Authors: Aldous Huxley

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2017

British-born American satirical novelist and essayist

July 26, 1894

Laleham, near Godalming, Surrey, England

November 22, 1963

Los Angeles, California

Biography

Aldous Leonard Huxley, the spokesman of the so-called literary modernists, is one of the best chroniclers of the generation that came to maturity between World Wars I and II, especially of the artistic and intellectual elements of that generation. He was one of four children born into an eminent family, which bequeathed to him several strains of Victorian intellectualism. His father, Leonard Huxley, a professor of Greek, was the son of Thomas Henry Huxley, the biologist and chief defender of Charles Darwin’s theories. His mother, Julia Huxley, was the niece of Matthew Arnold. Huxley’s elder brother, Julian, was also a respected biologist and a prolific writer.

Aldous Huxley was educated first at Eton College, during which time he was partially blinded, and then the University of Oxford. In 1919, Huxley married Maria Nys, with whom he had a son, Matthew. He began his writing career by working for the magazines Athenaeum and the Westminster Gazette. His early novels, which appeared to flout convention and set aside traditional moral codes, were received with spectacular approval in the 1920’s. These works reveal Huxley’s distrust of materialism and his longing for some validating religious experience. A number of critics believe that Huxley was strongly influenced by the nineteenth-century satirist and novelist of ideas Thomas Love Peacock, as well as by Huxley’s older contemporary Norman Douglas.

Aldous Huxley

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(Library of Congress)

Huxley’s novels of the 1920’s—Crome Yellow, Antic Hay, Those Barren Leaves, and Point Counter Point—are witty, mischievously satirical, and filled with brilliant epigrams. The characters are entertaining caricatures rather than representations of actual human beings. The author’s favorite device was to gather together at a country house a group of wits, theorists, voluptuaries, hedonists, liberated and uninhibited females, and an occasional innocent, and then to set them to talking. Those Barren Leaves is set in Italy and introduces a serious strain not present in the two previous books. Point Counter Point is something of a roman à clef, in which many of Huxley’s contemporaries, easily recognizable, are savaged; Mark Rampion, the vitalist who is the standard by which all the other characters are judged and found wanting, appears to represent D. H. Lawrence. Several of Huxley’s slightly younger contemporaries were, if not imitators, at least of very like mind. Evelyn Waugh (whose early work is often associated with that of Huxley), Anthony Powell, and Nancy Mitford were also writing novels featuring stylized characters who were sophisticated, amoral, irreverent, and witty.

A decided change in Huxley’s thinking is apparent by 1932 with the publication of Brave New World. His novels of the 1920’s by and large had argued the case for the life of the senses, for freedom from outmoded moral restraints, for a kind of enlightened paganism. Yet his famous dystopia is a society that recognizes no moral restraints, encourages ceaseless self-gratification, and has technologically banished all negative effects of promiscuity. It has also banished religion, art, and personality. The reader identifies with the doomed protagonist, John Savage, who by chance has missed the genetic programming of the brave new world and is still capable of feeling the antediluvian emotions of fear, guilt, and anguish. Here, too, Huxley led the way for writers of his generation: In 1949, George Orwell published his famous vision of the totalitarian world, Nineteen Eighty-Four; in 1953, Waugh brought out his novella Love among the Ruins, the bitter portrait of an arid and soulless England of the future.

By the 1930’s, a longing for spirituality was clearly spreading through the British literary community. Waugh and Graham Greene were converted to Roman Catholicism, and T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, and others returned to Anglo-Catholicism. Huxley, however, was drawn to Eastern mysticism. He was very much under the spell of Buddhism when he wrote Eyeless in Gaza. The amoralist had become a moralist. One result of the metamorphosis, long didactic essays in the novel, especially troubled those critics who had praised the early works.

Whereas in the 1920’s Huxley had advocated the vitalism of D. H. Lawrence, in the 1930’s he joined the pacifist movement of Gerald Heard. He moved to Hollywood, California, in 1937 and lived the rest of his life in the Los Angeles area. In the United States, he continued to pursue his interest in the mystical state, especially as reflected in Buddhism and Hinduism. The experience of his first years in the United States gave him the material for After Many a Summer Dies the Swan. This novel satirizes the American’s coarse display of wealth but primarily dramatizes the conflict between science and mysticism. Huxley probed the mystical experience and the nature of reality in nonfiction works as well: Ends and Means appeared shortly before After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, and Grey Eminence shortly thereafter.

Huxley’s next novel, Time Must Have a Stop, was a return in manner and style to his earliest fiction. Ape and Essence reflects his frustration and pessimism as the decade of the 1940’s was coming to a close. His pacifist and occult lecturing having had no apparent effect on humankind, he painted a bitter portrait of a species in retrogression following a third world war. The Genius and the Goddess appeared in 1955, the same year his wife Maria died; he married Laura Archera in 1956. In 1959, Huxley was offered knighthood in his native Britain but declined.

Huxley had been taking drugs since 1953 in an effort to mimic chemically the mystical state. He was one of the earliest experimenters with the hallucinogen lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and his writings served to popularize its use. He died of cancer in Los Angeles on November 22, 1963, the same day on which writer C. S. Lewis died, but their passing was overshadowed by John F. Kennedy’s assassination on that date. Although a few books containing Huxley's correspondence and essays were published following his death, much of his unpublished work was lost to a house fire in 1961.

As a novelist, Huxley has been faulted for his flimsy plots, which serve primarily as the context for long lectures disguised as dialogue. Yet he had the skill to make the discussion of ideas tremendously exciting and entertaining. He was also a brilliant, if rather heartless, satirist. His writings are an excellent barometer for gauging the shifting intellectual movements in the first half of the twentieth century.

Author Works Long Fiction: Crome Yellow, 1921 Antic Hay, 1923 Those Barren Leaves, 1925 Point Counter Point, 1928 Brave New World, 1932 Eyeless in Gaza, 1936 After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, 1939 Time Must Have a Stop, 1944 Ape and Essence, 1948 The Genius and the Goddess, 1955 Island, 1962 Jacob's Hands, 1998 (with Christopher Isherwood) Short Fiction: Limbo, 1920 Mortal Coils, 1922 Little Mexican, and Other Stories, 1924 (pb. in U.S. as Young Archimedes, and Other Stories, 1924) Two or Three Graces, and Other Stories, 1926 Brief Candles: Stories, 1930 The Gioconda Smile, 1938 (first pb. in Mortal Coils) Drama: The Discovery, pb. 1924 (adaptation of story by Frances Sheridan) The World of Light, pb. 1931 The Gioconda Smile, pr., pb. 1948 (also known as Mortal Coils) Now More than Ever, pb. 2000 (previously unpublished) Poetry: The Burning Wheel, 1916 Jonah, 1917 The Defeat of Youth, 1918 Leda, 1920 Arabia Infelix, 1929 The Cicadas, and Other Poems, 1931 Collected Poetry of Aldous Huxley, 1971 (Donald Watt, editor) Nonfiction: On the Margin: Notes and Essays, 1923 Along the Road: Notes and Essays of a Tourist, 1925 Jesting Pilate, 1926 Essays New and Old, 1926 Proper Studies, 1927 Do What You Will, 1929 Holy Face, and Other Essays, 1929 Vulgarity in Literature, 1930 Music at Night, 1931 Texts and Pretexts, 1932 Beyond the Mexique Bay, 1934 The Olive Tree, 1936 Ends and Means, 1937 Words and Their Meanings, 1940 Grey Eminence: A Study in Religion and Politics, 1941 The Art of Seeing, 1942 The Perennial Philosophy, 1945 Themes and Variations, 1950 The Devils of Loudun, 1952 The Doors of Perception, 1954 Heaven and Hell, 1956 Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, 1956 (pb. in England as Adonis and the Alphabet, and Other Essays, 1956) Brave New World Revisited, 1958 Collected Essays, 1959 On Art and Artists, 1960 (Morris Philipson, Editor) Literature and Science, 1963 Politics of Ecology; The Question of Survival, 1963 Letters of Aldous Huxley, 1969 (Grover Smith, editor) Human Situation: Lectures at Santa Barbara, 1959, 1977 (Piero Ferrucci, editor) Moksha: Writings on Psychedelics and the Visionary Experience, 1931-63, 1977 (Michael Horowitz and Cynthia Palmer, editors) Huxley and God: Essays, 1992 (Jacqueline Hazard Bridgeman, editor) Aldous Huxley's Hearst Essays, 1994 (James Sexton, editor) Between the Wars: Essays and Lectures, 1994 (David Bradshaw, editor) The Hidden Huxley: Contempt and Compassion for the Masses, 1920-36, 1994 (David Bradshaw, editor) Complete Essays, 2000- (4 volumes) Edited Text: Letters of D.H. Lawrence, 1932 Encyclopaedia of Pacifism, 1937 Children's/Young Adult Literature: The Crows of Pearblossom, 1967, 2011 Bibliography Baker, Robert S. The Dark Historic Page: Social Satire and Historicism in the Novels of Aldous Huxley, 1921-1939. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982. An interesting study of history and satire in Huxley’s work. Includes a bibliography and an index. Brander, Laurence. Aldous Huxley: A Critical Study. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1970. One of the few general studies of all Huxley’s major work, going beyond most other book-length Huxley studies, which focus on the novels. Includes a short, nineteen-page chapter on all the short stories, arranged chronologically by separate sections on each of Huxley’s five collections from 1920 to 1930; consequently, “Sir Hercules,” one of Huxley’s more important stories, lifted by Huxley directly from his novel Crome Yellow and only included for the first time in Twice Seven, and then the Collected Short Stories, is omitted. Deery, June. Aldous Huxley and the Mysticism of Science. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996. Examines Huxley’s knowledge of science and the place of mysticism and science in history. Includes and bibliography and an index. Heitman, Danny. "The Talented Mr. Huxley." Humanities, vol. 36, no. 6, 2015, www.neh.gov/humanities/2015/novemberdecember/feature/the-talented-mr-huxley. Accessed 6 Apr. 2017. Discusses the influence of Huxley's appearance, vision loss, romantic relationships, and drug use on his work. Holmes, Charles M. Aldous Huxley and the Way to Reality. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1970. A survey of autobiographical meanings and development in Huxley’s works, with brief treatment of “After the Fireworks,” “Cynthia,” “Eupompus Gave Splendour to Art by Numbers,” “Farcical History of Richard Greenow,” “The Gioconda Smile,” “Green Tunnels,” “The Monocle,” “Nuns at Luncheon,” “The Rest Cure,” “The Tillotson Banquet,” and “Young Archimedes.” Huxley, Aldous. "A Gathering of Letters, 1915-63." New England Review, vol. 28, no. 4, Fall 2007, pp. 131–57. Literary Reference Center Plus, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lkh&AN=28013478&site=lrc-plus. Accessed 6 Apr. 2017. Presents a brief overview of Aldous Huxley's life and reproduces a number of letters sent to his wife, his lover, and several literary contemporaries. Izzo, David Garrett and Kim Kirkpatrick, eds. Huxley’s Brave New World: Essays. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2008. The fourteen essays that comprise this collection discuss Brave New World through several approaches, such as political, psychological, and social. Also discussed are Huxley’s relationships with D. H. Lawrence and Sigmund Freud, which portray an insightful portrait of Huxley and his famous novel. Meckier, Jerome, ed. Critical Essays on Aldous Huxley. New York: G. K. Hall, 1996. Thoughtful essays on the author’s oeuvre. Bibliographical references and an index are included. 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. Nance’s introductory biographical chapter reflects her emphasis on Huxley’s novels of ideas. The novels, which are discussed at length, are divided into three chronological groups, with the utopian novels coming in the second group. Supplies a detailed chronology and a fairly extensive bibliography. Schubert, Maria. “The Use of Irony in Aldous Huxley’s Short Fiction.” In A Salzburg Miscellany: English and American Studies, 1964-1984. Vol. 2. Edited by James Hogg. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1984. 181-214. Interesting discussion of the contrast between Huxley’s life and the irony and satire of his short fiction, along with patterns and groupings among the stories. Woodcock, George. Dawn and the Darkest Hour: A Study of Aldous Huxley. New York: Viking Press, 1972. Stresses the novels and nonfiction, but has brief comments on all the short stories in separate brief sections on each of Huxley’s five story collections from 1920 to 1930 scattered throughout the book, which is chronologically arranged. “Sir Hercules” is treated in a section dealing with Huxley’s Crome Yellow.

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