Aldous Huxley: Writer And Prophet

 

Nicholas Murray, Freelance writer and biographer of Aldous Huxley

7 December 2015

 

In the spring of 1931, a tall, cerebral, shortsighted, rather tweedy Old Etonian called Aldous Huxley, sat down, at his home on the Côte d’Azur, to write a book about the modern world and what he believed was its current predicament.  Brave New World was to become a classic that, 80 years on, has lost none of its relevance, its stimulus to thought about the kind of society we have created.  It remains a vivid reference point for our debates about politics and society.  Only George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four can rival its fame as a 20th Century dystopian nightmare. 

I want this evening to ask why Huxley wrote this book, where it came from, and why it still continues to resonate with new generations of readers.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) as a young man

Huxley always wrote quickly and fluently and the book, begun in April, was finished by early August, barely 4 months.  By 7th May 1931 he was writing to Lady Ottoline Morrell: “I am hard at work on my novel of Utopia.” On the same day he told another friend, the Proust translator, Sydney Schiff: “I write away at a novel of the future – Wells’s Utopia realised, and the absolute horror of it, a revolt against it.  Amusing but difficult, as I want to make a comprehensible picture of a psychology based on quite different first principles from ours.”[i]  [Huxley would later meet Wells at Cannes and learn that he disliked the book – unlike Edith Wharton who loved it.] A month later he told Schiff again: “I am working very hard, re-writing large chunks of what I had thought definitively done and praying heaven that this time the revision may be final – while before me lie great deserts of the yet unwritten.[ii]  He added that he hope to visit America in the autumn once the book was finished: “…just to know the worst, as one must do from time to time, I think.”

Then, on 27th May he reported to his brother Julian “…a literary catastrophe – the discovery that all I’ve been writing during the last month won’t do and that I must re-write in quite another way.[iii]  On 21st June he told his friend Mary Hutchinson: “I have been working fiendishly hard.  Which I don’t much like doing – but I want to get my book about the future finished by the end of the summer.  It advances slowly – and the future becomes more and more appalling with every chapter.”[iv]

On 4 August he reported to Charles Prentice of Chatto “…a steady caterpillar advance into the utopian novel.  I hope to have it done by the end of the present or the middle of next month.”[v] He then added: “I’ve not yet decided what to call it. But that will come.”  We don’t know any more about the final choice of a title nor about whose inspiration it was to call it after Miranda’s words in The Tempest on seeing other people for the first time, but it must have come to him around the middle of August 1931 because Chatto had it in their hands by the end of the month.  Huxley told his father Leonard, on 24th August, that he had “got rid of” the book at last, describing it as “a comic, or at least satirical, novel about the Future, showing the appallingness (at any rate by our standards) of Utopia…It has been a job writing the book and I am glad it’s done.  I’m taking a holiday from writing in painting in oils…”[vi] To the critic G Wilson Knight on 15 September he called it “a difficult piece of work – a Swiftian novel about the Future, showing the horrors of Utopia and the strange and appalling effects on feeling, ‘instinct’ and general weltanschaung of the application of psychological and mechanical knowledge to the fundamentals of human life.  It is a comic book – but seriously comic.[vii]

On the 7 September he acknowledged the publisher’s satisfaction with the book saying he felt that: “I think it goes with a sufficient swing; at the same time has enough pseudo-scientific detail to make it convincing.[viii]  “I think the title is all right, don’t you?” he added. “It comes well off the tongue and the rest of the quotation which it implies is significantly to the point.” The book was quickly brought out in February 1932.

This little insight into the composition of the book, pieced together from mostly unpublished letters, actually tells us a great deal of what we need to know about why Huxley wrote the book at this particular time and about his general approach.  It grew from his concern about the state of the world, which was very deeply felt, and about the remedies being offered by utopians like H G Wells against whom he very consciously opposed himself.  It was a dystopian novel – or cacotopian if you prefer the term coined by Anthony Burgess – that was set in the future but actually, as most future fiction is, its real subject was the present – as well as what the present might very soon become.  It expressed the anxiety on the part of someone with a degree of scientific knowledge about the negative uses to which science, particularly the sciences of human behaviour, could be put, and it believed that in social and political thought the cures proposed are often worse than the disease.  Huxley felt the need to speak out.

A few months before starting Brave New World, at the end of 1930, Huxley told a correspondent: “The human race fills me with a steadily growing dismay.  I was staying in the Durham coalfield this autumn, in the heart of English unemployment, and it was awful.  If only one cd believe that the remedies proposed for the awfulness (Communism etc.) weren’t even worse than the disease – in fact weren’t the disease itself in another form, with superficially different symptoms.  The sad and humiliating conclusion is forced on one that the only thing to do is to flee and hide.”[ix]

Aldous Huxley in Beverley Hills 1944, aged 50

So who exactly was Aldous Leonard Huxley? Let me offer a very quick sketch.  He was born in Surrey on 26 July 1894 into a famous intellectual family.  His grandfather was the Victorian scientist Thomas Henry Huxley – dubbed “Darwin's bulldog” for his fierce championship of the theorist of natural selection – and his mother was the niece of the poet and critic, Matthew Arnold.  The novelist Mrs Humphry Ward was his aunt.  His unique Christian name was derived from the hero of her novel, Marcella, published in the year of his birth.  Throughout his life, Huxley remained acutely aware of this very special inheritance which combined intellectual seriousness with a sense of obligation to engage with public issues, to take on, as it were, the problems of the world.  He even thought at times that he actually sounded like one of the eminent Victorians.  Here he is, writing in 1949, in California about a recording made of his voice:

Language is perpetually changing; the cultivated English I listened to as a child is not the same as the cultivated English spoken by young men and women today.  But within the general flux there are islands of linguistic conservatism; and when I listen to myself objectively, from the outside, I perceive that I am one of those islands.  In the Oxford of Jowett and Lewis Carroll, the Oxford in which my mother was brought up, how did people speak the Queen's English?  I can answer with a considerable degree of confidence that they spoke almost exactly as I do.  These recordings of 1950 are at the same time documents from the seventies and eighties of the last century.”

We should perhaps add that the Huxleys were also free thinking, liberal intellectuals not afraid of controversy and challenge.  Their ideas were not so conservative as their dialect.  And this was the aspect of Huxley that made such an extraordinary impact when he emerged as a novelist in the 1920s.  Here is the eponymous heroine of the story of 1926, Two or Three Graces:

As for Grace's parents, they were only a generation away; but, goodness knows, that was far enough.  They had opinions about socialism and sexual morality, and gentlemen, and what ought or ought not to be done by the best people – fixed, unalterable, habit-ingrained and by now almost instinctive opinions that made it impossible for them to understand or forgive the contemporary world.”

Huxley never cared much for conventional English society's norms of "…what ought or ought not to be done by the best people".   But why was the young Huxley so angry?  The key, I believe, is in the passage I have just quoted.  It was in large measure a generational conflict that had been heightened and exacerbated by the First World War.  And there was also a personal cause.  The two re-enforced each other. 

To begin with the personal: three traumatic events in Huxley's childhood intensified his bitterness.  In 1908 his mother, Julia Arnold, died suddenly of a rapid cancer.  Fourteen-year-old Aldous, who had attended the Godalming prep school which his mother ran, but who was now at Eton, was devastated.  Two years later came a second blow.  A serious eye infection, probably caught on the playing fields at Eton, and which was not properly diagnosed and treated, result in a temporary blindness.  It lasted for at least a year and Aldous had to leave the school.  At a crucial point in his adolescence, therefore, he was bereft both of sight and of the companionship of his friends.  His natural tendency towards introspection and solitary reflectiveness was thus greatly accentuated. “I was much alone & thrown on my own resources,” he later wrote.  For the rest of his life Huxley would struggle with defective vision.  It was what drove him to live in the Mediterranean and then California in search of strong light.  He learned Braille and even typed a lost novel on a Braille typewriter.  The third blow came in the long summer of 1914 when his brother, Trevenen, committed suicide while Aldous was preparing for his second year at Balliol.  Trevenen had become involved in an affair with a housemaid and then failed his examinations for the Civil Service and succumbed to the notorious Huxley “black melancholy”.  Aldous's verdict was that “…his ideals were too much for him”.

Aldous Huxley in 1956, aged 62

Although Huxley threw himself into his life at Oxford the war cast its shadow.  Not yet the pacifist he would later become in the 1920s, he volunteered for military service but his state of health and vision ensured immediate rejection.  He watched some of his friends die and was much alone.  He started to cultivate friendships with several young women such as Naomi Haldane - perhaps more familiar as the writer Naomi Mitchison - or the violinist Jelly d'Aranyi to whom he confessed: “One has so few friends left to one these days, when everyone has gone off to the wars, that those who are left, are still more precious than they were before.” 

It is one of the odder features of Huxley criticism that the young writer's brilliance at Oxford – in spite of the disability against which he struggled – has sometimes been held against him, as if it were in some way a proof of culpable arrogance.  But in another letter to Jelly – one of several hundred unpublished letters which I drew on in writing my biography – he revealed a more generous, morally sensitive, young man:

This war impresses on me more than ever the fact that friendship, love, whatever you like to call it is the only reality.  When one is young and one's mind is in a perpetual state of change and chaos it seems to remain as the one stable and reliable thing.  It simply is truth in the highest form we can attain to.  You never knew my mother – I wish you had because she was a very wonderful woman: Trev was most like her.  I have just been reading what she wrote to me just before she died.  The last words of her letter were 'Don't be too critical of other people and "love much"' – and I have come to see more and more how wise that advice was.  It's a warning against a rather conceited and selfish fault of my own and it's a whole philosophy of life.”

I have spent some time on this sketch of the early Huxley because it seems to me that it is essential to understand his starting point, and the fact that his way of looking at the world was coloured strongly by his inheritance, his childhood experiences, and that strong moral sense which attentive readers have always known was there, however well disguised by the roles he played as iconoclast, carefree hedonist, path changing intellectual adventurer.

It was at Oxford where, in part because he was a Huxley, in part because his precocious brilliance was going before him, he received an invitation from Lady Ottoline Morrell – a keen talent spotter – to attend a lunch at Garsington Manor in 1915.  This was the beginning of a new phase in Huxley's life.  He met some of the leading writers, artists and thinkers of his day: DH Lawrence (with whom he was to have a fascinating and complex intellectual friendship), Lytton Strachey, Maynard Keynes, Bertrand Russell, Virginia Woolf, Dora Carrington, Dorothy Brett, and countless others.  He also met his wife, the Belgian refugee Maria Nys, who was to play such an important part in his life.  No doubt it was this immersion in the milieu of Bloomsbury that contributed to his image as a rather haughty highbrow and it is certainly true that he loved it, spending seven months there after graduating with his brilliant First, working on the Garsington estate farm.  But when his first novel was published in 1921 – after a period of school mastering at Eton followed by literary hackwork in London and marriage in 1919 – Ottoline was outraged.  She felt that the merciless and dazzling Crome Yellow was a betrayal of her trust, satirising people he had met under her roof, as well as herself, and the breach took a long time to heal.

1921 was an important year for Huxley.  His three volumes of poetry and a volume of short stories, Limbo, had been well received but Crome Yellow had marked him out as an outstanding new fictional voice.  He now felt that he could bid farewell to miscellaneous literary journalism, theatre and concert reviewing, and editing.  He moved to the seaside resort of Forte dei Marmi on the Tuscan coast, where Italian friends of his wife's family, the Fasolas, had a villa, and where he considered he could live far more cheaply than in England.  Here he started to write his second novel, Antic Hay.  Although he returned to London in 1922 to work as a journalist, by 1923 he was back in Italy, having signed a remarkable agreement with his lifelong publishers, Chatto and Windus, which would ensure a regular income if he supplied them with one novel and one collection of short stories or essays a year.  A pattern had now begun which consisted of residence abroad, punctuated by travels, and interspersed with periodic returns to London.  The books which followed, novels, short stories, essays and books of travel established Huxley as a fluent and lively writer able to turn his hand to most kinds of literary activity. 

Aldous Huxley (right) with his elder brother Julian Huxley (scientist and writer, 1887-1975)

The reputation of Huxley as daring and avant-garde was not entirely undeserved.  The sexual frankness of his books, which made them so delightfully shocking for his fans, was reflected in the unconventionality of his private life.  In Point Counter Point, Elinor Quarles encourages her husband Philip to have affairs with other women.  Huxley's wife, Maria, did the same – a fact revealed thirty years ago in Sybille Bedford's official biography.  What Sybille Bedford was unable to do was to name names and to say that one of the more sustained of these three-way relationships was between Maria, Aldous and Mary Hutchinson, a minor Bloomsbury figure best known perhaps for being the mistress of Clive Bell.   Mary Hutchinson was still alive in the late 1960s when Sybille Bedford was at work and her explicit correspondence with Huxley and Maria was unavailable.  My biography was thus the first to draw on that unpublished material.  I also revealed for the first time other examples of this habit of encouraging her husband to have affairs with other women.  In addition, Maria was homosexual, adding to the strangeness of a marriage which was, by common consent, deeply loving and sustaining.  Maria's devotion to Aldous, and her practical support throughout their life together, was profound.

So Huxley may have found himself now living in the south of France at the start of the 1930s but he was not hiding from the contemporary world; his novel confronts it directly.  In addition he had, for the whole of the previous decade, been confronting the world in essays and novels.  Brave New World did not appear out of thin air.  I would argue that it was the natural culmination of his preoccupations to that date.

It was in 1926, five years before he wrote Brave New World, that Huxley first encountered Henry Ford’s My Life and Work (1922), chancing on it in the ship’s library of the vessel on which he was sailing across the Java Sea to Sarawak.  His first reaction was lightly facetious in the habitual manner of his 1920s travel writing and essays.  Claiming to be suffering spiritual indigestion from ‘the wisdom of the east’, he suggested that the robust “common sense[x] of Ford was a tonic contrast:

In these seas, and to one fresh from India and Indian ‘spirituality’, Indian dirt and religion, Ford seems a greater man than Buddha.  In Europe on the other hand, and still more, no doubt, in America, the Way of Gautama has all the appearance of the way of Salvation.  One is all for religion until one visits a really religious country.”

Five years later, however, in the summer of 1931 during which he was writing Brave New World at Sanary-sur-Mer on the Côte d’Azur, Ford had acquired an over-arching symbolic importance as an omnipotent secular deity, a substitute for Christ in the “The Age of Ford” in which the book is placed.  Ford’s rather bumptious tract appears in the novel under its own name, published in Detroit by the Society for the Propagation of Fordian Knowledge[xi], as the Bible of the new age of standardised human production where babies rattle off the production line like the Model ‘T’ Ford which was in constant production from September 1908 until October 1927. 

This is the novel’s running gag, from the date of the opening sequence in the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, announced as AF [After Ford] 632 through numerous references to “the sign of the T”, “Our Ford”, “Oh Ford!”, “...even in Our Ford’s day”, “his fordship” [of the Controller, Mustapha Mond], “Ford’s in his flivver...All’s well with the world[xii], “Ford’s Day” celebrations, “the Charing-T Tower”, the Fordson Community Singery at Ludgate Hill chiming “Ford, Ford, Ford”, Thank Ford!”, Ford!”, the statue of Our Ford in the quadrangle at Eton College, the Young Women’s Fordian Association, “Ford in Flivver!”, “Ford help him!”, “Ford helps them who help themselves”, “Ford be praised!”, “Ford forbid”, “Fordey!” [presumably “Crikey!”] and The Fordian Science Monitor.  There is a passing mention of Freud – “Our Ford – or Our Freud, as, for some inscrutable reason, he chose to call himself whenever he spoke of psychological matters – Our Freud had been the first to reveal the appalling dangers of family life[xiii] – but otherwise Henry Ford holds the field.

Huxley’s perception of what was wrong with contemporary civilization had evolved in the decade since Brave New World was first prefigured in Crome Yellow in 1921 when Mr Scogan, a thinly-disguised Bertrand Russell, expounds his vision of the Rational State in which “The men of intelligence must combine”.  Scogan envisages three species “...the Director of Intelligences, the men of Faith, and the Herd[xiv] with no role for the writer.  Scogan is articulating a classic Utopia of the finest intelligences orchestrating a perfect future but as Huxley’s epigraph from Nicholas Berdiaeff alerts the reader, Brave New World is intended as a dystopian vision, a warning against the draconian imposition of perfection.

Huxley’s critique of Fordism, before he had begun to name it as such, was based on a reaction against what he observed to be the mechanisation and standardisation of human culture, and it evolved initially from a reaction against the mass cultural forms that were ascendant in the first decades of the 20th Century.  In his 1923 essay, “Pleasures”[xv] he argued, with his now familiar combination of high levity and underlying vatic rage, that civilization was threatened from within by “...that curious and appalling thing that is known as pleasure”.  He went on: “...every kind of organised distraction tends to become progressively more and more imbecile”.  Crucially, he argues that the traditional pleasures demanded “intelligence and personal initiative” whereas now “...to the interminable democracies of the world a million cinemas bring the same stale balderdash”.  Here Huxley is setting up the antithesis between the autonomous thinking and feeling individual and mass society which would provide the main thematic pivot of Brave New World nearly a decade later.  “The democracy of the future,” he concluded, “will sicken of a chronic and mortal boredom.”

These slighting references to democracy (his modern equivalent would prudently choose a more neutral term like ‘society’) will confirm, in the eyes of his detractors, Huxley’s elitism.  As with his great uncle, Matthew Arnold (the “elegant Jeremiah” of Victorian cultural polemic) it is easy to see how Huxley’s foppish manner could persuade some that his protestations were merely upper-crust condescension towards the common man and his honest pleasures.  In his essay Democratic Art he complained – a shade too languidly perhaps: “I belong to that class of unhappy people who are not easily infected by crowd excitement...How often one regrets this asceticism of the mind.”[xvi]  The regret, one might think, is actually quite hard to detect here.

Aldous Huxley and his second wife, Laura Huxley (1911-2007) who later wrote a memoir of her life with him, entitled This Timeless Moment (1968). She was born Laura Archera in Turin, and was a prodigy violinist. Later she became a documentary filmmaker and a psychological counsellor.

The poles of the debate, however, were clearly established in Huxley’s thinking by the mid-1920s.  On the one hand the free individual choosing his or her own pleasures, on the other the advertisers and cultural producers, trying to sell them mass-produced rubbish, like the manufacturers in Antic Hay putting “a big spiritual message[xvii] into pairs of trousers.  Huxley continued to explore these themes in essay collections like Along the Road (1925), the novels and sort story collections like Those Barren Leaves (1925) and Two or Three Graces (1926) and unsurprisingly he came to see that Ford’s America was the place where these trends were most clearly displayed.  In Jesting Pilate (1926) he wrote about a visit to the Hollywood studios and declared that what was happening in America was “a revaluation of all values, a radical alteration (for the worse) of established standards”.[xviii]  He argued that the triumph of scientific materialism had defeated the “world of values” in which the era of Arnold and Tennyson struggled.  In this new world of aggressively self-confident consumer capitalism cultural values could not compete with the ruthlessly pragmatic values of business and in addition there was no longer any distinction between ‘high’ and ‘low’.  The result was that: “Stupidity, suggestibility and business are held up as supremely precious.  Intelligence, independence and disinterested activity – once admired – are in process of becoming evil things which ought to be destroyed.”[xix]

In 1927, in his essay collection Proper Studies, Huxley tried to, as he put it, “methodize[xx] his random ideas about culture and society, heavily influenced by the writings of Pareto.  Having predicted in passing that “babies in bottles” were not far off, he discussed for the first time that notion of labour saving devices which would become central to his critique of Fordism. “I like labour saving devices,” he wrote, “because they economize time and energy which may be devoted to mental labour. (But then I enjoy mental labour; there are plenty of people who detest it, and who feel as much enthusiasm for thought-saving devices as for automatic dishwashers and sewing-machines.)[xxi]  In the same year, in an essay he chose subsequently not to collect called “The Outlook for American Culture: Some Reflections in a Machine Age” published in Harper’s Magazine, he declared: “The higher the degree of standardization in popular literature and art, the greater the profit for the manufacturer.[xxii]  By the time of the appearance two years later of the essay collection Do What You Will (1929) the insouciant statement of a preference for ‘mental labour’ had become a more determined rejection of the alternative embodied in the values of Henry Ford.  He would now argue that machines relieved the worker “...not merely of drudgery, but of the possibility of performing any creative or spontaneous act whatsoever.  And this is now true of his leisure as well as of his labour; he has almost ceased even to try to divert himself, but sits and suffers a standardized entertainment to trickle over his passive consciousness.  Amusements have been mechanized; it is the latest and most fatal triumph of our industrial-scientific civilization.” [xxiii]

In the same essay collection Huxley delivered his most striking blow to date against the new Fordist cultural production.  In a rather excessive description of a visit in 1929 to a performance in a Paris cinema of the first talkie, The Jazz Singer (1927) Huxley painted a nightmare vision (weirdly enhanced in the telling by his dramatisation of his own visual impairment) of what he called “...a simple narrative of what I saw and heard in that fetid hall on the Boulevard des Italiens, where the latest and most frightful creation-saving device for the production of standardized amusement had been installed.”[xxiv]  This was Huxley’s first use of the term “creation-saving” as a challenge to the “labour-saving” boasts of Fordism.  In a subsequent essay in the same collection he argued:

The machine is dangerous because it is not only a labour-saver, but also a creation-saver.  Creative work, of however humble a kind, is the source of man’s most solid, least transitory happiness.  The machine robs the majority of human beings of the very possibility of this happiness.  Leisure has now been almost as completely mechanized as labour.  Men no longer amuse themselves, creatively, but sit and are passively amused by mechanical devices.”[xxv]  

It is perhaps surprising that nowhere in his long-drawn out combat with Fordism did Huxley engage explicitly with the critique of William Morris, who, in his famous address to the Hampstead Liberal Club, in 1884, “Useful Work Versus Useless Toil”, had inveighed against “...labour-saving” machines that reduce the skilled labourer to the ranks of the unskilled, to increase the number of the ‘reserve army of labour’ – that is, to increase the precariousness of life among the workers and to intensify the labour of those who serve the machines (as slaves their masters).[xxvi]

But, like Morris, Huxley did point out the economic imperative of the new industrialised leisure-production: “If men were to take to amusing themselves instead of suffering themselves to be passively amused, millions upon millions of capital would be lost.  Any attempt to do so is therefore resisted.”  Unless a desire to resist the propaganda of “...the great creation-saving companies” led to a movement for “...the de-mechanization of leisure” then the races of the industrialised West are doomed, it seems to me, to self-destruction – to a kind of suicide while of sound mind. The first symptoms of mass insanity are everywhere apparent.  A few years more, and the patient will be raving and violent.”  And of course it was with a suicide that Brave New World ended.

It was not until the autumn of 1931, the manuscript of Brave New World now completed, that Huxley’s essay “The Obstacle Race” appeared in the essay collection Music at Night (1931) and he made his first explicit use of the term Fordism[what I may call Fordism”[xxvii]].  The future, he wrote, will be about the need to “...reassert a human mastery over the machine” otherwise: “Rigorously practised for a few generations, this dreadful religion of the machine will end by destroying the human race”.  Humanity, in this apocalyptic drama, could be saved only by reforms “within the individual psyche”.

First edition of Huxley’s Brave New World, published by Chatto and Windus in 1932

To read Brave New World in the light of this critique built up by Huxley over a decade or more is, it seems to me, to focus on the core of his dystopian vision. “You’ve got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art,[xxviii] the Controller, Mustapha Mond tells the dissenters, Bernard Marx and Helmhotz Watson.  Happiness is equated by the Controller with social conformity and acquiescence, with a refusal of the spiritual struggles of art and religion.  Happiness is manufactured through soma and the guiltless but somehow passionless practice of promiscuous sex.   “Our Ford himself did a great deal to shift the emphasis from truth and beauty to comfort and happiness,” the Controller reminds them.  Mass production demanded the shift. Universal happiness keeps the wheels steadily turning; truth and beauty can’t.” 

The Flamingo Edition of Huxley’s Brave New World, 1994, published to mark the centenary of Huxley’s birth in 1894, near Godalming, Surrey

The Controller later reads John, the putative ‘savage’, a passage from Newman and concludes “God isn’t compatible with machinery and scientific medicine and universal happiness.” – any more than is the traditional, individualistic liberal intellectual of whom Huxley was the classic 20th Century exemplar.  Solitary creativity was redundant in the new world where people are never alone: “We make them hate solitude; and we arrange their lives so that it’s almost impossible for them ever to have it...industrial civilisation is only possible when there’s no self denial

“Nothing costs enough here,” says John.  His final declaration: “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy,” is his assertion of his humanity against the machine.  The dystopian warning is complete.

This, I believe, is why Brave New World speaks to us still.  Our fears about the commodification of culture, about state surveillance, about the manipulative power of the digital oligarchs like Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft, about the passivity of so many contemporary cultural forms which make us consumers not producers of art, that put us in our place with a beguiling smile that pretends that this is what we wanted all along, are prefigured in Brave New World It is a novel that makes us think about all these things, that protests against a world where we are offered a Utopia we did not choose at the same time as it is insisted that we did actually choose it.  It is a polemic in favour of human freedom – imaginative, creative freedom – against those who would, in the interests of profit or the will to power over us, take it away. 

That is why Brave New World lives.

©nicholas murray 2015




[i] Letter to Schiff, 7 May 1931 British Library

[ii] 21 June, 1931 British Library

[iii] Letters of Aldous Huxley (1969) edited by Grover Smith, p348

[iv] HRC, 21 June 1931

[v] 4 August 1931, University of Reading

[vi] Letters, p351

[vii] Letters, p353

[viii] 7 September 1931, University of Reading

[ix] Letters, p345 To Mrs Flora Strousse, 6 January 1931

[x] Jesting Pilate: the diary of a journey (1926), p213

[xi] Brave New World: a novel (1932) [edition used: 1950 Collected Edition (1967 ed) with foreword by the author], p178.  Henry Ford, My Life and Work (1922) argues in Chapter VII  “The Terror of the Machine”: “The average worker, I am sorry to say, wants a job in which he does not have to put forth much physical exertion – above all, he wants a job in which he does not have to think.  Those who have what might be called the creative type of mind and who thoroughly abhor monotony are apt to imagine that all other minds are similarly restless and therefore to extend quite unwarranted sympathy to the labouring man who day in and day out performs almost exactly the same operation.” p103.  Ford continues: “We speak of creative ‘artists’ in music, painting, and the other arts.  We seemingly limit the creative functions to productions that may be hung on gallery walls, or played in concert halls, or otherwise displayed where idle and fastidious people gather to admire each other’s culture.  But if a man wants a field for vital creative work, let him come where he is dealing with higher laws than those of sound, or line, or colour; let him come where he may deal with the laws of personality.  We want artists in industrial method – both from the standpoint of the producer and the product.  We want those who can  mould the political, social, industrial, and moral mass into a sound and shapely whole.  We have limited the creative faculty too much and have used it for too trivial ends.  We want men who can create the working design for all that is right and good and desirable in our life...It is possible to increase the well-being of the workingman – not by having him do less work, but by aiding him to do more [...] I have not been able to discover that repetitive labour injures a man in any way.” p104-5

[xii] BNW, p35

[xiii] BNW, p30

[xiv] Crome Yellow (1921) p242

[xv] On the Margin: Notes and Essays (1923), p47

[xvi] Op.cit., p74

[xvii] Antic Hay (1923) p157

[xviii] Jesting Pilate: the diary of a journey (1926), p272

[xix] Op.cit., p280

[xx] Proper Studies (1927), px

[xxi] Op.cit., p298

[xxii] Harper’s Magazine (155) August 1927, pp265-70 cited in Peter Firchow, The End of Utopia: a study of Aldous Huxleys Brave New World (1984), p35

[xxiii] Do What You Will: essays (1929), p49

[xxiv] Op.cit., p54

[xxv] p86

[xxvi] “Useful Work Versus Useless Toil”, lecture delivered  January 16th 1884, published 1885, from Political Writings of William Morris (1984) edited by AL Morton, p106

[xxvii] Music at Night and other essays (1931) p90

[xxviii] BNW, p180