Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Brave New World

by Aldous Huxley

copyright 1932

Assigned: 1960’s
Read for the first time: November, 2009
Original book report grade: C, I think

Facing the inside cover of my 1968 Bantam paperback copy of Aldous Leonard Huxley’s Brave New World is a short, extremely incomplete biography (it excludes his prodigious experimentation in the US counterculture of the ‘60’s with mind-altering drugs, spiritualism, mysticism, parapsychology, and various methods of meditation).

This short biography declares that he was “unquestionably the most brilliant social satirist of his time” (26 July 1894-November 22,1963).
It doesn’t say in my copy who wrote this bio, but I’d be willing to bet that Eric Blair, aka George Orwell, who was briefly a student of Huxley’s at Eton (their common Alma Mater), might disagree.

I don’t know if Huxley was indeed the most brilliant social satirist of his time because I have not read all the social satire of Huxley’s time, and do not intend to do so.

After the copyright page is a 10-line paragraph entirely in French by Nicholas Berdiaeff. So now I’m thinking that Huxley is just showing off and do not appreciate the implicit hostility towards those of us who do not read French.

Following that is a ten-page foreword written by Huxley himself, in which he expresses (for this printing) the futility of chronic remorse felt by artists—then goes on to obsesses over the stuff he thinks he got wrong in Brave New World, and, further, explains why he did not attempt to change or correct it.

He feared (I’m freely paraphrasing his words here) that by getting rid of his mistakes, he’d remove too much good stuff.

Being something of an artist myself, I think I know the real reason he didn’t want to go back and fiddle with it—he’d already written it one time, and he really didn’t want to face it again.

But maybe that’s just me.

When he wrote the book, he reveals, he was “amused” by the notion that humans have “free will” to choose between insanity and lunacy.
“Today,” he says, “I feel no wish to demonstrate that sanity is impossible.”

He goes on to complain about an eminent academic critic who told him (to his face, apparently) that he (Huxley) was
“a sad symptom of the failure of an intellectual class in time of crisis.”

Huxley reacts with a bit of sarcasm towards this critic and his ilk, then goes on to enumerate his own mistakes in BNW, chiefly his failure to predict the destructive power of atomic weapons.

(Think how bad he’d feel today, not having predicted the Internet or multi-channel cable TV.)

According to Wikipedia, In October, 1949, Huxley wrote to George Orwell, congratulating him on his book, 1984:
"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."
Which indicates to me that he was still stuck in BNW mode.

I think the whole point of this ten-page regret is that he came to believe that the choice for humans is not between insanity and lunacy—but between “Supra-national Totalitarianism” and the “Welfare Tyranny of a Utopia,”

Whatever the hell that means.

To read this book is to gain an insight into the strict stratification of English Society of his time, and of which he was naturally a part.

There were, for instance, the Aristocracy, who did not work for a living; the Landed Gentry, who, though perhaps not Royal or even titled, lived on inherited money & land--and mainly went around riding horses and shooting things; there were professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, or university professors; there were other social strata, too—but, surprisingly, the serving class was not the lowest. Laborers fell below those who served ladies and gentlemen; and so on.

The point is, you can see this stratification of society that Huxley no doubt took for granted, and the whole training of embryos from decantation to accept—even love--their station in life kind of makes a weird sense.

Hiuxley’s death on November 22, 1963 and that of the writer C. S. Lewis on the same day went largely unnoticed because the assassination of President Kennedy also took place that day.

One interesting aspect of Huxley’s death was his request to his wife, as he lay dying, for 100 micrograms of LSD, which he received.
I’m sure there must be lots more very interesting stuff about Huxley, but this is a book report, not a biography.

So here I am writing a report on a book assigned to me in the ‘60’s—a book whose author by then had already confessed that he believed it to be seriously flawed.

Brave New World

This is not a warm and fuzzy book. The world in about 745 A.F. (After Ford—as in Henry, Hitler’s BFF & originator of the assembly line?) is one of cheerful regimentation that rather reminds one of an ant farm.

Human beings are produced by assembly line in the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre and other Hatcheries like it throughout the world, from fertilization to, apparently, young adulthood.

Huxley gives us a future that embraces Eugenics to the extent that humans would be manufactured purposely for every class of society, from the “Alpha Pluses” (the intellectual class) down through the Betas, Gammas, Deltas (working-class), and Epsilons (don’t ask).
I considered this to be quite 20th century-British of him--very “Upstairs, Downstairs…”

After the chemically treated Alpha-plus to Epsilon-minus fetuses are “decanted” (get it? No one is actually born with an emotional attachment to other humans), their conditioning begins. They are kept with others of their own social class, and subjected to unceasing indoctrination. Even during sleep, they are conditioned to accept—even prefer—their lot in life. They learn to be happy little Betas, Gammas, or Deltas. Each societal class wears a different color jumpsuit, and they are even taught to love even that color and to prefer it over the others.

Alarming Pavlovian techniques are used for the conditioning of Toddlers; if they try to approach a flower or a book, they get painful electrical shocks.

The word “mother” is an obscenity; “father” is merely scatological, and the word “parent” is not to be used in polite conversation.

Sex games for children and sexual promiscuity for adults is encouraged. Failure to participate is suspect. So is emotional attachment to any person.

Young women proudly wear what seem to be bandoliers filled with contraceptives.

Soma, a drug that tranquilizes and invigorates people at the same time, is everywhere; people talk of “soma vacations.” Alphas and Betas recieve an endless supply, but Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons have to work for theirs.

“History is Bunk,” the Henry Ford quote, is recited prayerfully. History in every form revealed, has been eliminated from society. No books, art, music, films or other revelations of the Past survive in this World.

This reveals the title of the book to be ironic, because it is a quote from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” uttered by “the Savage” (more about him later) when he catches sight of Lenina; “O, Brave New World, that has such people in’t!”

The main characters are the D.H.C. (Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning); Bernard Marx, a curiously small, disgruntled Alpha Plus who works at the Hatchery; Lenina, a “pneumatic” young Alpha woman who is quite popular with the guys; Mustafa Mond, the Alpha Plus Controller, who is the Big Boss; Helmholtz Watson, a fabulously handsome and manly specimen of an Alpha Plus--lecturer at the College of Emotional Engineering (Department of Writing) and Bernard’s friend; the Savage; and Linda, the Savage’s mother.

Hedonistic community gatherings are compulsory and regular attendance at such gatherings is strongly encouraged.

After one such meeting, Bernard experiences a mixture of self-loathing (Bernard is a real self-loather) and a desire to do something about his attraction to Lenina, on whom he appears to have a crush.

Let me say here that although the women in BNW are required to be promiscuous, there are many curious instances in the book where men reject them for their easy availability.

I’m just saying…

Oh. Another thing about Bernard--rumor is that a mistake was made while he was still in the Bottle; a Hatchery worker mistook him for a Gamma and put too much alcohol in his blood-surrogate.

Bernard invites Lenina to visit a New Mexico, USA, Savage Reservation with him. Lenina has always wanted to see a Savage Reservation, so she eagerly accepts.

Bernard is just a party-pooper. He refuses to take any soma, or to make love to Lenina. He leaves their bed one night and wanders into the Savage encampment, where people who largely resemble Native Americans are offered up as tourist attractions.

It’s against the rules to actually interact with them.
He meets Linda, a woman from his world, who had disappeared on a trip here and was presumed dead. Not dead, but very fat, Linda is the antithesis of the Brave New World. No one in the Brave New World ever gets fat or looks old, no matter how long they live.

Worse, Linda has given birth. Her son, “The Savage,” loves his mother, which horrifies Bernard. But the Savage is a wise and learned man, as well as being handsome and charismatic.

Okay, I’m getting bored, so--long story short, the Savage goes back to Brave New World with his mom, is repulsed by their ways, which causes the Establishment to regard him as a menace—(that, and the fact that he quotes Shakespeare, which indicates that he has read a book.)

Even more suspiciously, he repels the advances of pneumatic young beauties who whose clothing is conveniently constructed to be removed in an instant, like a stripper’s.

Linda is dying, The Savage goes to the hospital to visit her, and this causes all sorts of consternation.

Finally, he holes up in a tower armed with a bow and arrow, and shoots at advancing helicopters as they close in on him.

That’s all I remember, because I read it months ago.
Sorry, no Aretha Hats for this book. Orwell had already written the first Dystopia. And Orwell’s “1984” was more forward-thinking.

It gets a noose for being pretentious and gloomy