Analysis

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Last Updated on July 22, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 355

Aldous Huxley undeniably became immortalized for the brilliance of his depiction of dystopia in Brave New World. During his lifetime, however, his success as a fiction writer was founded in his insightful satires of the social and intellectual set into which he had been born and bred but from which...

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Aldous Huxley undeniably became immortalized for the brilliance of his depiction of dystopia in Brave New World. During his lifetime, however, his success as a fiction writer was founded in his insightful satires of the social and intellectual set into which he had been born and bred but from which he increasingly felt alienated.

In Point Counter Point, Huxley concentrates his social critique on the extreme actions that political commitment combined with personal vengeance can drive men to commit. Sometimes with obvious scorn but often with subtle rebukes, Huxley peels back the layers of hypocrisy that he sees as shielding the British upper classes. He turns his unsparing critical gaze not only on politics, but on religion, science, marriage, love, and even the literary recognition that he enjoyed. The poignant juxtaposition of the Quarles’ true parental concern—albeit expressed too late—is one counterpoint of authentic feeling that he offers to the novel’s satiric point.

The inhabitants of the limited social world that Huxley portrays consider themselves cosmopolitan, even world-weary connoisseurs of all important areas of life. Their intellectual posturing hides the emptiness of their lives, as they apparently devote their energies to these lofty pursuits but actually expend more time in squandering their talents in meaningless affairs and petty vendettas. In Philip and Elinor, Huxley creates a couple who contrast their belief in their own authenticity with the sham that surrounds them. Yet the dissatisfied Elinor is drawn to Everard Webley, whose fascistic politics clearly render him inferior to her husband.

It may seem the author models the novelist character of Philip on himself, but Philip’s startling lack of insight casts doubt on that assumption. In a rather convoluted, almost stereotypically melodramatic plot, one intriguing twist is that Webley, with his detestable politics, becomes the victim rather than the villain. Although the political message of the novel is often buried under the lighter-hearted satirical tone, Spandrell’s homicide and the Freemen’s rapidly exacted revenge provide a serious undercurrent. Huxley suggests that cutting off the head of a dangerous movement, which he clearly identified in extreme nationalism, cannot destroy its popular appeal.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 676

Tantamount House

Tantamount House. Home of the Tantamount family in one of the most fashionable addresses in London—on Pall Mall Street, between the Reform Club and the Traveller’s Club, not far from St. James Palace. Designed in 1839 in an ostentatious Italianate style by the architect Charles Barry (who also designed London’s Houses of Parliament), the house retains most of its original features—including a statue of Venus by Antonio Canova that decorates the marble staircase. However, part of the top floor has been converted into a biological laboratory by the scientifically inclined Lord Edward Tantamount.

The house became the home of the Tantamounts when their northern England estates, between Leeds and Sheffield, were despoiled by the Industrial Revolution. Unlike the tenants of Crome in Huxley’s earlier Crome Yellow (1921), who cling to the old custom of entertaining on weekends in the country, the thoroughly modern Tantamounts hold social evenings to which representatives of London’s intellectual, artistic, and political elites—which are in the process of superseding and displacing the aristocratic elite represented by the Tantamounts—are generously invited. Tantamount House is thus the nucleus of an extensive web of social relationships, whose guests gravitate there from less fashionable London addresses and maintain significant contacts with elements of the British Empire as far-flung as India and Canada.

Gattenden

Gattenden. Village in the Chiltern hills in Hertfordshire, site of Gattenden Park and Gattenden Hall. The residence of John Bidlake and his family becomes the setting for one of the novel’s few dramatic scenes when Philip and Elinor Quarles’s child falls dangerously ill there. Gattenden functions throughout the plot as the primary rural counterpoint to the metropolitan city of London.

*London

*London. The districts of England’s greatest city that are principally featured in this novel are, in descending order of fashionability: Mayfair, Chelsea, Belgravia, and Chalk Farm. Lucy Tantamount’s flat—a magnet to her many admirers—is on Bruton Street, in the heart of Mayfair. Mark and Mary Campion live in an unpretentious house in Chelsea, whose cultural salubriousness is contrasted with Mary’s memories of their first meeting in Stanton-in-Teesdale and subsequent sojourn in Sheffield. On their return to England, Philip and Elinor Quarles take up residence in a mews house (one built on a site previously occupied by stables) in Belgravia. Walter Bidlake lives with Marjorie Carling in Chalk Farm, whose suburban mediocrity is contrasted with his nostalgic memories of growing up in Gattenden.

Other famous London locations featured in the story include Fleet Street, where the national newspapers and many periodicals were based in the 1920’s. It is here that Walter Bidlake and his spiritually challenged editor, Burlap, work on the Literary World. At Speakers’ Corner at Hyde Park, on the eastern boundary of Mayfair, the ill-fated fascist Everard Webley addresses the British Freemen from his white horse, Bucephalus.

*Sheffield

*Sheffield. Industrial city in the north of England, characterized in the novel by its smoky air. The Campions’ former hometown, it is the residence of Everard Webley. At the time Aldous Huxley wrote this novel, England’s heavily industrialized northern cities had not yet been devastated by the Great Depression. Thus, Sheffield functions in the novel as a fountainhead of ill-bred upstarts.

*Paris

*Paris. Capital of France that is the source of many costumes worn by the novel’s female characters and a useful place of refuge for Lucy Tantamount, who sends tantalizing letters to Walter Bidlake from Paris’s quai Voltaire.

*India

*India. Subcontinent of Asia from which Philip and Elinor Quarles depart in order to return to English society. They embark for their long voyage home to Bombay, having previously spent time in Udaipur and Lahore. Their only intermediate port of call of any significance is Port Said in Egypt. Readers are informed that India is hot and odorous, that large toads are apt to walk across verandas in its sordid suburbs, and that its exotic inhabitants speak English with accents even more peculiar than those manifested by the elder Mr. Quarles and the assassin Spandrell.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 327

Baker, Robert. The Dark Historic Page: Social Satire and Historicism in the Novels of Aldous Huxley, 1921-1939. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982. Presents four of the novel’s main contrapuntal plot lines, which are centered around relationships with parents, lovers, death, and God. Argues that Spandrell is central to each of these plot lines.

Bedford, Sybille. Aldous Huxley: A Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1973. Detailed biography based primarily on oral sources that traces Huxley’s intellectual and moral development from early childhood on. Presents a fascinating insight into the Huxley family. Discusses the novel’s theme, characterization, and critical reaction.

Bowering, Peter. Aldous Huxley: A Study of the Major Novels. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969. Presents Huxley as a novelist of ideas who uses minimal plot and character development so as to focus on theme and satire. Discusses Huxley’s relationship with D. H. Lawrence and its influence on the themes and ideas in the novel.

Meckier, Jerome. Aldous Huxley: Satire and Structure. London: Chatto & Windus, 1969. An excellent introductory source that isolates major themes of Point Counter Point and provides the clearest overview of its structure. Includes a detailed analysis of Rampion’s central role and of his ruthless assessments of other characters, as well as the use of models for many characters.

Murray, Nicholas. Aldous Huxley: A Biography. New York: St. Martin’s, 2003. Murray’s 500-plus page biography and intellectual history is a wide-ranging survey of Huxley’s writing and his social, personal, and political life. The book stretches from Huxley’s early satirical writing to his peace activism, from his close relations and friendships with Hollywood filmmakers and other intellectuals, to his fascination with spirituality and mysticism. Illustrations, bibliography, and index.

Nance, Guinevera A. Aldous Huxley. New York: Continuum, 1988. A clear introductory work that discusses Huxley’s intellectual development and his detached, reflective presentation of a society without balance. Also analyzes the characters, parallel story lines, and recurring themes of Point Counter Point.

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