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Aldous (Leonard) Huxley (1894-1963)

 

English novelist and critic, grandson of the prominent biologist T.H. Huxley (see further below) and brother of Julian Huxley, also a biologist. Aldous Huxley's production was wide. Besides novels he published travel books, histories, poems, plays, and essays on philosophy, arts, sociology, religion and morals. Among Huxley's best known novels is Brave New World (1932), which is one of the classical works of science fiction along with George Orwell's Nineteen-Eighty-Four.

"Half of the human race lives in manifest obedience to the lunar rhythm; and there is evidence to show that the psychological and therefore the spiritual life, not only of women, but of men too, mysteriously ebbs and flows with the changes of the moon. There are unreasoned joys, inexplicable miseries, laughters and remorses without a cause. Their sudden and fantastic alternations constitute the ordinary weather of our minds. These moods, of which the more gravely numinous may be hypostasized as gods, the lighter, if we will, as hobgoblins and fairies, are the children of the blood and humours. But the blood and humours obey, among many other masters, the changing moon. Touching the soul directly through the eyes and, indirectly, along the dark channels of the blood, the moon is doubly a divinity." (from 'Meditations of the Moon' in Music at Night and Other Essays, 1931)

Aldous Leonard Huxley was born in Godalming, Surrey, into a well-to-do upper-middle-class family. Leonard Huxley, his father, was a biographer, editor, and poet. Huxley's mother, Julia Arnold, was the daughter of Thomas Arnold, a brother of Matthew Arnold, the great British humanist. Julia's sister was the novelist Mary Augusta Ward, who published under the name Mrs. Humphry Ward. Julia Arnold died of cancer when Huxley was fourteen. Later Huxley said that it gave him a sense of the transience of human happiness.

Huxley first studied at Eton College, Berkshire (1908-13). At the age of 16 Huxley suffered an attack of keratitis punctata and became for a period of about 18 months totally blind. By using special glasses and one eye recovered sufficiently he was able to read and he also learned braille. Despite a condition of near-blindness, Huxley continued his studies at Balliol College, Oxford (1913-15), receiving his B.A. in English in 1916. Unable to pursue his chosen career as a scientist – or fight in World War on the front – Huxley turned to writing. He worked for the War Office in London in 1917, and taught briefly at Eton College and Repton. His first collection of poetry came out in 1916 and two more volumes followed by 1920. In 1919-20 he was member of the editorial staff of Athenaeum under Middleton Murray, Katherine Mansfield's husband. Huxley wrote biographical and architectural articles and reviews of fiction, drama music and art.

"I met, not long ago, a young man who aspired to become a novelist. Knowing that I was in the profession, he asked me to tell him how he should set to work to realize his ambition. I did my best to explain. 'The first thing,' I said, 'is to buy quite a lot of paper, a bottle of ink, and a pen. After that you merely have to write.'" (from 'Sermons in Cats' in Music at Night)

In 1920-21 Huxley worked as a drama a critic for Westminster Gazette, and an assistant at the Chelsea Book Club and the Condé Nast Publications (1922). His first novel, Crome Yellow, a witty criticism of society, appeared in 1921. Huxley's style, a combination of brilliant dialogue, cynicism, and social criticism, made him one of the most fashionable literary figures of the decade. "Endlessly educable, he was, in the family tradition, a hybrid – the artist-educator; an extraordinary filler-in of the huge gaps in one's mind. To the very young in the Twenties, this was inestimable," said his friend V.S. Pritchett.

Huxley was a friend of Lady Ottoline Morrell and the Bloomsbury group, which included such writers as Virginia Woolf, Clive Bell, Lytton Strachey, and E.M. Forster. In eight years he published a dozen books, among them Point Counter Point (1928), in which the numerous characters, among them D.H. Lawrence, Murray, Mansfield, and the author himself, are compared to instruments in an orchestra, and each character plays his separate portion of Huxley's vision of life. Later these early works, mostly satirical comments on contemporary events, have been criticized for their rather one-dimensional characters, which the author used as a mouthpiece to say "almost everything about almost anything" – as Huxley once described the nature of the essay.

In Do What You Will (1929) Huxley predicts that Karl Marx's Proletariat becomes "a bourgeoisie with oily instead of inky fingers," compares the first motion picture in which spoken dialogue is heard, 'The Jazz Singer,' to a "brimming bowl of hog-wash," and sees that at out time "monotheism has lost the value which circumstances once gave it. It lacks political utility, and to the individual it is a poison." In the essay 'Fashions on Love' he defends D.H. Lawrence's doctrine of the 'natural love' but rejects "the sexual impulse, which now spends itself purposelessly..."

During the 1920s Huxley formed a close friendship with D.H. Lawrence with whom he traveled in Italy and France. For most of the 1920s Huxley lived in Italy with his wife and son Matthew. With her Huxley also traveled in India and the Dutch Indies.

In the 1930s, Huxley moved to Sanary, near Toulon, where he wrote in four months Brave New World, a dystopian vision of a highly technological society of the future (the word "utopia" comes from Thomas More's novel Utopia). As the the Depression deepened, so too did his despair with the twaddle of politicians. In this work he turned upside down H.G. Wells' optimism that science can produce world stability and individual happiness. Developments in sciences and cultural changes in his own time inspired much of imagination – such as mass production, which revolutionized industry, air travel, glamorized by Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, behaviorist psychology, and explorations in genetics. Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) also was among the books he read for the background of the story. Huxley answered to fears of hopes of wide variety of his readers, from the inevitable acceleration of American world domination and grotesqueries of American life to the failures of parliamentary democracy. In its first year the novel sold a total of twenty-eight thousand copies in England and in the United States, and enjoyed respectable sales throughout the remainder of the century.

In the 1930s, Huxley was deeply concerned with the Peace Pledge Union. He moved in 1937 with the guru-figure Gerald Heard to the United States, believing that the Californian climate would help his eyesight, a constant burden, which he treated with Dr. W.H. Bates's eye-training method. The results he described in The Art of Seeing (1942). After this turning point in his life, Huxley abandoned pure fictional writing and chose the essay as the vehicle for expressing his ideas. He also wrote screenplays in collaboration with Christopher Isherwood for film studios, but did not gain success in this field. Among their unproduced film treatments was Jacob's Hands, a story about healing powers and disappointment in love. Huxley also was a regular contributor to Vedanta and the West, the magazine Isherwood edited while a discipline of Swami Prabhavananda.

Brave New World. A cry of warning and nightmarish black comedy of a future society. The Nine Year War, a global holocaust, has reshaped the history. In the year 632 after Ford (i.e., the 26th century) the world has attained a kind of scientifically balanced communist utopia. (Noteworthy, the novel contains no reference to atomic energy. In his foreword to the 1946 edition Huxley explained that "the triumps of physics, chemistry and engineering are tacitly taken for granted.") Scientists rule the world, not philosophers as in Plato's model state. Universal happiness is preserved by psychotropic drugs. "The world's stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get." Religion, art, theoretical science are unimportant, but life is free of illness and old age. Scientists are able to produce babies who will fit their future job exactly. There are five types of humans, ranging from the intellectually superior Alphas to the semimoronic Epsilons. Alpha-Plus Bernard Marx resists soma, the soporific drug carried by all citizens. It helps to stop any signs of stress or dissatisfaction and longing for a fuller life. Eventually Bernard is exiled to Iceland. John the Savage, raised in a reservation of American Indian primitives and abandoned by his mother in a primitive outpost, comes into this world. John is thinking, feeling individual, who has read Shakespeare and witnessed primitive religious rituals. Bernard brings John and his ruined Beta-Minus mother Linda to England. When his mother dies of an overdose of the feel-good drug, John swells a violent revolt. He engages in a dialogue with the World Controller Mustapha Mond and debates the merits of freedom and passion. He is harassed as a freak of the accepted social order. In the end the Savage yields to the temptations of the carefree world, and kills himself in disgust. - The book received mixed reviews. It was not recognised as a modern classic. H.G. Wells was offended by what he regarded as Huxley's betrayal of science and the future. Bertrand Russell and Hermann Hesse could discern the serious intent beneath the surface of playful wit. The novelist, essayist and critic C.P. Snow dismissed in a 1959 review both Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948) and Brave New World especially for their pessimism about scientific progress and social purpose.
soma n. [< Sk. soma, an intoxicating drink used in Vedic rituals] in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, a euphoric, hallucinogenic drug used by the government to control the population; hence, any similar drug. (Brave New Worlds: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction, edited by Jeff Prucher, 2007)

Several of Huxley's screenplays never got filmed. His best screenplays for Hollywood included MGM's Pride and Prejudice (1940). The first film project offered was an adaptation of Galsworthy's Forsyte Saga, which Huxley turned down, explaining in a letter, ''Even the lure of enormous lucre could not reconcile me to remaining closeted for months with the ghost of the late poor John Galsworthy. I couldn't face it.'' In 1938 he wrote an uncredited treatment for Madame Curie, directed by Mervyn LeRoy. With John Houseman and Robert Stevenson he worked for the 20th Century-Fox film Jane Eyre (1944), starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. Woman's Vengeance (1947), directed by Zoltan Korda and starring Charles Boyer and Jessica Tandy, was based on Huxley's story 'The Gioconda Smile.'

"One Folk, One Realm, One Leader. Union with the unity of an insect swarm. Knowledgeless understanding of nonsense and diabolism. And then the newsreel camera had cut back to the serried ranks, the swastikas, the brass bands, the yelling hypnotist on the rostrum. And here once again, in the glare of his inner light, was the brown insectlike column, marching endlessly to the tunes of this rococo horror-music. Onward Nazi soldiers, onward Christian soldiers, onward Marxists and Muslims, onward every chosen People, every Crusader and Holy War-maker. Onward into misery, into all wickedness, into death!" (from Island, 1962)

In Brave New World Revised (1958), a sequel to his classic novel, Huxley compared the predictions of his earlier work with subsequent developments in science and society. He stated that in writing Brave New World he had failed to recognize the ominous potential of nuclear fission, "for the possibilities of atomic energy had been a popular topic of conversation for years before the book was written." He believed that individual freedom was much closer to extinction than he had imagined.

Huxley's other later works include The Devils of Loudon (1952), depicting mass-hysteria and exorcism in the 17th-century France. Island (1962) was an utopian novel and a return to the territory of Brave New World. A journalist shipwrecks on Pala, the fabled island, and discovers there a kind and happy people – too happy. "It's even a kind of affront to God," says one of the characters. The earthly paradise cannot go on being different from the rest of the word and harsh realities of oil policy bring about the fall of Pala. "It is a  curious book, more successful as a vehicle of ideas than as a novel," wrote Arthur Herzog in his review in Nation.

Huxley also wrote two books about mind-altering drugs, becoming a guru among Californian hippies'. While writing Brave New World Huxley had read about drugs, but it took 22 years before he experimented with them himself. In a article from 1931, Huxley stated that drug-taking "constitutes one of the most curious and also, it seems to me, one of the most significant chapters in the natural history of human beings." The Doors of Perception (see Jim Morrison), published in 1954, was an influential study of consciousness expansion through hallucinogens. One bright May morning, as he said, "I swallowed four-tenths of a gram of mescalin dissolved in half a glass water and sa t down to wait for the results." Huxley also started to use LSD and showed interest in Hindu philosophy. The Doors of Perception prompted Thomas Mann to write in a letter, that it is a "completely – I don't want to say immoral, but one must say irresponsible book, which can only contribute to the stupefaction of the world and to its inability to meet the deadly serious questions of the time with intelligence." Kingsley Amis said in the Spectator that Huxley's "present role" is "that of a crank".

In 1961 Huxley suffered a severe loss when his house and his papers were totally destroyed in a bush-fire. Little survived apart from the manuscript of Island. Huxley died in Los Angeles on November 22, 1963. In the media news of his death were overshadowed by the assassination of President Kennedy. Huxley was married twice. In 1919 he married Maria Nys, a Belgian, who died 1955. They had one son. In 1956 he married the violinist and psychotherapist Laura Archera. They had first met in 1848 when Laura Archera was planning to make a film on the Palio, the annual horce race in Siena. She hoped that Huxley would write it.

As a essayist Huxley was concerned about the power of science and technology. His skepticism caused much controversy among his readers. Huxley's philosophical cul-de-sac led him finally to seek answers from mysticism and the thought of the East. One of Huxley's most puzzling ideas was the education of the human being as 'amphibian', one capable of living in different environments. Late in his life Huxley remarked, "It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one's life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than 'Try to be a little kinder.'"

Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895). English biologist, who wrote on biology as a specialist and as a popularizer. His also published books on education, philosophy, and theology. Huxley's investigations in comparative anatomy, paleontology, and evolution, such as Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863), exerted a great influence on the 19th century biology. At the age of 26 Huxley was recognized as one of the leading scientist in England. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1851. T.H. Huxley's grandson Sir Julian Huxley (1887-1975) became a famous biologist. The writer Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) was his brother.

For further reading: Aldous Huxley by Alexander Henderson (1935); Aldous Huxley by Harold H. Watts (1969); Aldous Huxley by John Atkins (1967); The Timeless Moment by Laura Archera Huxley (1968); Aldous Huxley and the Way to Reality by Charles M. Holmes (1970); Aldous Huxley: A Critical Study by Laurence Brander (1970); Aldous Huxley: Satirist and Novelist by Peter Firchow (1972); Aldous Huxley by Sybille Bedford (1973-74, 2 vols.); Aldous Huxley: The Critical Heritage edited by Donald Watts (1975); The End of Utopia by Peter Edgerly Firchow (1984); Aldous Huxley by Guinevera Nance (1988); Huxley in Hollywood by David King Dunaway (1989); Brave New World: History, Science, and Dystopia by Robert S. Baker (1989); Aldous Huxley Recollected: An Oral History by David King Dunaway (1998); Readings on Brave New World, ed. by Katie De Koster (1999); Aldous Huxley: A Biography by Dana Sawyer (2002); Aldous Huxley: A Biography by Nicholas Murray (2003) - See also: Charles Darwin, whom Huxley met in 1851 and maintained a close relationship thereafter. Huxley was Darwin's first supporters. Huxley's influence on Finnish writers: Olavi Paavolainen

Selected works:

  • The Burning Wheel, 1916
  • The Defeat of Youth, and Other Poems, 1918
  • Limbo, 1920
  • Leda, 1920
  • A Virgin Heart / R. de Gourmont, 1920 (translator) 
  • Crome Yellow, 1921
  • Mortal Coils, 1922
  • Antic Hay, 1923
  • On the Margin: Notes and Essays, 1923
  • Little Mexican, 1924 (US title: Young Archidemes, and Other Stories)
    - films: Prelude to Fame, 1950, dir. by Fergus McDonell, starring Guy Rolfe, Kathleen Byron and Kathleen Ryan; Il Piccolo Archimede, 1979, TV film, dir. by Gianni Amelio, starring Laura Betti, Shirley Corrigan and Mark Morganti
  • Along The Road: Notes and Essays of a Tourist, 1925
  • Selected Poems, 1925
  • Those Barren Leaves, 1925
  • Discovery: A Comedy in Five Acts, 1925 (written by Frances Sheridan, adapted for the modern stage by Aldous Huxley)
  • Jesting Pilate: An Intellectual Holiday, 1926
  • Essays New and Old, 1926
  • Two or Three Graces, and Other Stories, 1926
  • Proper Studies, 1927
  • Point Counter Point, 1928
    - Elämän kontrapunkti (suom. Marja Kelo, 1963)
    - TV mini-series1968, prod. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), dir. by Rex Tucker, starring Matthew Jacobs, Lyndon Brook and Patricia English
  • Do What You Will, 1929
  • Arabia Infelix and Other Poems, 1929
  • Holy Face, and Other Essays, 1929
  • Bried Candles, 1930
  • Vulgarity in Literature: Digressions from a Theme, 1930
  • Cidadas, and Other Poems, 1931
  • The World of Light: A Comedy in Three Acts, 1931
  • Music at Night, and Other Essays1931
  • The Letters of D.H. Lawrence, 1932 (ed.)
  • Rotunda, 1932
  • Brave New World: A Novel, 1932
    - Uljas uusi maailma (suom. I. H. Orras, 1944)
    - films: television film: 1980, dir. by Burt Brinckerhoff, starring Julie Cobb, Bud Cort, Keir Dullea, Kristoffer Tabori, Dick Anthony Williams; TV film 1998, dir. by Leslie Libman, Larry Williams, starring Peter Gallagher, Leonard Nimoy and Tim Guinee
  • Retrospect: An Omnibus of Aldous Huxley’s Books, 1933
  • Beyond the Mexique Bay, 1934
  • Eyeless in Gaza, 1936
    - film: TV series 1971, prod. prod. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), dir. by James Cellan Jones, starring Michael Gambon, Ian Richardson and Lynn Farleigh 
  • What Are You Doing About It? The Case for Constructive Peace, 1936
  • The Olive Tree and Other Essays, 1936
  • Ends and Means, 1937
  • An Encyclopaedia of Pacifism, 1937 (ed.)
  • The Gioconda Smile: A Story, 1938
    - films: A Woman's Vengeance, 1948, dir. by Zoltan Korda, starring Charles Boyer, Ann Blyth, Jessica Tandy, Cedric Hardwicke; Das Lächeln der Gioconda, TV film 1963; The Gioconda Smile, TV drama 1963, dir. by Patrick Barton, starring Alexander Hay, Elizabeth Wing, Fay Kelton, William Lloyd;  Le sourire de la Joconde, TV drama 1975, dir. by Pierre Sabbagh, starring Raymond Gérôme, Robert Party, Richard Saint-Bris, Claude Marcault, Catherine Salviat 
  • After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, 1939
    - TV drama: After Many a Summer, 1967, dir. by Douglas Camfield, starring Stubby Kaye, Frank Williams, Zia Mohyeddin, Judith Arthy
  • Words and their Meanings, 1940
  • Grey Eminence: A Study in Religion and Politics , 1941
  • The Art of Seeing, 1942
  • Time Must Have a Stop, 1944
    - Ajan täytyy seisahtaa (suom. Esko Pennanen, 1954)
  • The Perennial Philosophy, 1945 (ed.)
  • Science, Liberty, and Peace, 1946 (with J. Russell)
  • The World of Aldous Huxley: An Omnibus of His Fiction and Non-Fiction over Three Decades, 1947 (edited by Charles J. Rolo)
  • Ape and Essence, 1948
    - TV drama: 1964, dir. by David Benedictus, starring Alec McCowen, Robert Eddison, Derek Sydney, Petra Markham
  • Collected Works, 1948-
  • Food and People, 1949 (with John Russell)
  • Themes and Variations, 1950
  • The Devils of Loudon, 1952
    - film: The Devils, 1971, dir. by Ken Russell, starring Vanessa Redgrave, Oliver Reed, Dudley Sutton, Max Adrian
  • Joyce: The Artificer, 1952 (with S. Gilbert)
  • A Day in Windsor, 1953 (with J.A. Kings)
  • The French of Paris, 1954 (photos. by H. Roth)
  • The Doors of Perception, 1954
    - Tajunnan ovet & Taivas ja helvetti (suom. Ville-Juhani Sutinen, 2009)
  • The Genius and the Goddess, 1955
  • Adonis and the Alphabet, 1956 (U.S. title: Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow)
  • Heaven and Hell, 1956
    - Tajunnan ovet & Taivas ja helvetti (suom. Ville-Juhani Sutinen, 2009)
  • Collected Short Stories, 1957
  • Brave New World Revisited, 1958
    - Sääli uutta sukupolvea (suom. Antti Vahtera, 1961)
  • Collected Essays, 1959
  • On Art and Artists, 1960 (ed. by M. Philipson)
  • Selected Essays, 1961
  • Island: A Novel, 1962
  • The Politics of Ecology: The Question of Survival, 1963
  • Literature and Science, 1963
  • The Crows of Pearblossom, 1967
  • New Fashioned Christmas, 1968
  • The Letters of Aldous Huxley, 1969 (edited by Grover Smith)
  • Great Short Works, 1969 (edited by Bernard Bergonzi)
  • America and the Future: An Essay, 1970
  • The Collected Poetry of Aldous Huxley, 1971 (edited by Donald Watt, with an introd. by Richard Church)
  • The Human Situation, 1977
  • Moksha, 1982 (eds. M. Horowitz and C. Palmer)
    - film: Drug-Taking and the Arts, 1994, dir. by Storm Thorgerson
  • Huxley and God, 1992 (ed. by J. Hazard)
  • Aldous Huxley's Hearst Essays: 1931-1935, 1994
  • Between the Wars: Essays and Letters by, 1994 (edited by David Bradshaw)
  • The Hidden Huxley: Contempt and Compassion for the Masses, 1920-36, 1994 (edited by David Bradshaw)
  • Complete Essays, 2000-2002 (6 vols., edited with commentary by Robert S. Baker and James Sexton)
  • Aldous Huxley: Selected Letters, 2007 (edited with an introduction by James Sexton)
  • Aldous Huxley: East-West Centenary Essays, 2008 (edited by A.K. Tripathy)
  • Consider the Lilies & Other Short Fiction, 2010 (edited and with an introduction by James Sexton)
  • Aldous Huxley, 2013 (edited by Donald Watt)


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