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Aldous Huxley

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English Literature

Aldous Leonard Huxley was a globally acclaimed writer most well-known for his dystopian novel, Brave New World (1932). His work is generally satirical or pessimistic, and he is often credited for being a founder of the dystopian science fiction genre. He is also a prolific poet, screenwriter, and essayist.

With a career spanning continents and decades, Huxley's works are literary classics. His novels show insightful takes on both his current reality, other realities and the future.

Aldous Huxley's Biography

Born into a famous intellectual family on 26 July 1894, Huxley showed a unique and curious outlook from a young age. These tendencies were strongly encouraged by his family. His grandfather was the famous evolutionary biologist, Thomas Henry Huxley, and his mother was the novelist Mrs Humphry Ward's sister. His brothers, Andrew and Julian, went on to achieve fame in the fields of physiology and biology.

His longtime friend Gerald Heard once said that Huxley’s background

'brought down on him a weight of intellectual authority and a momentum of moral obligations.' - Gerald Heard 1

Huxley studied at Eton and graduated from Oxford in 1916. He excelled there despite his partial blindness caused by a teenage case of keratitis. This blindness caused him to be exempt from military service in the war, but also meant that he couldn't follow his first career choice of science. Instead, he chose literature. His first book of poems The Burning Wheel (1916) was published shortly after his graduation.

He married the Belgian Maria Nys in 1919, and their son Matthew Huxley was born in 1920. Huxley spent much of his career in Italy and America, which influenced his novel’s views and themes.

An unusual academic, Huxley experimented with traditional and new hallucinogenic substances throughout his adult life. His experiences inspired the novel, The Doors of Perception (1954).

Huxley's Cause of Death

Huxley died of laryngeal cancer on 23 November 1963 in Los Angeles. Legend has it that Huxley went out on an LSD trip administered by his wife. Interestingly, Huxley died the same day as author C.S. Lewis and John F. Kennedy, though many did not know this until days later because of the media coverage of the assassination.

Jim Morrison is a 1960s counterculture icon. His band The Doors became famous after the release of their track, 'The End'. Their name was inspired by Huxley's novel The Doors of Perception, which in turn was inspired by William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1783).

Aldous Huxley Psychedelic Studysmarter

Psychedelic image, pixabay.com.

Huxley's The Doors of Perception preceded the popularity of LSD and mescaline that was a feature of the late 1960s Beat writers. In 1965, Jim Morrison of The Doors named his band after Huxley's book. The Beat writers and The Doors were considered progressive for their time and precursors to the psychedelic movement. What does that make Huxley?

The Beat Generation writers were considered part of the counterculture in the 1960s. The movement was characterised by non-linear plots and stream of consciousness writing. Famous writers include Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs.

Aldous Huxley’s Novels

Huxley’s first novel, Chrome Yellow was written in 1921 and is a biting satire of English country house intellectuals. F. Scott Fitzgerald calls it

'too ironic to be called satire and too scornful to be called irony.' - F. Scott Fitzgerald.2

These elements of satire and irony are threads that run through Huxley’s early work. The subject matter did shift from his known world of English academia to themes of global relevance, like the rise of the technocracy with Brave New World (1932). He also became interested in Buddism, which is reflected in some of his later novels, like the utopian counterpoint to Brave New World, Island (1963).

Brave New World (1932)

Huxley wrote Brave New World in less than 6 months. Considered a pioneering work of the Dystopian Science Fiction genre, it is a modern classic. It warns of a future where technology has created a situation in which the population is highly regulated from pre-birth until death.

Dystopian Science Fiction is a genre characterised by a pessimistic depiction of potential futures that usually feature technology and its influence on society. Other famous examples include George Orwell's 1984 (1949) and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (1985).

Set in AD 2540, or 632 ‘After Ford’, the novel continues the themes of satire seen in Huxley’s earlier work. ‘After Ford’ is a reference to the car manufacturer, Henry Ford, a pioneer of mass production. In Brave New World, Huxley depicts a future where science and technology have been harnessed to create an artificially harmonious and productive society.

The title of the novel references a phrase spoken by Miranda when she first meets the King of Naples and his men in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

'How beauteous mankind is, o brave new world, that has such people in it.'

Shakespearean allusions are the most common in the novel, creating a juxtaposition between Shakespearean morality and the recited maxims of Huxley’s dystopian future, where books are banned. This can be seen most clearly in the contrast between John the Savage’s worldview and the complacent hedonism of Lenina.

From embryos at The Central Hatchery through early childhood, the citizens of the future are genetically modified and psychologically conditioned to behave in certain ways and to unquestioningly believe in certain things. With intelligence being determined at the embryonic phase, the conditioning takes care of segmenting the population into content labour-related castes named after the Greek alphabet.

Adult Alphas, the most intelligent caste, would never want to be a Gamma, or less intelligent. No Gamma would ever want to be an Alpha, either. To achieve harmony, technology, science, and a happy drug called Soma are all applied to remove discontent, agency, and individuality from the population.

Key themes are the loss of individuality, dystopia and totalitarianism, technology and control, mass consumption, mass production, and the price of permanent happiness.

Aldous Huxley embryos StudySmarter

Socially engineered embryos in Brave New World, pixabay.com

Would you prefer to live like Lenina and Bernard or like John? Neither? Why?

Island (1963)

This post-war novel is set on an island, of course. It is Huxley’s last novel and a utopian version of Brave New World. Although not his most famous work, Island is revolutionary for its time, as it combines Huxley’s interest in Eastern mythology with technology that is used for betterment.

Island settings for Utopian novels have a long literary history, dating back to Thomas More’s Utopia (1516), which is where the word was derived from. The word 'utopia' is from the Greek ou-topos which means 'no place' or alternatively, 'no where'. Thomas More used it as a pun in his novel Utopia, as it is pronounced almost precisely the same as eu-topos or 'a good place.'

As Gorman Beauchamp says,

'Island distills the most important ideas that had engaged the polymathic Huxley for more than two decades on a capacious variety of subjects, ranging (as utopias are wont to do) from sex to science to education and religion. Here are reprised, for instance, his call for a humanized and "appropriate" technology'. - Gorman Beauchamp (1990) 3

The novel details Will Franaby's fake shipwreck on the island Pala. He is really there to spy on the inhabitants and assess their oil reserves. The neighbouring nations' interest in Pala is driven by greed and potentially a little envy.

In the novel, the people of Pala maintain their idyllic way of life by using freely available contraceptives, restricting the use of technology to medicine or food management, and limiting personal consumption.

After Will is welcomed, taken on a tour, and given a psychedelic experience by the islanders, he can begin to see the benefits of their way of life. It is too late. The neighbours who sent Will to spy destroy the island and its people.

The novel was not well received and garnered more criticism than accolades. Why do you think this is? What are your views on technology and its uses today?

Why is Aldous Huxley important to literature?

Aldous Huxley was in many ways a visionary. Many of today's pressing ecological, technocratic, and societal debates were foreseen in his works of dystopian and utopian fiction.

He began raising the need to consider how technology and consumerism would impact future societies. He asked how these could be tempered, if at all.

Other than raising relevant questions decades before they became current, he was an English academic who transgressed the world of English academia. His work and life spanned Europe, Beat counterculture, Hollywood, and mysticism. He demonstrated a sound understanding of science and technology. He was nominated for nine Nobel Prize Awards and actually awarded The Companion Of Literature in 1962.

Often described as a polymath, Huxley is still a relevant author today, despite being most active between the 1930s and the 1960s.

A polymath is a person who has a wide range of high-level skills and knowledge. A historic polymath is Leonardo Da Vinci. He excelled at sculpture, art, architecture, as well as biology and mathematics. On the side, he was an inventor. Elon Musk is considered by some to be a modern-day polymath.

Aldous Huxley - Key takeaways

  • Aldous Huxley made extensive use of satire and irony in almost all of his works.
  • He is mainly known as a novelist, but he also wrote screenplays, essays, and poetry.
  • His books Brave New World (1932) and Island (1963) are examples of Dystopian fiction and Utopian Fiction.
  • Brave New World highlights themes of technocracy, individualism, and mass consumption.
  • Island is his last novel and combines ideas of Utopia, and limited technology with Eastern Mysticism.

1. New World Encyclopedia, newworldencyclopedia.org.

2. Aldous Huxley, Chrome Yellow. 1921

3. Kevin Martin, Island, University of Hawaii. 2020.

p

Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley died on November 23, 1963.

Island, (1963) was Aldous Huxley's last book.

This is a long and involved answer but in short, his interest in Buhddism is widely published.

Aldous Huxley is most famous for Brave New World, a dystopian Science Fiction novel.

Brave New World was initially a parody of HG Well's utopian novels, especially Men Like Gods (1923).

Final Aldous Huxley Quiz

Question

What genre is Brave New World (1932)?

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Answer

Dystopian Science Fiction

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What are some key themes in Brave New World (1932)?

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Answer

Key themes include science, technology, class, individuality and society.

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Who are the two main protagonists in Brave New World?

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Answer

John and Berhard Marx are the two main protagonists in Brave New World.

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What year is Brave New World (1932) set in?

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Answer

Brave New World is set in AF 632.

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Question

In Brave New World (1932), who is the inspiration for the After Ford calendar and the saying 'Thank Ford"?

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Answer

Henry Ford, created of the assembly line method of mass production is the inspiration of the After Ford calendar in Brave New World.

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Question

Which of these elements does Brave New World make use of?

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Answer

Satire

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Question

Which famous dramatist plays inspired John in Brave New World (1932)?

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Answer

Shakespeare

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Question

What is soma in Brave New World (1932)?

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Answer

Soma is a mass produced drug that is used to keep the population happy and entertained.

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Where is John from Brave New World (1932) born?

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Answer

John is born on a reserve in New Mexico.

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What other novels are categorised as Dystopian Science Fiction with Brave New World (1932)?

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Answer

George Orwell's 1984.

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Question

Which of these novels was written by Aldous Huxley?

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Answer

Brave New World

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Where did Aldous Huxley study?

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Answer

Huxley graduated from Oxford in 1916.

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What was Aldous Huxley's first book of poetry?

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Answer

The Burning Wheel (1916)

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Question

Which band named themselves after an Aldous Huxley book?

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Answer

The Doors, a 1960s rock band

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Question

What is the name of Aldous Huxley's first novel?

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Answer

Chrome Yellow

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Question

What is the name of Aldous Huxley's dystopian Science Fiction novel?

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Answer

Brave New World

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Question

What genre of novel is Island?

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Answer

Island is a Utopian novel.

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Which famous classical dramatist and poet is referenced throughout Brave New World?

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Answer

William Shakespeare

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Which alphabet is the population's caste system named after in Brave New World?

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Answer

The Greek alphabet

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Question

What is a polymath?

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Answer

A multi-talented person with deep knowledge in numerous areas.

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