Aldous (Leonard) Huxley

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Publisher: Gale
Series: Dictionary of Literary Biography
Document Type: Biography
Length: 7,573 words

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About this Person
Born: July 26, 1894 in Godalming, United Kingdom
Died: November 22, 1963 in Los Angeles, California, United States
Nationality: British
Occupation: Writer
Other Names: Huxley, Aldous Leonard
WORKS:

WRITINGS BY THE AUTHOR:

BOOKS

  • The Burning Wheel (Oxford: Blackwell, 1916).
  • Jonah (Oxford: Holywell, 1917).
  • The Defeat of Youth and Other Poems (Oxford: Blackwell, 1918).
  • Limbo (London: Chatto & Windus, 1920; New York: Doran, 1920).
  • Leda (London: Chatto & Windus, 1920; New York: Doran, 1920).
  • Crome Yellow (London: Chatto & Windus, 1921; New York: Doran, 1922).
  • Mortal Coils (London: Chatto & Windus, 1922; New York: Doran, 1922).
  • On the Margin: Notes and Essays (London: Chatto & Windus, 1923; New York: Doran, 1923).
  • Antic Hay (London: Chatto & Windus, 1923; New York: Doran, 1923).
  • Little Mexican & Other Stories (London: Chatto & Windus, 1924); republished as Young Archimedes, and Other Stories (New York: Doran, 1924).
  • Those Barren Leaves (London: Chatto & Windus, 1925; New York: Doran, 1925).
  • Along the Road: Notes and Essays of a Tourist (London: Chatto & Windus, 1925; New York: Doran, 1925).
  • Selected Poems (Oxford: Blackwell, 1925; New York: Appleton, 1925).
  • Two or Three Graces and Other Stories (London: Chatto & Windus, 1926; New York: Doran, 1926).
  • Jesting Pilate (London: Chatto & Windus, 1926; New York: Doran, 1926).
  • Essays New and Old (London: Chatto & Windus, 1926; New York: Doran, 1927).
  • Proper Studies (London: Chatto & Windus, 1927; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran, 1928).
  • Point Counter Point (London: Chatto & Windus, 1928; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran, 1928).
  • Arabia Infelix, and Other Poems (London: Chatto & Windus / New York: Fountain Press, 1929).
  • Holy Face and Other Essays (London: Fleuron, 1929).
  • Do What You Will: Essays (London: Chatto & Windus, 1929; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran, 1929).
  • Brief Candles: Stories (London: Chatto & Windus, 1930; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran, 1930).
  • Vulgarity in Literature: Digressions from a Theme (London: Chatto & Windus, 1930).
  • Apennine (Gaylordsville, Conn.: Slide Mountain Press, 1930).
  • The World of Light: A Comedy in Three Acts (London: Chatto & Windus, 1931; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran, 1931).
  • The Cicadas and Other Poems (London: Chatto & Windus, 1931; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran, 1931).
  • Music at Night and Other Essays (London: Chatto & Windus, 1931; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran, 1931).
  • Brave New World (London: Chatto & Windus, 1932; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran, 1932).
  • Texts and Pretexts: An Anthology with Commentaries (London: Chatto & Windus, 1932; New York: Harper, 1933).
  • Rotunda: A Selection from the Works of Aldous Huxley (London: Chatto & Windus, 1932).
  • T. H. Huxley as a Man of Letters, Imperial College of Science and Technology, Huxley Memorial Lecture (London: Macmillan, 1932).
  • Retrospect: An Omnibus of Aldous Huxley's Books (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran, 1933).
  • Beyond the Mexique Bay (London: Chatto & Windus, 1934; New York: Harper, 1934).
  • What Are You Going to Do about It? The Case for Constructive Peace (London: Chatto & Windus, 1936; New York: Harper, 1937).
  • Eyeless in Gaza (London: Chatto & Windus, 1936; New York: Harper, 1936).
  • 1936 . . . Peace? (London: Friends Peace Committee, 1936).
  • The Olive Tree and Other Essays (London: Chatto & Windus, 1936; New York: Harper, 1937).
  • Ends and Means: An Enquiry into the Nature of Ideals and into the Methods Employed for Their Realization (London: Chatto & Windus, 1937; New York: Harper, 1937).
  • Stories, Essays, and Poems (London: Dent, 1937).
  • The Most Agreeable Vice (Los Angeles: Ward Ritchie, 1938).
  • The Gioconda Smile (London: Chatto & Windus, 1938).
  • After Many a Summer (London: Chatto & Windus, 1939); republished as After Many a Summer Dies the Swan (New York: Harper, 1939).
  • Words and Their Meanings (Los Angeles: Ward Ritchie, 1940).
  • Grey Eminence: A Study in Religion and Politics (London: Chatto & Windus, 1941; New York: Harper, 1941).
  • The Art of Seeing (New York: Harper, 1942; London: Chatto & Windus, 1943).
  • Time Must Have a Stop (New York: Harper, 1944; London: Chatto & Windus, 1945).
  • Twice Seven: Fourteen Selected Stories (London: Reprint Society, 1944).
  • The Perennial Philosophy (New York: Harper, 1945; London: Chatto & Windus, 1946).
  • Science, Liberty, and Peace (New York: Harper, 1946; London: Chatto & Windus, 1947).
  • Verses and a Comedy (London: Chatto & Windus, 1946).
  • The World of Aldous Huxley: An Omnibus of His Fiction and Non-Fiction over Three Decades, edited by Charles J. Rolo (New York: Harper, 1947).
  • Ape and Essence (New York: Harper, 1948; London: Chatto & Windus, 1949).
  • The Gioconda Smile: A Play (London: Chatto & Windus, 1948; New York: Harper, 1948).
  • Prisons, with the "Carceri" Etchings by G. B. Piranesi (London: Trianon, 1949; Los Angeles: Zeitlin & Ver Brugge, 1949).
  • Themes and Variations (London: Chatto & Windus, 1950; New York: Harper, 1950).
  • The Devils of Loudun (London: Chatto & Windus, 1952; New York: Harper, 1952).
  • Joyce, the Artificer: Two Studies of Joyce's Method, by Huxley and Stuart Gilbert (London: Privately printed, 1952).
  • A Day in Windsor, by Huxley and J. A. Kings (London: Britannicus Liber, 1953).
  • The Doors of Perception (London: Chatto & Windus, 1954; New York: Harper, 1954).
  • The French of Paris (New York: Harper, 1954).
  • The Genius and the Goddess (London: Chatto & Windus, 1955; New York: Harper, 1955).
  • Heaven and Hell (London: Chatto & Windus, 1956; New York: Harper, 1956).
  • Adonis and the Alphabet, and Other Essays (London: Chatto & Windus, 1956); republished as Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, and Other Essays (New York: Harper, 1956).
  • Collected Short Stories (London: Chatto & Windus, 1957; New York: Harper, 1957).
  • Brave New World Revisited (London: Chatto & Windus, 1958; New York: Harper, 1958).
  • Collected Essays (New York: Harper, 1959).
  • On Art and Artists, edited by Morris Philipson (London: Chatto & Windus, 1960; New York: Harper, 1960).
  • Island (London: Chatto & Windus, 1962; New York: Harper, 1962).
  • Literature and Science (London: Chatto & Windus, 1963; New York: Harper & Row, 1963).
  • The Crows of Pearlblossom (New York: Random House, 1967; London: Chatto & Windus, 1968).
  • The Collected Poetry of Aldous Huxley, edited by Donald Watt (London: Chatto & Windus, 1971; New York: Harper & Row, 1971).

MOTION PICTURES

  • Pride and Prejudice, scenario by Huxley and Jane Murfin, M-G-M, 1940.
  • Madame Curie, treatment by Huxley, M-G-M, 1943.
  • Jane Eyre, scenario by Huxley, 20th Century-Fox, 1944.
  • A Woman's Vengeance, adaptation by Huxley from his The Gioconda Smile, Universal-International, 1948.

OTHER

  • Thomas Humphry Ward, ed., The English Poets: Selections with Critical Introductions, introductions by Huxley to poetry by John Davidson, Ernest Dowson, and Richard Middleton (London: Macmillan, 1918).
  • Rémy de Gourmont, A Virgin Heart: A Novel, translated by Huxley (New York: Brown, 1921; London: Allen & Unwin, 1926).
  • Mrs. Frances Sheridan, The Discovery: A Comedy in Five Acts, adapted by Huxley (London: Chatto & Windus, 1924; New York: Doran, 1925).
  • Oliver Simon and Jules Rodenberg, Printing of Today, introduction by Huxley (London: Davies, 1928; New York: Harper, 1928).
  • Maurice A. Pink, A Realist Looks at Democracy, preface by Huxley (London: Benn, 1930; New York: Stokes, 1931).
  • Douglas Goldering, The Fortune, preface by Huxley (London: Harmsworth, 1931).
  • The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, edited, with an introduction, by Huxley (London: Heinemann, 1932; New York: Viking, 1932).
  • Samuel Butler, Erewhon, introduction by Huxley (New York: Limited Editions Club, 1934).
  • Alfred H. Mendes, Pitch Lake: A Story from Trinidad, introduction by Huxley (London: Duckworth, 1934).
  • Norman Haire, Birth-Control Methods (Contraception, Abortion, Sterilization), foreword by Huxley (London: Allen & Unwin, 1936).
  • An Encyclopedia of Pacifism, edited by Huxley (London: Chatto & Windus, 1937; New York: Harper, 1937).
  • Barthélemy de Ligt, The Conquest of Violence: An Essay on War and Revolution, introduction by Huxley (London: Routledge, 1938; New York: Dutton, 1938).
  • Knud Merrild, Knud Merrild, A Poet and Two Painters: A Memoir of D. H. Lawrence, preface by Huxley (London: Routledge, 1938; New York: Viking, 1939).
  • Maksim Gorki, A Book of Short Stories, edited by Avram Yarmolinsky and Baroness Moura Budberg, foreword by Huxley (London: Cape, 1939; New York: Holt, 1939).
  • Joseph Daniel Unwin, Hopousia; or, The Sexual and Economic Foundations of a New Society, introduction by Huxley (London: Allen & Unwin, 1940; New York: Piest, 1940).
  • Ashley Montagu, Man's Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race, foreword by Huxley (London: Columbia University Press, 1942).
  • Bhagavadgita: The Song of God, translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, introduction by Huxley (Hollywood: Marcel Rodd, 1944; London: Phoenix House, 1947).
  • William Law, Selected Mystical Writings, edited by Stephen Hobhouse, foreword by Huxley (New York: Harper, 1948).
  • Ramakrishna, Ramakrishna: Prophet of New India, translated by Swami Nikhilananda, foreword by Huxley (New York: Harper, 1948; London: Rider, 1951).
  • Jiddu Krishnamurti, The First and Last Freedom, introduction by Huxley (New York: Harper, 1954; London: Gollancz, 1954).
  • Hubert Benoît, The Supreme Doctrine: Psychological Studies in Zen Thought, foreword by Huxley (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1955; New York: Pantheon, 1955).
  • Frederick Mayer, New Directions for the American University, introduction by Huxley (Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs Press, 1957).
  • Alvah W. Sulloway, Birth Control and Catholic Doctrine, preface by Huxley (Boston: Beacon, 1959).
  • Danilo Dolci, Report from Palermo, introduction by Huxley (New York: Orion, 1959).

LETTERS

  • The Letters of Aldous Huxley, edited by Grover Smith (New York: Harper & Row, 1969).

 
BIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY:

Aldous Huxley earned widespread attention in the 1920s as a promising young fiction writer who wrote brilliant and scathing stories about British writers and intellectuals gathered around socialite Ottoline Morrell. He soon became widely recognized as a literary and cultural critic, a polymath able to range over social, historical, scientific, and aesthetic matters with intelligence and aplomb. In 1932 Huxley published Brave New World, his best-known novel--which, with Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon (1940) and George Orwell 's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), is among the most important dystopian novels of the twentieth century. Brave New World has been continuously in print since its first publication, and it put Huxley in the forefront of the socially and politically engaged writers of the 1930s. By the 1940s and 1950s Huxley was firmly established among educated, intelligent, "middle-brow" readers; his books ranked above best-sellers if not among the most "serious" or critically acclaimed literature. Following Huxley's death on 22 November 1963 (the day on which President John F. Kennedy was assassinated), the critical establishment placed him comfortably among the second rank of modern writers. He earned a sort of cult status in the late 1960s because he had written The Doors of Perception (1954) about his experiments with hallucinogenic drugs and because Brave New World and its sequel, Brave New World Revisited (1958), seemed politically relevant in that unsettled decade. In the 1990s, however, Huxley's works are less known and less read than in earlier decades. Yet a respectable body of criticism on Huxley exists and grows steadily.

Other belletristic writers have traveled as much as Huxley, and some have written about their travels at much greater length or more profoundly than Huxley. For few of them, however, has travel been as fundamental to their writing and their lives as it was for Huxley. His traveling spirit was nurtured by his family and their privileged status in British society. It developed from the necessities of love and fortune, and it was facilitated financially by his generous and regularly renewed contract with the publishing house of Chatto and Windus.

Born on 26 July 1894 in Surrey, Aldous Leonard Huxley was the scion of two of the best-known intellectual families of Victorian England. His father, Leonard Huxley, was the son of the renowned biologist Thomas Henry Huxley , and his mother, Julia Arnold Huxley, was the niece of poet Matthew Arnold and the sister of novelist Mrs. Humphry Ward . Aldous Huxley's birthright, therefore, included such entitlements as stimulating intellectual company and the best education England could offer. Leonard Huxley was a schoolmaster at Charterhouse, and Julia Huxley ran an unconventional girls' school. According to Sybille Bedford, Huxley "was born into a particular and self-conscious enclave, a class within a class, the governing upper middle--an elite, an intellectual aristocracy made up of a handful of families--Trevelyans, Macaulays, Arnolds, Wedgwoods, Darwins, Huxleys--who had produced extraordinarily and diversely gifted individuals whose influence, although they never confused themselves with the actual nobility, upon nineteenth-century England had been tremendous." This intellectual aristocracy traveled, sustaining and being sustained by the British Empire to which they were thoroughly committed.

Three losses marked Huxley's early life. The first was the death of his mother of cancer at age forty-five. Huxley was fourteen, in his first term at Eton. Always close to his mother, he internalized a permanent sense of "the vanity, the transience, the hopeless precariousness of all merely human happiness"--as he later described the loss of a parent in Grey Eminence (1941), his biography of François Leclerc du Tremblay.

Huxley's second loss was of his eyesight at age sixteen, following keratitis punctata, an inflamation of the cornea. According to Bedford, Huxley "was nearly blind. He could just distinguish light from darkness; he was unable to go out by himself. He could not read." Forced to leave Eton, he taught himself to read Braille and spoke of the particular tedium of reading Thomas Babington Macaulay by that method. Huxley eventually recovered some of his eyesight, facilitated by eyeglasses and a magnifying glass for reading. Bedford attributes his phenomenal memory to the necessity of reading slowly and extracting as much as possible from a single reading. After studying French in France for the summer, he entered Balliol College, Oxford, in October 1913.

Huxley's third loss was the suicide in August 1914 of his elder brother Trevenen, with whom he had lived while he recovered from his blindness and prepared for entry into Oxford. According to their sister, Margaret, Trevenen Huxley had been "the hub of the family wheel" after their mother's death. These two deaths, as well as the second marriage in 1912 of Leonard Huxley to a woman younger than some of his children, meant that Aldous Huxley's childhood home and family circle effectively no longer existed. He lived most of his life as a nomad, traveling often and for extended periods; yet even when he was not traveling he was not fixed to a place or a home.

The deaths of his mother and brother literally cut Huxley loose on the world, removing not only the actuality but perhaps even the sense of a home base. Rather than inhibiting his lust for knowledge, his temporary blindness and permanent eye damage confirmed his desire for learning. Moreover his disability prohibited him from joining most of his contemporaries in military service during World War I. Huxley spent the war years continuing his studies at Oxford. Sir George Clark, who was Huxley's tutor at Oxford, told Bedford that Huxley was "impaired" by his losses and his isolation at Oxford.

In The Defeat of Youth and Other Poems (1918) Huxley wrote:

I look abroad, and all I see
Is my creation, made for me:
Along my thread of life are pearled
The moments that make up the world.

These lines from "Scenes of the Mind" forecast Huxley's personal and professional future, characterizing him perhaps more than any other writer of the twentieth century.

Huxley began his writing career at Oxford, where he wrote poems that appeared first in Oxford periodicals and then in three slim volumes of poetry in 1916, 1917, and 1918. A fourth, slightly larger collection, Leda (1920), was submitted to T. S. Eliot , who was not enthusiastic about Huxley's verse, nor were most subsequent readers.

Except for certain verbal formulations that assert his ability to command style, this poetry is unremarkable; yet it provides early glimpses of the dynamic that shaped his literary career. The title poem of The Burning Wheel (1916) employs the metaphor of the burning wheel, which possesses "its own busy restlessness" and is "dizzy with speed." This metaphor describes Huxley's sense of his own life as circling yearningly around a motionless center that bursts into passionate flame as the wheel fulfills "its will in fixity," only to start turning once again. The metaphor is complex, even contradictory, but in the movement of the wheel, the fixity of its center, and the passion of the flame that starts and restarts the cycle of "busy restlessness" and "the anguish of fixity," the poem details Huxley's homelessness. It also foreshadows a lifelong practice of travel and return, Huxley longing to be "along the road" and desiring to get back home, with home as any place--in Italy, England, or America--from which to begin and end his travels.

Huxley's early writings parallel and mirror his travels: he went abroad to write and wrote as he traveled. After graduating from Oxford in June 1916, Huxley served the war effort by chopping wood at Garsington, the country estate of Philip and Lady Ottoline Morrell, whom Huxley had met and visited for the first time in December 1915. At Garsington, Huxley met the literary set gathered around Lady Ottoline Morrell--the British modernist writers, artists, and thinkers including T. S. Eliot , D. H. Lawrence , Virginia Woolf , Desmond McCarthy, Bertrand Russell , and others. A cosmopolitan enclave in a provincial English world, Garsington provided a locale and character types for Huxley's first novel, Crome Yellow (1921).

Huxley also worked as a temporary schoolmaster at Repton (July-August 1916) and as a clerk at the Air Board (April-July 1917) before becoming a master at Eton in January 1918. He resigned in April 1919 to begin editorial work for The Atheneum, the first of several jobs in journalism. He also traveled occasionally to Europe to meet with his fiancée, Maria Nys, a young Belgian woman whom he had met at the Morrells. The two were married on 10 July 1919. The Huxleys and their young son, Matthew (born 1920), spent several months of 1921 in Italy, where Huxley wrote Crome Yellow. This dynamic-- travel to earn experience, followed by travel to a pleasant place to write--marks Huxley's whole career.

The state of publishing and of contracts between publishers and writers at the time at once enabled and constrained Huxley. On the Margin (1923), a collection of essays written primarily for The Atheneum, includes a potpourri of literary, social, and travel essays written under pressure. On the Margin also satisfied part of his new and generous contract with Chatto and Windus for two books a year for three years, and the book marks the last time Huxley had to produce essays for the periodical market. The contract with Chatto and Windus, which paid five hundred pounds a year over three years, allowed the Huxleys to settle in Florence, which they made their home base for a little more than four years, beginning in August 1923.

The travel essays in On the Margin establish that travel is an essential metaphor for Huxley's wide-ranging mind and interests. Huxley's essays are forays into territory new and old. His reflections on Percy Bysshe Shelley in "Centenaries" led him to a comparison between English and Italian celebrations. His meditations on English depression in "How the Days Draw In" is followed by an attack on Tibet, in a review of a recent book on Tibetan travels; Huxley found an antidote for English depression in the contemplation of a place "where stupidity reigns even more despotically than in Western Europe."

On the Margin was followed by Antic Hay (1923), a novel set in Italy but which transports much of the Garsington experience to that locale, which was favored by the English of a certain class who had figured out they could live abroad more cheaply than in England. The novel was a critical success, particularly among Huxley's "Jazz Age" contemporaries, but its close parallels to the Garsington circle angered or irritated many in the Morrell set.

Bedford has commented on the enormous importance of Italy for Huxley. To him it represented the hallmark of Western culture, and the climate and living conditions attracted many English people of his own class--as well as writers of many classes. Huxley completed Antic Hay in Italy at the beginning of the period that Bedford calls "perhaps the most easy of their lives." Bedford also notes that Huxley was enamored of the motor car; he bought a Citroën as soon as he could afford it and read avidly "the motoring papers, technical brochures, reports of Grand Prix racing." Huxley was no race-car driver; Maria did the driving. He appreciated the speed and the mobility, as well as the opportunity to witness "the landscapes whizzing by." "The Journey," part four of his third novel, Those Barren Leaves (1925), written in Italy, features a motor-car excursion through Italy that conveys Huxley's love of speed and travel.

Bedford describes Huxley's travel writing as "breathing space before his next go at fiction." That his travel writing afforded Huxley a change of pace does not belie the thought and care with which it was written, as Bedford makes clear in her discussion of Along the Road (1925), Huxley's first "travel book" that did not come from occasional writing produced for periodicals. Many critics have noted that Along the Road is rare among travel books in its avowed purpose of dissuading readers from travel. Huxley opens the first section of the book, "Travel in General," with the essay, "Why Not Stay at Home?" Huxley voiced the "genuine" traveler's disdain for would-be travelers--what Paul Fussell calls "tourists"--who invariably complain that the problem with "abroad" is that it is not enough like home. "Why Not Stay at Home?" ironically links traveling with reading, claiming that we do not read to "broaden and enrich our minds, but that we may pleasantly forget they exist." Traveling, like reading, is a substitute for thought. In "Wander-Birds" Huxley likens driving a car through a variety of countries to time travel "through art, through many languages and customs, through philology and anthropology." He devotes some time to discussing travel guides and books to be taken on one's travels (Friedrich Nietzsche was among his favorite travel reading). As Bedford notes, Along the Road demonstrates Huxley's enthusiasm for travel, works of art, and places. She also observes that while his novels often "read like essays," Huxley's essays exhibit the "novelist's latitude" taken in "a form that suited him--a form which he refreshed and of which he became a master."

In late 1925 the Huxleys began a journey around the world that Maria Huxley had dreamed of since she was a girl. The tour took them through India, Malaya, Japan, and across the Pacific to the United States. The Huxleys undertook the tour because they wanted to and could afford to. On completion of the tour and delivery of Jesting Pilate (1926), Huxley's second major travel book, Chatto and Windus renegotiated Huxley's already lucrative contract with more favorable terms. He agreed to produce two books a year, one of which would be fiction, and "possibly three other books during the said three years." Huxley's contracts with Chatto and Windus enabled the Huxleys to travel and assured that the resulting travel writing would be published and paid for; and travel supplied Huxley with knowledge and experiences that he incorporated into the fiction that made his reputation.

Two books were the result of Huxley's world tour: the travel book Jesting Pilate , written during the tour, and his most critically acclaimed novel, Point Counter Point (1928), begun after the Huxleys' arrival in London. Just as critics proclaim Point Counter Point the pinnacle of Huxley's novelistic achievement, they also point to Jesting Pilate as the best of Huxley's travel writing. The two books deserve to be considered together. The contrapuntal theme and method of Point Counter Point are at the heart of Jesting Pilate. In writing the novel Huxley conceived of the diversity of human experience as an elaborate composition in contrapuntal style--not "theme and variations" but multifarious and individual human and cultural melodic lines counterpointing each other in complex harmony. The travel book counterpoints the multiple experiences of British colonists and the colonized, of the colonies and former colonies, and of allies and enemies of the British Empire in an attempt to voice the complex harmony of global human experience. Jesting Pilate documents the oppressive power of colonialism--to which Huxley was, in principle, opposed--even as it displays how colonialism enabled, constrained, and ultimately shaped the ideas and even being of British writers such as Huxley.

In spite of his liberal-humanist critique of colonialism Huxley revealed in Jesting Pilate his inability, common to many, to get truly outside the colonialist perspective. The book "counterpoints" the various existing perspectives on British colonialism. Deploring the colonial apparatus and its oppressive effects, extolling Mohandas Gandhi's vision and political efforts, and trying to understand from inside the Indian spiritual perspective (Muslim and Hindu), Huxley applied what he understood to be universal standards of value (such as aesthetics) and bravely came to some politically incorrect conclusions (against the "tourists" who extol the Taj Mahal or the overly enthusiastic who endorse anything Indian over anything British). Yet Huxley reasoned himself into the neoconservative conclusion, well documented by Edward Said, that the British colonies and former colonies could not govern themselves as well on their own as the British Empire governed them. Huxley arrived at this conclusion not by way of the conservative devotion to empire or the "white man's burden" but through a seemingly rational and pragmatic analysis that accepted, without question, that the progress of Western civilization is inexorable. In other words colonialism might be reversible through decolonization, but the "civilization"--progress through technology--that colonialism has advanced is irreversible, and the formerly colonized world needs to face that inexorable fact.

Jesting Pilate engages with the "Indian Question" that had occupied and preoccupied the English for so long. For centuries India had been the "pearl" or cornerstone of the British Empire. An "Indocentric" conceptualization of that empire is omnipresent in British writing. At its height and before "decolonization" the empire was conceived as radiating, not from a center in the British Isles but from India. The British tenaciously held the rock of Gibraltar for access to the Mediterranean and the ports of the Middle East; in turn British efforts there and in Egypt were concerned with keeping open their direct land routes to India. South Africa was crucial to safeguard the sea route around the Cape of Good Hope to the Indian Ocean. China and other parts of the Far East were contiguous with the Indian subcontinent, and British efforts in those areas were part of its Indian policies as well as crucial to the burgeoning opium trade. India was "the Jewel in the Crown" of Queen Victoria and subsequent rulers of England. The importance of India to the British worldview cannot be overestimated. It is fitting, then, that Huxley began his account of his world tour in Jesting Pilate at Port Said in Egypt and within a scant three pages arrived in Bombay.

In drawing a telling analogy between the devaluation of British currency in Europe and the value of British human "currency" abroad, Huxley suggested that it was only a matter of time before "our 'inferiors'" in the empire would "refuse to regard us as anything more precious than waste paper," and he asserted that "merely by refusing to accept the white man at his own valuation," Indians might end their period of involuntary servitude and colonization. As few as the British were in India--compared to the teeming millions of Indians--India might achieve self-rule when enough of its 320 million people chose to ignore the English. The subsequent "passive resistance" of the movement inspired by Gandhi was verification of Huxley's prescience. Yet Huxley seriously wondered if the Indians would govern themselves as well as the British did. His reflection that it was the majority of uneducated Indians still acquiescing in British rule who stood in the way of home rule conveys his skepticism that Indians would rule India any better, if as well, as the British.

However "liberal" Huxley seemed at the time, he loathed India--as D. H. Lawrence observed after visiting with the Huxleys in autumn 1926, shortly after their return to Italy from their world tour. Bedford observes that Huxley's first encounter with the East produced mainly the emotion of "horror." In Jesting Pilate he inveighed against Indian scholarship (slavish adherence to traditional authority), against Indian eating customs ("discomfort and protracted starvation," which are "very painful to Western limbs and loins, Western hams, and Western stomachs"), against Gandhi's lack of political abilities (in spite of his evident admiration for the Indian leader and his own prediction as to the success of passive resistance), and against the caste system, which in Huxley's estimation placed Indian cultural development at the medieval stage.

The viewpoint that Indians were at a medieval stage of cultural development marks Huxley's travel writing as "colonialist" despite his sympathizing with colonized peoples wherever he traveled. Said and other critics of colonialist discourse affirm that inherent in the colonialist view is the twofold perspective that colonized peoples are culturally retarded, arrested in development at some point in the distant past, and childlike, arrested at an early stage of human development. For all his liberal opinions, in professing this twofold cliché of "Orientalist" or colonialist discourse Huxley revealed how his mind-set depends on the colonial and imperial economic system that enabled his travel and his writing. Although he admitted that, thanks to the empire, he could carry his "privileges of comfort, culture, and wealth in perfect safety," even in the heart of Bombay, Huxley was not aware that colonialism not only made his travel possible but also formed his mind and opinions. Only in Brave New World did Huxley expose the colonialist apparatus, but even in that novel he provided only a wild caricature of "the Savage" living outside of the World State. He could not conceive of a viable alternative to colonialism and the spread of Western civilization, even as he exposed and deplored their major tendencies.

The questions Huxley asked himself about Indian democracy and home rule--and his answer--reveal how Huxley believed that his liberal and cultured British perspective was the best:

Do I mean anything whatever when I say that democracy is a good thing? Am I expressing a reasoned opinion? Or do I merely repeat a meaningless formula by force of habit and because it was drummed into me at an early age? I wonder.
. . . Born an Indian or brought up in the slums of London, I should hardly be able to achieve so philosophical a suspense of judgment.

That Huxley was even able to pose such questions is admirable; that he ratified his philosophical detachment, however much a product of his upper-middle-class upbringing, exemplifies his containment within colonialist discourse and perspectives.

However colonialist he may have been, Huxley in Malaya offered the following reflections (in telling parentheses) on empire:

Examined in detail and at close quarters, our far-flung Empire is seen to consist of several scores of thousands of clubs and golf courses, dotted at intervals, more or less wide, over two-fifths of the surface of the planet. Large blond men sit in the clubs, or swipe the white ball down clearings in the jungle; blackamoors of various shades bring the whiskey and carry round the niblicks. The map is painted red. And to the casual observer, on the spot, that is the British Empire.

Jesting Pilate concludes with Huxley's travels in the United States. If the British Empire was painted red on maps to signify the many British golf courses and clubs, the United States was painted all in gold, signifying the utmost fulfillment of imperial tendencies in the material wealth of "Joy City." Stunned by American opulence, Huxley perceived it as the future already present--a view analogous with his colonialist belief that colonized peoples were backward in time and intellectual and emotional development. Compared to the present of the British Empire, the United States was futuristic in its wealth, leisure, and lifestyle.

Perhaps the most telling observation in Jesting Pilate is one Huxley made after his departure from India and his discovery of a copy of Henry Ford's My Life and Work (1922) in the ship's library. He read the book and commented: "In these seas, and to one fresh from India and Indian 'spirituality,' Indian dirt and religion, Ford seems a greater man than Buddha."

Having entertained the possibility while in Europe that the "way of the Gautama" might be the "way of salvation," Huxley, fresh from India, counterpointed this feeling with the notion that Ford looked a whole lot better than Buddha. If India was the past and the empire was the present, Henry Ford and America were the future. Huxley's intention is thoughtful inquiry; his method contrapuntal; but his conclusion colonialist. In the spirit of "counterpoint," Huxley announced, "To travel is to discover that everybody is wrong." The irony or facetiousness latent in this comment notwithstanding, the inbred colonialist perspective rises to the surface in Huxley's remark. Yet one can respect the goal of Jesting Pilate, which is announced by its title and the two quotations to which it alludes: "Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?" (John 18:38); "What is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer" (Francis Bacon , "Of Truth," in Essays [1625]). However conditioned, enabled, and constrained he was by colonialism, Huxley was passionately concerned with the pursuit of truth.

In Point Counter Point the contrapuntal method-- the interweaving of differing and even contradictory perspectives, ideas, and opinions--provides the structural and thematic principle for the novel. As he counterpointed the various attitudes toward India, the Empire, the East, and the United States in Jesting Pilate, so in Point Counter Point Huxley juxtaposed a variety of attitudes toward life and truth in the actions and opinions of a large cast of characters. Woven into the contrapuntal complexity of the novel is a world tour, which takes the main characters--Philip Quarles (based on Huxley) and his wife, Elinor--away from their young son and their home base in England. Following their trip to India, the Quarleses return to England to find their son, young Phil, seriously ill with meningitis. After the child dies a rather horrible death, the hedonistic intellectual Spandrell voices an opinion about Philip Quarles that applies equally well to Huxley: "Settling down in the country in England wasn't at all like you. Travelling about, being unfixed, being a spectator--that was like you. You're being compelled to do what's like you." (Huxley's son, Matthew, did not get ill during the Huxleys' world tour, nor did he die upon their return.) The illness and death of Quarles's son signifies Huxley's awareness of the potentially dire consequences of his own wanderlust. As Philip Quarles had to learn the lesson of his traveling nature, Huxley grappled with his own compunction to be always on the move, "along the road."

Huxley's travel experiences and his commitment to "the novel of ideas" came together in Brave New World , his most popular, if not his most critically acclaimed, novel. Brave New World carved a rather large niche for itself among "educated" readers in the 1930s. Yet critical contempt made itself heard from the first. Huxley's dystopian novel of ideas was too much of the 1930s to qualify as a "well-wrought urn" of the modernist tradition.

Considered from the perspective of his travel writing, Huxley's Brave New World can be understood as a powerful indictment of the institutions of power that enforced colonialism even as it shows how knowledge of the world is only attainable through travel made possible by colonization: "dark" and "wild" places of the world are made accessible through the technology of travel brought into being by imperialism and colonialism. Everything from the private realm to the entire geophysical globe has been colonized by the World State. Areas considered unusable or unredeemable are designated as "Reservations" and are populated by "Savages" who are not subjected to mass eugenics and lifelong biochemical engineering, as are the "civilized" people. The Savages of the Reservations are Huxley's extrapolation of southwest Native Americans (mainly Hopi or Zuni). The Savages, who live in abject poverty in "pueblos," have elaborated and amalgamated the religious beliefs of southwest Indians and Catholicism and enjoy a kind of freedom unknown within the boundaries of the World State. Privileged citizens of the World State may receive permission to travel to the Reservations for vacations. The protagonist, Bernard Marx, director of hatcheries and conditioning at the London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre (for the propagation of World State citizens), returns to the Southwest Reservation and finds the female companion who was lost during his first visit years earlier. The lost woman, Linda, has borne Marx's son, who becomes known as the "Savage." Bernard brings Linda and the Savage back to London and achieves social notoriety by introducing the Savage to the elite citizens of the World State, but instead of effecting the dramatic social change for which he dimly hopes, Bernard gets himself exiled to an island for individuals whose antisocial attitudes threaten the "COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY" of the World State.

In Brave New World the uncivilized or exotic places of the world are controlled and made accessible by an imperial mechanism that promotes the travel of its citizens, just as the expansion of the civilized world through technology and travel enabled British writer Huxley to travel over the world to earn his living, at least in part, by writing about his travels and to experience people and places that he incorporated into his major fiction. Critical of the British Empire and colonialism, Huxley nevertheless formed his view of the world under the influence of the travel that the colonialist apparatus made possible.

As Said points out throughout his Culture and Imperialism (1993), the relation of English writers to British imperialism is seldom noted. When viewed as a travel book Brave New World becomes an important literary document of the global tensions and the concerns about colonization and decolonization that dominated the first half of the twentieth century. These tensions and concerns were often effaced or obscured by the critical aesthetic formalism of modernism, which itself was an attempt to articulate an alternative to the emphasis on technology and progress that was making the World State seem increasingly imminent. As high modernism tried to distance itself from the disillusioning legacy of technological progress, colonialism, and decolonization, Huxley grappled with those issues directly--through his literary, critical, and travel writings. In Brave New World he sacrificed critical acclaim for the sake of disseminating his ideas; the widespread popularity of his books among "middle-brow" readers is an indication that they spoke the concerns of his time. For that reason alone they demand attention in this fin de siècle time of reassessing and reevaluating twentieth-century literature.

In 1932 the Huxleys traveled to the remote regions of Central America and Mexico. Thanks to Point Counter Point and Brave New World, Huxley was one of the best-known living British writers. Thanks to another, still more lucrative contract with Chatto and Windus publishers, Huxley could afford the time and expense to travel to the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico. Why he did so is unclear. He may have been influenced by the fact that his close friend D. H. Lawrence , whose letters Huxley edited in 1932, had traveled to Mexico and the southwestern United States in pursuit of his dream of forming the ideal human community. Roughly one-third of the way into Beyond the Mexique Bay (1934), the book he wrote about his journey, Huxley admits, "Frankly, try how I may, I cannot very much like primitive people. They make me feel uncomfortable." This quite remarkable book--beautifully written and illustrated--finally is testimony to the intractability of the colonialist mind. Beyond the Mexique Bay conveys Huxley's complex yet ultimately colonialist perspective, misrepresenting Central American and Mexican politics and cultures in its persistence in the colonialist attitudes that "primitive peoples" are at once childlike and arrested in an evolutionary past, in its sensitive response to the art and culture of the great dead civilizations of Central America and Mexico, and in its socio-cultural-political analyses of the Central American nation-states, in which Huxley seems completely oblivious to the impact of colonial "gun-boat" diplomacy. As in his analysis of the "Indian Question," Huxley took the neoconservative posture that the Central American countries were largely to blame for their impoverished and chaotic conditions.

Published a scant two years after his warning of an imminent World State in Brave New World, Beyond the Mexique Bay displays Huxley's inability to think beyond the technological progress of civilization. Despite--or even because of--the growing national socialism in Germany, Italy, and Japan of the early 1930s, Huxley could only perceive the nation-states of Central America as primitive forebears of fascism. His comments about the phenomenon of national socialism, or fascism, are courageous and prophetic. Huxley was a minority voice in opposing fascism during the early 1930s; his concerns about the dogma of racial purity disseminated by Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and their fascist followers placed him among the first voices to oppose mass genocide. Yet as much as he deplored the nationalism and accompanying racialism of emerging fascist regimes, Huxley applied the same racial stereotyping and reductionism to his experience of Central America and Mexico. In drawing an analogy between Central American regimes and the fascist regimes of Germany and Italy, Huxley evinced the same racialist doctrines he meant to indict.

In Beyond the Mexique Bay Huxley developed his cultural theory of the "Local Pavlov." According to this theory, local or indigenous cultures condition their members in a manner analogous to Ivan Pavlov's psychological experiments. Although in places Huxley's theorizing about cultures sounds remarkably like Michel Foucault 's emphasis in his early works on disruption and discontinuity in the unfolding of history, Huxley finally resorted to the "Great Man" theory of history: the belief that idiosyncrasies and individualities across diverse cultures are the product of a handful of great men whose ideas were either adopted by or enforced on the masses. Huxley advanced this theory in explicit opposition to the "blood and soil" politics and racial theories disseminated by the fascist regimes of Europe. Yet Hitler and Mussolini were employing this same "Great Man" theory to their own advantage. Furthermore, in responding to the propaganda efforts of the fascists--whose messages of hatred, racism, and nationalism seemed to have primary appeal to the emotions of the masses--Huxley directly denied the Marxist explanation that economic factors are at the structural base of any society. He completely ignored the fact that during a decade of worldwide economic depression the fascist governments were putting bread on their peoples' tables through their massive industrial and military effort of rearmament.

In one revealing passage Huxley compared the Mayan art of Central America with the art and culture of India. Huxley was a brilliant art critic. His knowledge of art and architecture and his ability to articulate the forms and achievements of the plastic arts are perhaps unparalleled. Yet the importance of Italy in forming Huxley's tastes and opinions everywhere colors his analyses. Similarly the centrality of India, not only to the British Empire but also to the formation of the British mind or worldview, clearly inserted itself in Huxley's comparison of Mayan and Indian art. Why Mayan art should be compared with Indian art rather than that of any other civilization is never addressed. The "naturalness" of such a comparison was evidently so obvious for Huxley that no rationale was necessary. Colonialism was such an essential part of the fabric of British existence that Huxley compared Mayan and Indian art because the empire had brought them into contiguity.

Huxley lived and wrote for another thirty years after the publication of Beyond the Mexique Bay. In 1937 the Huxleys decided to settle in the United States. It was less of a "new start" than another example of Huxley's fundamental homelessness, a temporary fixation of abode in a country he had already found to be somewhat unreal, even futuristic. Maria Huxley died on 12 February 1955, and on 19 March 1956 Huxley married a younger woman, Laura Archera. He died peacefully on 22 November 1963 while Laura Huxley tended him and watched the news of John F. Kennedy's assassination on television. Other than a handful of travel essays written over that period, Huxley did not produce significant travel writings. He continued to travel, and he continued to explore the vast terrain of human experience in novels and essays.

In May 1961 the house in Los Angeles where the Huxleys had lived for some time burned to the ground, destroying a lifetime of papers and the draft for a new novel. The man whose adolescence had been marked by the destruction of any sense of home or family center, who had adapted to and even come to prefer a nomadic existence, was homeless again. Unlike many writers Huxley marked no place by his presence.

 
FURTHER READINGS:

FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bibliographies:

  • Claire John Eschelback and Joyce Lee Shober, Aldous Huxley: A Bibliography 1916-1959 (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1961; London: Cambridge University Press, 1961).
  • Thomas D. Clareson and Carolyn S. Andrews, "Aldous Huxley: A Bibliography 1960-1964," Extrapolation, 6 (December 1964): 2-21.
  • Philip Thody, Aldous Huxley: A Bibliographical Introduction (London: Studio Vista, 1973).
  • Dennis D. Davis, "Aldous Huxley: A Bibliography 1965-1973," Bulletin of Bibliography, 31 (April-June 1974): 67-70.

Biographies:

  • George Heard, "The Poignant Prophet," Kenyon Review, 27 (Winter 1965): 49-93.
  • Julian Huxley, ed., Aldous Huxley, 1894-1963: A Memorial Volume (London: Chatto & Windus, 1965; New York: Harper & Row, 1965).
  • Ronald W. Clark, The Huxleys (London: Heinemann, 1968; New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968).
  • Laura Archera Huxley, This Timeless Moment: A Personal View of Aldous Huxley (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1968).
  • Sybille Bedford, Aldous Huxley: A Biography (2 volumes, London: Chatto & Windus, 1973, 1974; 1 volume, New York: Harper & Row, 1974).
  • David King Dunaway, Huxley in Hollywood (New York: Harper & Row, 1989).

 

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1200007890