- Category : Writers-Fiction
- Type : ME
- Profile : 2/4 - Hermit / Opportunist
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Unexpected 2
Aldous Leonard Huxley (July 26, 1894 – November 22, 1963) was an English writer and one of the most prominent members of the famous Huxley family. He spent the latter part of his life in the United States, living in Los Angeles from 1937 until his death in 1963.
Best known for his novels and wide-ranging output of essays, he also published short stories, poetry, travel writing, and film stories and scripts. Through his novels and essays Huxley functioned as an examiner and sometimes critic of social mores, norms and ideals.
Huxley was a humanist but was also interested towards the end of his life in spiritual subjects such as parapsychology and philosophical mysticism. By the end of his life Huxley was considered, in some academic circles, a leader of modern thought and an intellectual of the highest rank.
Aldous Huxley was born in Godalming, Surrey, England. He was the third son of the writer and professional herbalist Leonard Huxley by his first wife, Julia Arnold who founded Prior's Field School, the niece of Matthew Arnold and sister of Mrs. Humphrey Ward. He was grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley, one of the most prominent English naturalists of the 19th century, a man known as "Darwin's Bulldog." His brother Julian Huxley was also a noted biologist.
Huxley began his learning in his father's well-equipped botanical laboratory, then continued in a school named Hillside. His teacher was his mother who supervised him for several years until she became terminally ill. After Hillside, he was educated at Eton College. Huxley's mother died in 1908, when he was fourteen.
Three years later he suffered an illness (keratitis punctata) which "left practically blind for two to three years". Aldous's near-blindness disqualified him from service in World War I. Once his eyesight recovered sufficiently, he was able to study English literature at Balliol College, Oxford. He graduated in 1916 with First Class Honours.
Following his education at Balliol, Huxley was financially indebted to his father and had to earn a living. He taught French for a year at Eton, where Eric Blair (later known by the pen name George Orwell) was among his pupils, but was remembered by another as an incompetent and hopeless teacher who couldn’t keep discipline. Nevertheless, Blair and others were impressed by his use of words. For a short while in 1918, he was employed acquiring provisions at the Air Ministry. But never desiring a career in administration (or in business), Huxley's lack of inherited means propelled him into applied literary work.
Huxley completed his first (unpublished) novel at the age of seventeen and began writing seriously in his early twenties. His earlier work includes important novels on the dehumanizing aspects of scientific progress, most famously Brave New World, and on pacifist themes (for example, Eyeless in Gaza).
In Brave New World Huxley portrays a society operating on the principles of mass production and Pavlovian conditioning. Huxley was strongly influenced by F. Matthias Alexander and included him as a character in Eyeless in Gaza.
During World War I, Huxley spent much of his time at Garsington Manor, home of Lady Ottoline Morrell, working as a farm labourer. Here he met several Bloomsbury figures including D.H. Lawrence, Bertrand Russell and Clive Bell. Later, in Crome Yellow (1921) he caricatured the Garsington lifestyle. In 1919 he married Maria Nijs, a Belgian woman he had met at Garsington. They had one child, Matthew Huxley (1920–2005), who had a career as an epidemiologist.
The family lived in Italy part of the time in the 1920's, where Huxley would visit his friend D. H. Lawrence. Following Lawrence's death in 1930, he edited his letters (1933).
In 1937, Huxley moved to Hollywood, California with his wife Maria, son Matthew, and friend Gerald Heard. At this time Huxley wrote Ends and Means, while living in Taos, New Mexico; in this work he explores the fact that although most people in modern civilization agree that they want a world of 'liberty, peace, justice, and brotherly love', they have not been able to agree on how to achieve it. Heard introduced Huxley to Vedanta, meditation and vegetarianism through the principle of ahimsa. In 1938 Huxley befriended J. Krishnamurti, whose teachings he greatly admired. He also became a Vedantist in the circle of Swami Prabhavananda, and introduced Christopher Isherwood to this circle. Not long after, Huxley wrote his book on widely held spiritual values and ideas, The Perennial Philosophy, which discussed the teachings of renowned mystics of the world.
Aldous Huxley was close friends with Occidental College president Remsen Bird during Huxley's time living in Southern California. He spent much time at the college, which is located in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles, and the college is portrayed under the name of Tarzana College in his 1939 satircal novel After Many a Summer, for which he collected that year's James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. Huxley also incorporated Bird into the novel.
During this period he was also able to tap into some Hollywood income using his writing skills, thanks to an introduction into the business by his friend Anita Loos, the prolific novelist and screenwriter. He received screen credit for Pride and Prejudice, 1940, and was paid for his work on a number of other films. However, his experience in Hollywood was not a success. When he wrote a synopsis of Alice in Wonderland, Walt Disney rejected it on the grounds that 'he could only understand every third word'. Huxley's leisurely development of ideas, it seemed, was not suitable for the movie moguls, who demanded fast, dynamic dialogue above all else.
For most of his life since the illness in his teens which left Huxley nearly blind, his eyesight was poor (despite the partial recovery which had enabled him to study at Oxford). Around 1939 Huxley encountered the Bates Method for Natural Vision Improvement and a teacher (Margaret Corbett) who was able to teach him in the method. In 1940, relocating from Hollywood to a forty-acre ranchito in the high desert hamlet of Llano, in northernmost Los Angeles County, Huxley claimed his sight improved dramatically as a result of using the Bates Method, particularly utilizing the extreme and pure natural lighting of the Southwestern American desert. He reported that for the first time in over 25 years, he was able to read without spectacles and without strain. He even tried driving a car along the dirt road beside the ranch. He wrote a book about his successes with the Bates Method, The Art of Seeing which was published in 1942 (US), 1943 (UK).
However, while Huxley undoubtedly believed his vision had improved, other evidence suggests that Huxley may have been fooling himself. In 1952 Bennett Cerf was present when Huxley spoke at a Hollywood banquet, wearing no glasses and apparently reading his paper from the lectern without difficulty:
"Then suddenly he faltered—and the truth became obvious. He wasn't reading his address—he had learned it by heart. To refresh his memory he brought it closer and closer to his eyes. When it was only an inch away he still couldn't read it, and had to fish for a magnifying glass in his pocket to make the typing visible to him. It was an agonizing moment." (p. 241: quotes Bennett Cerf re Huxley's vision in 1952)
On 21 October 1949 Huxley wrote to George Orwell, author of Nineteen Eighty-Four, congratulating Orwell on "how fine and how profoundly important the book is". His letter to Orwell contained the prediction that: "Within the next generation I believe that the world's leaders will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging them and kicking them into obedience".(p. 605:quotes Aldous Huxley re Huxley's opinions in 1949 about the technologies to be employed by governments)
After World War II Huxley applied for United States citizenship, but was denied because he would not say he would take up arms to defend America. Nevertheless he remained in the United States and in 1959 he turned down an offer of a Knight Bachelor by the Macmillan government.
During the 1950s, Huxley's interest in the field of psychical research grew keener and his later works are strongly influenced by both mysticism and his experiences with the psychedelic drugs. In October of 1930, the Mystic Aleister Crowley dined with Huxley in Berlin, and to this day rumours persist that Crowley introduced Huxley to peyote on that occasion. He was introduced to mescaline by the psychiatrist Humphry Osmond in 1953; on December 24, 1955, Huxley took his first dosage of LSD. Indeed Huxley was a pioneer of self-directed psychedelic drug use "in a search for enlightenment", famously taking 100 micrograms of LSD as he lay dying. His psychedelic drug experiences are described in the essays The Doors of Perception (the title deriving from some lines in the book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake) and Heaven and Hell. The title of the former became the inspiration for the naming of the rock band, The Doors. Some of his writings on psychedelics became frequent reading among early hippies. While living in Los Angeles, Huxley was a friend of Ray Bradbury. According to Sam Weller's biography of Bradbury, the latter was dissatisfied with Huxley, especially after Huxley encouraged Bradbury to take psychedelic drugs.
In 1955 Huxley's wife, Maria, died of breast cancer and in 1956 he remarried, to Laura Archera, who was herself an author and who wrote a biography of Huxley.
In 1959 Aldous Huxley received the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award of Merit for the Novel.
In 1960, Huxley himself was diagnosed with cancer and, in the years that followed, with his health deteriorating, he wrote the Utopian novel Island, and gave lectures on "Banana Potentialities" at the Esalen institute which were foundational to the forming of the Human Potential Movement. On his deathbed, unable to speak, Huxley made a written request to his wife for "LSD, 100 µg, i.m.". According to her account of his death (in her book This Timeless Moment), she obliged with an injection at 11:45 am and another a couple of hours later. He died peacefully at 5:21 pm that afternoon, November 22, 1963. Media coverage of his death was overshadowed by news of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which occurred on the same day, as did the death of the British author C. S. Lewis. Huxley's ashes were interred in the family grave at the Watts Cemetery, Compton, Guildford, Surrey, England.
Huxley's only child, son Matthew Huxley (d. Feb 10 2005) was also an author, as well as an educator, anthropologist and prominent epidemiologist. His work ranged from promoting universal health care to establishing standards of care for nursing home patients and the mentally ill to investigating the question of what is a socially sanctionable drug.
Matthew's first marriage, to documentary filmmaker Ellen Hovde, ended in divorce. His second wife died in 1983. Survivors include his third wife, Franziska Reed Huxley, a garden expert of Washington and Morgantown, WV.; two children from his first marriage, Trevenen Huxley and Tessa Huxley, both of New York City; and two grandchildren.
Crome Yellow (1921) attacks Victorian and Edwardian social principles which led to World War I and its terrible aftermath. Together with Huxley's second novel, Antic Hay (1923), the book expresses much of the mood of disenchantment of the early 1920s. It was intended to reflect, as Huxley stated in a letter to his father, "the life and opinions of an age which has seen the violent disruption of almost all the standards, conventions and values current in the present epoch."
Huxley's reputation for iconoclasm and emancipation grew. He was condemned for his explicit discussion of sex and free thought in his fiction. Antic Hay, for example, was burned in Cairo and in the years that followed many of Huxley's books were received with disapproval or banned at one time or another. Following the exclusion of Brave New World, Point Counter Point and even Island from Time magazine's list of 'All-Time 100 Novels' there was uproar. One critic became particularly incensed, proclaiming such a decision to be "blasphemous".
Huxley, however, said that a novel should be full of interesting opinions and arresting ideas, describing his aim as a novelist as being 'to arrive, technically, at a perfect fusion of the novel and the essay'; and with Point Counter Point (1928), Huxley wrote his first true 'novel of ideas', the type of thought-provoking fiction with which he is now associated.
One of his main ideas was pessimism about the cultural future of society, a pessimism which sprang largely from his visit to the United States between September 1925 and June 1926. He recounted his experiences in Jesting Pilate (1926): 'The thing which is happening in America is a revaluation of values, a radical alteration (for the worse) of established standards', and it was soon after this visit that he conceived the idea of writing a satire of what he had encountered.".
A widespread fear of Americanization had already existed in Europe since the mid-nineteenth century and Brave New World (1932) as well as Island (1962) form the cornerstone of Huxley's damning indictment of American commercialism. Brave New World (as well as Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and Yevgeni Zamyatin's We) helped form the anti-utopian or dystopian tradition in literature and has become synonymous with a future world in which the human spirit is subject to conditioning and control. Island acts as an antonym to Brave New World; it is described as "one of the truly great philosophical novels".
He devoted his time at his small house at Llano in the Mojave Desert, Southern California to a life of contemplation, mysticism and experimentation with hallucinogenic drugs. His suggestions in The Doors of Perception (1954) that mescalin and lysergic acid were 'drugs of unique distinction' which should be exploited for the 'supernaturally brilliant' visionary experience they offered provoked even more outrage than his passionate defence of the Bates method in The Art of Seeing (1942). However, the book went on to become a cult text in the psychedelic 1960s, and Huxley appears on the sleeve of the Beatles' landmark 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The book also influenced rock musician Jim Morrison to name his band The Doors.
His last novel, Island, was published in 1962, the year after his Los Angeles home and most of his personal effects had been destroyed in a fire which Huxley said left him 'a man without possessions and without a past'.
Notable works include the original screenplay for Disney's animated Alice in Wonderland (which was rejected because it was too literary), two productions of Brave New World, one of Point Counter Point, one of Eyeless in Gaza, and one of Ape and Essence. He was one of the screenwriters for the 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice and co-authored the screenplay for the 1944 version of Jane Eyre with John Houseman. Director Ken Russell's 1971 film The Devils, starring Vanessa Redgrave, is adapted from Huxley's The Devils of Loudun, and a 1990 made-for-television film adaptation of Brave New World was directed by Burt Brinckeroffer.