I read Brave New World several years ago. It was one of the books, like many others, that I read because I felt I should. Now it is time for a confession; I did not like it. I stuck with it to the end, because once I crack a spine and read a few pages, I have entered into a commitment. Giving up on a book is like breaking a promise to a friend; it happens, but you never get over the guilt. I stayed with it and checked it off my “need to read” list, and decided I was done with Mr. Huxley. However, Mr. Huxley was not done with me.
A few years later my philosophy professor assigned us Brave New World Revisited. I was thankful I had read its predecessor, but spending more time with Mr. Huxley was not something I approached with optimism until I started reading.
Huxley hooked me on the opening sentence. “In 1931 when Brave New World was being written, I was convinced that there was still plenty of time.”
Time for what? I wondered and kept reading. Huxley started with over-population, going on to state over-population was creating “greater numbers [of] biologically poorer quality.” Much of this was due in part, according to Huxley, with advances in science. Drugs were keeping us alive longer, but were little benefit as these “wonder drugs” were causing deterioration in health and a “decline in average intelligence.” Huxley went on to examine propaganda, brainwashing, various persuasion methods and education for freedom. This was serious shit; it was also terrifying. I had found my Soma and wanted more. I decided I had been rather unfair to Huxley. Brave New World Revisited had been a good, sharp smack on the back of my head. Stuff was happening, and Mr. Huxley knew it wasn’t the good kind.
I became obsessed with Huxley, even naming my cat after him. I began collecting everything I could get my hands on three volumes of essays, a collection of letters, a biography, a few of his other novels, including his first three, and watching interviews and documentaries on YouTube.
Huxley had a sharp satirical wit. In “Silence is Golden,” an essay he wrote in 1929 Huxley describes his first experience with Jazz.
“The jazzers were forced on me; I regarded them with a fascinated horror. It was the first time, I suddenly realized, that I had ever clearly seen a jazz band. The spectacle was positively terrifying.”
Huxley’s first novel, Crome Yellow, has become one of my favorite books. It has often been criticized for being a book with no plot, but that is the genius behind it; Crome isn’t a single plot, it’s several. Each of Crome’s characters inhabits their own self-absorbed private world. Written in the style of Wodehouse and Waugh, Crome Yellow, exposed me to a side of Huxley I didn’t know existed. Crome Yellow and Antic Hay, Huxley’s second novel, made me laugh as much as Brave New World Revisited had frightened me.
Huxley didn’t stop at novels and essays. He also wrote poetry. Even though T.S. Eliot accused Huxley of “borrow[ing] a good deal from my poetry” he felt Huxley’s talent was in prose instead of verse. Finding a good selection of Huxley’s poetry is not easy. I had to do a bit of searching before I finally found a decent collection of them. In spite of Eliot’s (one of my favorite poets) criticisms, I found Huxley’s poetry meaningful and contemplative.
Darkness had stretched its colour,
Deep blue across the pane:
No Cloud to make night duller,
No moon with its tarnished stain;
But only here and there a star,
One sharp point of frosty fire,
Hanging infinitely far
In mockery of our life and death
And all our small desire. ~ From Waking
For Huxley, writing was essential. “I never feel I am performing a really moral action, except when I am writing,” I find that a very romantic view. Writing defined Huxley and that definition goes far beyond Brave New World. Huxley saw the world, perhaps because of his limited eyesight, differently than those around him, without losing his humanity. If anything, he can only be blamed for being too human.
I’ve got a long way to go before I exhaust all of Huxley’s writing if that’s even possible. I have learned something from every essay, novel, poem and letter Huxley wrote. Perhaps, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is not to judge a writer by one book. I may never come to appreciate Brave New World, but I will never stop appreciating the man who wrote it.
Happy 122nd birthday, Mr. Huxley.