This Day In Writing History
On July 26th, 1894, the legendary English novelist Aldous Huxley was born in Godalming, Surrey, England. His father, Leonard Huxley, was a writer, a scientist, and a schoolmaster. His grandfather, Thomas Henry Huxley, was a brilliant scientist famous for his vigorous defense of Charles Darwin's theories of evolution, which earned him the nickname "Darwin's Bulldog." He also became famous for coining the term agnostic to describe his spiritual beliefs. An agnostic neither believes nor disbelieves in the existence of a god, because there is no scientific evidence to either prove or disprove that a higher power exists.
Aldous Huxley began his education at home, assisted by both his mother and his father's well-equipped laboratory. His mother died of illness when he was 14. At 17, after writing his first novel, (which would go unpublished) Huxley suffered from keratitis, an inflammation of the corneas that left him practically blind for nearly three years. When he regained some of his eyesight, he enrolled at Balliol College, Oxford, to study English literature.
After he graduated with honors, Huxley taught French at Eton College. One of his students was a young man named Eric Blair, who would become famous for the classic novels he wrote under his legendary pseudonym, George Orwell. Although Blair and his other students were impressed with his intellect, Huxley found that he had no aptitude for teaching and trouble maintaining discipline in the classroom.
Disqualified from military service during World War 1 due to his eyesight, Huxley would work briefly for the Air Ministry in 1918, near the end of the war. During the war, he spent most of his time working as a farm laborer at Garsington Manor, the home of Lady Ottoline Morrell. Lady Ottoline was a society hostess and patron of the arts. She would host the gatherings of a group of writers, artists, intellectuals, and philosophers that came to be known as the Bloomsbury Set.
Through Lady Ottoline, Aldous Huxley was introduced to this influential group and became friends with many of its members, including D.H. Lawrence, Bertrand Russell, and Clive Bell. He determined to become a serious writer. His first published novel, Crome Yellow, was published in 1921. Huxley began his literary career satirizing England's class system, specifically, the manners and mores of the upper class. Then, in 1932, he published the novel that made him world famous.
Brave New World, (the title comes from a line in Shakespeare's classic play, The Tempest) a masterpiece of dystopic science fiction, was far removed from anything Huxley had written before, though it did showcase the talent for satire that marked his previous novels. It was inspired by H.G. Wells' novel Men Like Gods (1923), which was work of utopic science fiction. Huxley had intended to write a scathing parody of the utopic visions of the future depicted in Wells' novel and in the works of other writers of the time.
Unlike his former student George Orwell's satire of Stalinism in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948), Huxley's anti-capitalist dystopic vision depicted a twisted, surreal society of the future dedicated to mindless, materialistic pleasure. It's "the Year of our Ford" 632, (car magnate Henry Ford has become a messianic figure to this capitalist, materialist dystopia) aka 2540 A.D., and the vast majority of the world's people live in a single, unified state called The World State, where the form of government is an eerily benevolent fascist dictatorship. A strict caste system is in effect, and children are conceived in hatcheries and conditioned to fit into a predetermined class.
The caste system of highest (Alpha) to lowest (Epsilon) is designed to assure universal employment in all areas - the backbone of the World State's capitalist economy and materialistic society. Mass consumption is the government's philosophy, with catch phrases like "spending is better than mending" its mantras. There is no such thing as parents or family; children are raised by everyone. To keep the people happy, (and happy to work and spend money) the state uses recreational sex, which it encourages people to have often, with no emotional connections. Birth control is mandatory. To condition children to become sexually active adults, they are encouraged at a very young age to engage in erotic play with each other.
The World State also keeps its people happy by encouraging them to drug themselves with Soma, a mood enhancing narcotic. Instead of practicing a religion, people attend Solidarity Services, during which they drug themselves into oblivion with large amounts of Soma, sing hymns, and then partake in "communion" by having an orgy. Almost all the people of the World State engage in these and other state-approved customs and activities, as those who don't face ostracism and potential exile.
Bernard Marx works as a psychologist for the World State, but he has become discontented with this so-called utopia. Although an Alpha, his petite frame has made him a misfit among those of his caste. He takes issue with the State's use of sleep programming to shape the people's most deeply held beliefs. He hates taking Soma and would "rather be himself." Worst of all, he finds himself drawn to a woman named Lenina Crowne, not because he wants to engage in emotionless sex with her, but because he - gasp - has fallen in love with her. Lenina is torn between her loyalty to the World State and the passions that are growing within her.
18-year-old John the Savage lives outside the World State on an Indian reservation. He is the illegitimate son of Thomas, a World State official, and a woman called Linda. Thomas, who is Director of the London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, lives in fear of this dark secret; conceiving a child naturally - and in an act of love - are considered scandalous and obscene acts in the World State. Linda, who was a Beta in the state, has lived on an Indian reservation because she's too ashamed to return to the World State. The Indian women hate her because she had sex with all their men, which she was conditioned to do by her former state.
Linda taught her son John how to read, an ability he considers a gift. The only books he had access to were his mother's manual from her old job in the World State, which he hated, and a collection of Shakespeare's plays, which he loved and memorized verbatim. Shakespeare's works are banned by the World State, but John still wants to see the "brave new world" his mother spoke of.
Bernard Marx takes John into the World State, where he becomes the toast of London. To Bernard's delight, when John meets Thomas and calls him father, Thomas is humiliated and resigns. Unfortunately, John's presence in the World State leads to tragedy. After his mother dies of a Soma overdose, he incites a riot by throwing workers' Soma rations out a window. Caught by police, he is exiled and becomes a hermit. His solitude ends when he is caught on film whipping himself in a ritual of atonement, setting the stage for a tragic ending.
When Brave New World was first published in 1932, it was met with both acclaim and outrage. During the 1960s, it became a classic of the American counterculture. It remains remarkably relevant to this day. Often appearing on high school English teachers' required reading lists, the novel continues to face bans and challenges from disgruntled parents. The American Library Association ranked the novel #52 on its list of the most banned and challenged books of all time.
Brave New World would be adapted for the radio, stage, screen, radio, and television. In 1937, a few years after it was published, Aldous Huxley and his family moved to Hollywood, California. There, his friend, American writer and philosopher Gerald Heard, introduced him to Vedanta (Veda-Centric Hinduism), meditation, vegetarianism, and enlightenment through ahimsa, the Hindu principle of nonviolence.
Huxley soon became part of Swami Prabhavananda's (the founder of the Ramakrishna Order) circle of followers. He would introduce his friend and fellow writer Christopher Isherwood to the group. When he wasn't involved his Vedantic studies, Huxley continued to write. His 1939 novel After Many A Summer, a satire of American culture, (specifically, its narcissism, superficiality, and obsession with youth) won him the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction.
In 1938, Huxley's friend, the legendary novelist and screenwriter Anita Loos, introduced him to the MGM film studio, which hired him to write the screenplay for the movie Madame Curie, which starred Greer Garson as the famous scientist. MGM rejected Huxley's original screenplay as "too literary." His original script synopsis for Walt Disney's animated adaptation of Lewis Carroll's classic novel Alice In Wonderland was also rejected. He did achieve some success as a screenwriter; he co-wrote the screenplays for the 1940 feature film adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and the 1944 adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre.
Huxley was known for his experiments with hallucinogenic drugs. Legend has it that the legendary English occultist Aleister Crowley introduced him to peyote after they dined together in Berlin one night in 1930. Another friend, the famous British psychiatrist Humphry Osmond, (who first coined the term psychedelic) introduced him to mescaline in 1953. Through Osmond, Huxley met Alfred Matthew Hubbard, the "Johnny Appleseed of LSD," who introduced him to that famous drug in 1955. Intrigued by the potential of psychedelic drugs to assist humans in achieving enlightenment, he wrote of his experiments in his classic non-fiction works, The Doors of Perception (1954) and Heaven and Hell (1956).
In 1960, Huxley was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer. Over the next couple of years, his health began to deteriorate. On the morning of November 22nd, 1963, as he lay on his deathbed unable to speak, he gave his wife a written request to inject him with 100 micrograms of LSD. She granted the request. He spent the last few hours of his life under the influence of LSD, then died at the age of 60 - not long after President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.
Aldous Huxley's last novel, Island, published in 1962, was conceived as a utopic counterpoint to his classic novel, Brave New World. It told the story of Will Farnaby, a cynical journalist who finds himself shipwrecked on the fictional island of Pala. He discovers that the Palanese people, who are Mahayana Buddhists, live in a utopic society that combines modern science with the use of psychedelic substances to gain mystical insight.
Quote Of The Day
"It's with bad sentiments that one makes good novels." - Aldous Huxley
Today's video features a rare 1958 TV interview with Aldous Huxley, conducted by Mike Wallace. Enjoy!