counterpoint as the voice of balance and reason. Lawrence found his fictionalized self, “a boring gas bag.” Although he illustrates balance, it is only in the early idyllic courtship scenes that Rampion does anything but pontificate. In fact, there is a good deal of satire in the presentation. However, it is clear that Huxley intends him to be the novel’s central figure, since he provides a touchstone for the other characters in the story who seek his advice and approval.