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Aldous Huxley (Aldous Leonard Huxley) Biography

(1894–1963), (Aldous Leonard Huxley), The Burning Wheel, The Athenaeum, Vanity Fair, Limbo, Mortal Coils, Crome Yellow

English novelist, essayist, and short-story writer, born in Godalming, Surrey, into a family distinguished by scientific and literary attainments; Matthew Arnold was a great-uncle, T. H. Huxley his grandfather, the novelist Mrs Humphry Ward an aunt, and the biologist Julian Huxley his brother. He was educated at Eton and at Balliol College, Oxford, where, in spite of severely restricted vision, he took a First in English in 1916 and published a volume of poems, The Burning Wheel. He began contributing reviews and articles to The Athenaeum, edited by John Middleton Murry, later writing on diverse subjects for Vanity Fair and other magazines. Huxley's stories in Limbo (1920) and Mortal Coils (1922) were well received, but he came to prominence as a satirical novelist to whom the epithets ‘witty’ and ‘cynical’ were invariably applied. Between 1921 and 1939 he wrote the novels on which his literary reputation mainly rests, analysing the ideas, mores, and personalities of the age with iconoclastic virtuosity. Crome Yellow (1921) is a Peacockian ‘discussion novel’ informed by Huxley's acquaintance with Lady Ottoline Morrell's set at Garsington; Antic Hay (1923) shocked and delighted its audience with a debunking tone, fashionable despair, and open treatment of infidelity, drugs, jazz, and drunkenness amongst London's artistic bohemia; Those Barren Leaves (1925) is another Country House satire, but located in Italy. Huxley subsequently found his ideal form in the discussion-novel-of-ideas, especially in Point Counter Point (1928), a kaleidoscopic novel orchestrating multiple viewpoints. Eyeless in Gaza (1936) signalled a conversion to more spiritual interests. Between these large, ambitious books was a most influential work, Brave New World (1932), which combined scientific prophecy with a parable about a future World State (see utopia and anti-Utopia). Huxley's pacifism led him to join the Peace Pledge Union in the mid-1930s, and he addressed the causes of war in essays collected in Ends and Means (1937). He left Europe in 1937 for a lecture tour of the USA with his friend Gerald Heard and remained in Southern California from then on, meeting Isherwood and becoming fascinated by Eastern religious mysticism. His first novel set in America, however, After Many a Summer Dies the Swan (1939), characteristically depicts the oddities of people he encountered, a Hearst-like millionaire (‘Joe Stoyte’) and Heard as the mystic ‘Propter’. Huxley wrote screenplays for Hollywood, including Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice, and continued to operate in a variety of genres. Although increasingly his best work tended to be non-fiction, his concern above all was the communication of ideas. He discussed modern technology in Science, Liberty and Peace (1946), the aftermath of nuclear war in the novel Ape and Essence (1948), and studied supposed diabolic possession and the priest Urban Grandier in The Devils of Loudun (1952). Huxley experimented with hallucinogenic drugs, including mescalin and LSD, and elaborated on their aesthetic and moral implications, their potential for access to visionary experiences, in The Doors of Perception (1954) and Heaven and Hell (1956). His Californian home burnt down in 1961, but Huxley rescued the manuscript of Island (1962), a final attempt to frame utopian themes within a novelistic format. The most common critique of Huxley has been a charge of artistic and emotional inadequacy, that he fell away from his early incisive mode of satire towards a more nebulous later one of mysticism. Frequently labelled a ‘novelist of ideas’ or a representative of the 1920s, Huxley's literary standing declined during the 1950s, with his style tending towards prolixity, his encyclopaedic approaches inviting parody. But Isaiah Berlin called him ‘one of the major intellectual emancipators’ of his generation, and the books produced up to 1939 assure Huxley of a place amongst the major English social satirists.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Honest Ulsterman to Douglas Hyde Biography