Aldous Huxley (1894, Godalming, England – 1963, Los Angeles) was a writer, journalist, literary critic, British philosopher, a personality endowed with an extraordinary intelligence whose works were distinguished by the style approached, namely satire of contemporary society and conventional morals.
Some of his very famous novels are “Wonderful New World”, “The Island”, “The Gates of Perception. Heaven and Hell’ and ‘Those Barren Leaves’. Admirers of the writer will certainly highlight the novel “Wonderful New World”, a work considered to be one of the most important works of the 20th century and which presents in a dark manner the perspective of the future.
Aldous Huxley came from a family of gifted people. The grandfather, for example, was the biologist and naturalist TH Huxley, a great supporter of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, the father was a writer and teacher, and the mother, a man of literature in her turn, was a descendant of the English poet Matthew Arnold.
The negative and positive impact of science and technology
Although attracted to biology, wanting to become a scientist, the plans of destiny did not coincide with his desires. Affected by a disease (keratitis) which obviously affected his sight (partially blind and having great difficulty reading) Huxley abandoned biology and devoted himself seriously to literature. Despite his eyesight problems, Huxley could only read with the help of a magnifying glass and special eye drops.
He graduated from Balliol College, Oxford, in 1916, the year in which he published his first volume, the collection of poems entitled The Burning Wheel.
His strong lifelong concern with the negative and positive impact of science and technology on 20th century life, strongly expressed in Brave New World, as well as in one of his last essays, written for the volume “The Great Ideas Today” about the conquest of space, determined his qualification as one of the representative writers and intellectuals of that century.
What was so unusual about Huxley?
We have already established that Huxley was recognized as one of the most important intellectuals of his time. The writer of British origin, through his revolutionary works (he published more than 50 books of non-fiction, fiction, essays and poems), was nominated nine times for the Nobel Prize for Literature and elected Companion of Literature by the RSL (The Royal Society of Literature) in 1962. He had an enlightened, encyclopedic mind, and an impressive command of the art of conversation, qualities that placed him, indisputably, among the outstanding personalities of England at that time.
Definitions of happiness in Aldous Huxley’s view
“Everyone is running after happiness, and the result is that no one is happy. Because they all took it the wrong way. The question that should be asked is not: Why are we not happy and how can we have fun, but How can we please God and why are we not better? Because you will not find happiness by pursuing it, but by pursuing the salvation of the soul. In the days when men were wise, instead of being mere tricksters, they built their lives according to the salvation or damnation of the soul and not according to the fact that they were doing well or badly. If you feel happy now, it’s because you stopped wanting to be happy and started to straighten up. Happiness is like coke – it’s a by-product, derived in the process of producing something else.” (Point Counterpoint, 1928)
Five interesting facts about Aldous Huxley:
- Throughout his life, Huxley was interested in topics related to spirituality, specifically parapsychology, philosophical mysticism, and universalism. Huxley meditated, became a vegetarian and experimented with mescaline, a hallucinogenic drug that the psychiatrist Humphry Osmond had suggested in 1953. The sensations caused by this psychedelic drug were, moreover, described in the essay “The doors of perception” and in the novel “Heaven and Hell”
- During the First World War, Huxley spent much of his time at Garsington Manor, the home of Lady Ottoline Morell (an English aristocrat and society host of the time), working as a laborer on her farm. Here he met prominent figures such as Bertrand Russell (English philosopher and mathematician, concerned with politics, linguistics and epistemology and peace activist) and Clive Bell (important British art critic). Later, in “Crome Yellow” (1921), Huxley caricatured the Garsington lifestyle.
- In 1945, shortly after the end of the war, the famous American director, producer, animator, screenwriter and entrepreneur Walt Disney “revived” the production Alice in Wonderland, asking Aldous Huxley to rewrite the script. But the version offered by the British writer was not to Disney’s liking, he considered that the version signed by Huxley was more of a literary adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s book, failing to capture what interested the American producer, who therefore rejected the scenario. For this project, if it had a successful outcome, Disney would have been willing to pay the sum of 15,000 dollars. Huxley did, however, receive $2,500. When Disney’s animated film was released in 1951, it contained no elements of Huxley’s work.
- On his deathbed, unable to speak, Huxley made a written request to Laura (his second wife), to be injected with “LSD (lysergic diethylamine acid), 0.1 mg, intramuscular”. According to her account of Huxley’s death, which appeared in This Timeless Moment, Laura gave him a first injection at 11:45 a.m. and a second dose a few hours later; Huxley died at the age of 69 on November 22, 1963, after a three-year battle with cancer. As a separate fact, former US President John F. Kennedy was assassinated the same year and day that Aldous Huxley died.
- The rock group ‘The Doors’ took their band name from the title of Aldous Huxley’s book ‘The Doors of Perception’. In fact, the one who came up with the idea and proposed this title to the other members was the band’s leader, Jim Morison, after reading Huxley’s book.