Aldous Leonard Huxley was born on July 26, 1894 in Godalming, Surrey, in the SE of England. He was the third son of Dr. Leonard Huxley and Julia Arnold. Huxley belonged to a family whose members were recognised to be intellectual people. He was the grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley, who was a very important biologist who developed an interesting theory on the evolution. His aunt, Mrs. Humphrey Ward, was a famous late-Victorian novelist, and the father of his aunt, Matthew Arnold, was a poet. Aldous's mother was the granddaughter of Thomas Arnold, a famous educator. One of his brothers was a great zoologist, also the first direct of Unesco. So, observing the atmosphere in which Aldous Leonard grew up, we can tell that he was very influenced by his relatives. If we focus our attention on the book I want to analyse, we can see that there is a heritage in the book from both sides; there is the extraordinary capacity of writing, he has a determined style, and of course there is the knowledge of human evolution and his idea of a utopic future. The class structure that was so important in the England of Huxleys childhood is also to be seen in the society which he presents in Brave New World.
Huxley had some experiences which made him stand apart from the class to which he belonged by birth. He was considered different as a child for his intelligence; we can also see that Huxley reflected this sense, this feeling of being an outsider in characters such as Bernard Marx and Hemholtz. These characters used to gather together and speak about their emotions that life produced on them. Huxley might have felt different from other people, like these two Alpha Plus men.
The death of his mother from cancer when he was only 14 , in 1908, meant also a change in his life; it gave him a sense of the transience of human happiness, and of course, it led to the break-up of the family home. You can also see the feeling that means the loss of ones mother in Brave New World through the Savages reactions. In August 1914, one of his brothers, Trevenen, committed suicide; this also affected him of course, besides because Aldous was very close to him. Over twenty years later, in 1936, Huxley published Eyeless in Gaza, were the death of his mother and brother are reflected.
Huxley studied at the prestigious school Eton. At the age of 16, an eye illness made him nearly blind, and forced him to leave school. Therefore he couldnt complete some scientific training that was so interesting for him; in the beginning, he intended to study medcine, then he turned to literature. Even though, his eyesight improved after a couple of years and he recovered enough to go to Oxford University where he graduated in English literature. He was unfit for military service and didnt fight in World War I, which was an experience that marked a lot of his other colleges. Instead he worked as a farm labourer at Lady Ottoline Morrell's Garsington Manor. Huxley was very interested in science, and he had really good ideas related to the subject; he used some of these in Brave New World, although he never managed to work in a big scientific project.
While being at Oxford, he met writers like Lytton Strachey, D. H. Lawrence and Bertrand Russell.
Huxley started his career as a journalist, he also practised music and artistic criticism and made a few book reviews. Huxley published his first book in 1916, it was a collection of poems, "The Burning Wheel". The three books which followed this one, were also poem books, in which the influence of French symbolism is to be seen. He married in 1919 a Belgian refugee, Maria Nys, and they had a child, Matthew Huxley, the year after. By then Huxley was working for the Athenaeum magazine, after that, he became the first British editor of the magazine House and Garden; he also worked for Vogue. Huxley's family travelled a lot, especially between London and Italy, but also to places such as India and the United States. They lived first near Florence and then on the Côte d'Azur. In Along th Road, 1925, Huxley describes all the places and works of art he had taken in since his arrival in Italy.
Huxley he wrote many novels, which were more appreciated by the public than his essays and poems. He became more famous, with his reputation established, when his first novel "Crome Yellow" (1921) was published. Huxley wrote some comic novels, such as "Antic Hay" (1923) and "Those Barren Leaves" (1925); here he made clear that he had an extraordinary ability in introducing very intellectual ideas in fiction novels. In Crome Yellow and in Antic Hay he shows the expression of a mood of disenchantment in the early 1920s related to the past Victorian mores. His generation had experienced "the violent disruption of almost all the standards, conventions and values current in the previous epoch", in Huxley's words. Some people criticised the explicit discussion of sex in his novel Antic Hay, which was even burned in Cairo due to these criticisms. He published a book of essays about philosophical and social aspects in 1927, "Proper Studies".
When Huxley first visited the United States around 1926, he was amused by the extravagance of American society, but he didnt like how American people spent their free time, spending it in useless things and not in trying to improve their mental capacity "Nowhere, perhaps, is there so little conversation... It is all movement and noise..." was what he said about this. It was his visit to the United States which made him so pesimistic about the cultural future of Europe. He said: "The thing which is happening in America is a revaluation of values, a radical alteration (for the worse) of established standards."
He could see the fascist Italy that was led by Benito Mussolini; this might have had some influence in Brave New World. Fascism and the incidents of the Soviet Union helped him when creating his distopia or bad utopia. Huxley was in each of his writings very critical with Western civilization.
Huxley wrote Brave New World, his most celebrated work, in only four months in 1931. Three years before this his best sold novel "Point Counter Point" (1928) had been published; here he tried to mix the novel and the essay. During these three years, he had written some stories, poems and some essays, but no big novel. Brief Candles, 1930,was a collection of short stories, Music at Night, 1931, volumes of essays.
In April 1937, the Huxleys arrived to the United States; he was by then a very famous novelist and the Peace Pledge Union's celebrity. By that time, Huxley was more concerned with things such as anarchism or mystical salvation than with the lamentable situation of the contemporary society. Huxley has the intention of returning to Europe, but his wife needed to live in a hot and dry climate. The year after they moved to Hollywood, Aldous worked as a screenwriter. In After Many a Summer, 1939, Huxley expresses his reaction to Hollywood and the cult to movie stars. Huxley and Hollywood were not compatible, and Aldous was unable to write a popular play during the inter-war years. He became disenchanted with the world of the film studios, and he reflects this in Ape and Essence, 1948.
In 1946 Huxley wrote a foreword to Brave New World. There he explained that he intended to find a sane society, and that he believed that it existed. Even though, he was worried about the dangers that might cause society fall into insanity.
Huxley was worried about the spirituality of the world citizens by that time; this led him towards mysticism and drugs. In the 1950s Huxley became famous for his interest in a determined type of drugs, like LSD; he looked for drugs that would release your mind, would make you forget your problems, escape from your present but that had no negative effect. Apparently, he consumed drugs like mescaline and LSD a dozen times over ten years.
His ideas and obsessions with drugs are to be seen in a few books: Doors of Perception (1954), Heaven and Hell (1956), Island (1962)...
Huxley produced 47 books in his life. Some critics say that he was a better essayist than a novelist, because he cared more for his ideas than for the development of his characters in his books. Even though Huxley really in better at writing essays, his most read books are novels. In 1959 the American Academy of Arts and Letters gave him the Award of Merit for the novel.
During the 1960s he became a cult figure. The famous music group "The Doors" named themselves after one of Huxleys novels, "the Doors of Perception".
Once, there was a fire in his house and all his papers and books burned; after this incident, he called himself "a man without a past".
Huxleys interests were very varied. He liked Greek history, Buddhist texts, philosophy, science, psychology... And he knew a lot of things about these subject so we can say he had a privileged mind.
Aldous Huxley was a pacifist. He remained blind nearly all his life. Maria, his first wife, died in 1955 and Huxley married Laura Archera a year later. He died in November 22 of 1963, the same day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
Bibliography in this page:
Introduction by David Bradshaw; Worcester College, Oxford, 1993 in Brave New World, Flamingo, 1994
© Mireia Ferrandis Pradas
BACK TO INDEX PAGE