Huxley, Aldous (1894–1963)
Aldous Huxley was born into a family of prominent British intellectuals in Godalming, Surrey, on July 26, 1894. His grandfather was Thomas Henry Huxley, a physiologist and close collaborator of Charles Darwin, and his granduncle was Matthew Arnold, the Victorian poet. Leonard Huxley, Aldous's father, was the editor of a literary magazine, the Cornhill, but his sons enjoyed even greater success. Aldous became a renowned novelist and essayist; Julian, Aldous's elder brother, became an influential biologist, knighted by the queen; and Andrew, Aldous's half brother, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology.
Aldous Huxley attended Eton and Balliol College, Oxford, where he had hoped to study science, but after a severe eye infection robbed him of half his eyesight, he settled on a literary career. In 1919, he became a columnist for the London Athenaeum, and in 1921, he published a short novel, Crome Yellow, which became an immediate sensation. Now able to support himself through writing, Huxley traveled around the world and wrote several cynical and satirical novels, including his most important, Point Counterpoint (1928). During this period, he made friends with D. H. Lawrence, and the two men remained close until Lawrence's untimely death in 1931. Together they complained of the moral and spiritual destitution of the Western world and hoped to find new foundations for meaning and values to replace those eroded by the scientific and industrial revolutions. Aldous, specifically, worried that if the grounds of human purpose were reduced to what science can quantify, then life becomes a search for only comfort and pleasure. Aldous found this vulgar, and in Brave New World (1931), he presented a cautionary tale against such a possible future—and a satire of what he believed was already happening.
In 1937, Huxley immigrated to the United States, accompanied by his close friend and fellow writer Gerald Heard. Heard's interest in Asian mysticism was taken up by Huxley, and together they saw in the ideal of spiritual enlightenment and self-actualization the possible cure for the vacuity and materialism of modern society. This interest in mysticism culminated in The Perennial Philosophy (1945), outlining Huxley's view of a primordial religion underlying all the world's wisdom traditions.
During the 1950s, Huxley was a columnist for Esquire magazine, writing important early warnings on the dangers of population growth and environmental degradation. From 1959 to 1963, he was a visiting professor at several institutions, including Berkeley and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, both of which gave him honorary doctoral degrees. For his 11 novels, Huxley received important literary awards, but he wrote nearly 50 books altogether; today he is remembered for his social criticism and moral philosophy as much as for his literary output. He died of throat cancer on November 22, 1963—the day President Kennedy was shot.
Bedford, Sybille. Aldous Huxley. New York: Harper and Row, 1974.
Booker, M. Keith, ed. Critical Insights: Brave New World. Amenia, NY: Grey House, 2014.
Dunaway, David King. Huxley in Hollywood. New York: Harper and Row, 1989.
Huxley, Laura Archera. This Timeless Moment. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968.
Sawyer, Dana. Aldous Huxley: A Biography. New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2002.
Smith, Grover, ed. The Letters of Aldous Huxley. New York: Harper and Row, 1969.