English Literature

Aldous Huxley 1894 - 1963

QUOTATIONS:

"There's only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that's your own self"

"Facts don't cease to exist because they are ignored"

"Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him"

"Single-mindedness is all very well in cows or baboons; in an animal claiming to belong to the same species as Shakespeare it is simply disgraceful"

"Every man's memory is his private literature"

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Huxley in his early twenties

Huxley in later life.

 

The Three Classic Works of Aldous Huxley:

    

 

Aldous Huxley was born into an academic family in Godalming, Surrey on the 26th July 1894. Three traumatic events left thir mark on the young Huxley. In 1908 his mother died. Two years later, while a schoolboy at Eton, he contracted an eye infection which made him almost completely blind for a time and severely impaired his vision for the rest of his life. Finally, the suicide of his brother in 1914 robbed Huxley of the person to whom he felf closest. Like many notable writers of this period he studied English Language and Literature at Oxford University, and on completion of his degree would have gone straight into military service were it not for his poor eyesight. Declared unfit for military service in the first world war, Huxley instead worked as a farm labourer to help the war effort. While working here he met the woman that was to become his wife, Maria, a Belgium refugee.

  He began writing poetry and short stories in his early twenties, but it wasn't until the publication of his novel Chrome Yellow in 1921 that he established his literary reputation. Further works: Antic Hay, Those Barren Leaves and Point Counter Point then followed swiftly. 

From 1923 onwards Huxley lived abroad more or less permanently, first in Italy and then in France. In 1926 he travelled via India to the United States, and it was this first visit to America which is believed to have made him so pessimistic about the cultural future of Europe. This pessimism pervades all of his later work. On his return to Europe he wrote in Jesting Pilate 'the thing which is happening in America is a revaluation of values, a radical alteration for the worse of established standards' . He followed this with his classic work Brave New World, which most critics see as a satire on what he had observed in the USA, and the Americanisation he saw observed throughout Europe at this time.

Brave New World, alongwith Animal Farm by George Orwell,  is one of the twin pillars of the anti-utopian tradition in literature and a byword for all that is most repellent and nightmarish in a possible future world. In this work, set far in the future, the World Controller has created what he sees an an ideal society. In laboratories world-wide, genetic science has brought the human race to perfection. From the Alpha-plus intellectual class to the semi-moron Epsilon, man is bred to be blissfully content with his pre-destined role in society. But, in the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, one man is becoming disillusioned with life. Instead of free drugs and compulsory promiscuity the central character, Bernard Marx, longs for a simpler lifestyle. I won't give any more of the story away, but, if you haven't read it do. It really is a classic, which should be read by all!

Perhaps strangely in 1937, at the height of his fame, Huxley left Europe to live in California. And for the rest of his life lived in America. It was here that he came to believe that the key to solving the world's problems lay in changing the individual through mystical enlightenment and experimentation with hallucinogenic drugs! This exploration of the inner life dominated his work for the rest of his life.

His later works include the classic, The Doors of Perception, in which he recounts his first experiences with the hallucinogenic drugs Mescalin and Lysergic Acid. This work, not surprisingly, became something of a set text for the  psychedelic sixties. The pop-rock group The Doors naming their band after the book, and also gaining Huxley a place on the cover of the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper album.

    In his final work, Island, Huxley turns once more to utopia for his subject matter. But, unlike Brave New World, which is Huxley's idea of a utopian hell, this is quite the opposite. An island community, which might be considered a paradise on earth. The work is set far in the future on the Pacific island of Pala, where population growth has been stabilised and Mutual Adoption Clubs have superseded the 'tyranny' of the family! Life passes by peacefully with the use of a hallucinogenic toadstool, and Maituna, the yoga of love. However, the island community falls victim to the age-old problems of material progress and territorial expansion. So, although, modelled on Huxley's ideal utopia it life there is riddled with problems and the community  ultimately doomed. And, although immensely stimulating to read,  is turns out to be rather depressing. In Huxley's mind, there is no hope for the future ...

An excerpt from 'Brave New World'

"But I like the inconveniences."

"We don't," said the Controller. "We prefer to do things comfortably."

"But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."

"In fact," said Mustapha Mond, "you're claiming the right to be unhappy."

"All right then," said the Savage defiantly, "I'm claiming the right to be unhappy."

"Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphillis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind." There was a long silence.

"I claim them all," said the Savage at last.

Mustapha Mond shrugged his shoulders. "You're welcome," he said.