Tribute to Aldous Huxley

English writer Aldous Huxley sadly passed away on 22nd November 1963. Born 26 July 1894 in Godalming, Surrey, England,  he is Best known for his novels including Brave New World and a wide-ranging output of essays, Huxley also edited the magazine Oxford Poetry, and published short stories, poetry, travel writing, film stories and scripts. He 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. In 1911, he suffered an illness (keratitis punctata) which “left him practically blind for two to three years”. This disqualified him from service in the First World War. Once his eyesight recovered sufficiently, he was able to study English literature at Balliol College, Oxford. In 1916 he edited Oxford Poetry and later graduated (B.A.) with first class honours. Following his education at Balliol, Huxley earnt a living teaching French  at Eton, where Eric Blair (later to become George Orwell) and Stephen Runciman were among his pupils. Huxley also worked  at the technologically advanced Brunner and Mond chemical plant in Billingham, Teesside, and the most recent introduction to his famous science fiction novel Brave New World (1932) states that this experience of “an ordered universe in a world of planless incoherence” was one source for the novel

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1980 BBC Television Production of Aldous Huxley’s Novel Brave New World

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During the First World War, Huxley spent much of his time at Garsington Manor,  working as a farm labourer. Here he met several Bloomsbury figures including Bertrand Russell and Clive Bell. Works of this period included important novels on the dehumanising 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.Starting from this period, Huxley began to write and edit non-fiction works on pacifist issues and was an active member of the Peace Pledge Union.

In 1937, Huxley moved to Hollywood &  lived in Los Angeles from 1937 until his death. He also moved to Taos, New Mexico for a time, where he wrote Ends and Means.He was also introduced to Vedanta (Upanishad-centered philosophy), 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 Hindu 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 & affirmed a sensibility that insists there are realities beyond the generally accepted “five senses” and that there is genuine meaning for humans beyond both sensual satisfactions and sentimentalities.  Huxley also worked as a scriptwriter. In March 1938, his friend Anita Loos, a novelist and screenwriter, put him in touch with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer who hired Huxley for Madame Curie which was originally to star Greta Garbo and be directed by George Cukor. (The film was eventually completed by MGM in 1943 with a different director and cast.) Huxley received screen credit for Pride and Prejudice (1940) and a number of other films, including Jane Eyre (1944).

Huxley was also apprehensive about the future the developed world might make for itself. From these he put forward some warnings in his writings and talks. In a 1958 televised interview  Huxley outlined several major concerns: the difficulties and dangers of world overpopulation; the tendency toward distinctly hierarchical social organization; the crucial importance of evaluating the use of technology in mass societies susceptible to wily persuasion; the tendency to promote modern politicians, to a naive public, as well-marketed commodities.  He also wrote to George Orwell, author of Nineteen Eighty-Four, congratulating him on “how fine and how profoundly important the book is”. During the 1950s, Huxley’s interest in the field of psychical research grew and his later works are strongly influenced by both mysticism and his experiences with psychedelic drugs,

Allegedly English occultist Aleister Crowley introduced Huxley to peyote & psychiatrist Humphry Osmond introduced him to mescaline (the key active ingredient of peyote) & through Dr. Osmond, Huxley also met millionaire Alfred Matthew Hubbard and became a pioneer of self-directed psychedelic drug use “in a search for enlightenment”. 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).  Beginning in 1939 and continuing until his death in 1963, Huxley also had an extensive association with the Vedanta Society of Southern California, founded and headed by Swami Prabhavananda. Together with Gerald Heard, Christopher Isherwood, and other followers he was initiated by the Swami and was taught meditation and spiritual practices. Huxley was also interested in spiritual subjects such as parapsychology and philosophical mysticism and by the end of his life Huxley was widely acknowledged as one of the pre-eminent intellectuals of his time and respected as an important researcher into visual communication and sight-related theories as well as advocating and taking psychedelics. Sadly Huxley passed away aged 69, on 22 November 1963, several hours after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Huxley’s ashes were interred in the family grave at the Watts Cemetery, home of the Watts Mortuary Chapel in Compton, a village near Guildford, Surrey, England. Media coverage of Huxley’s passing was overshadowed by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, on the same day, as was the death of the British author C. S. Lewis, who also died on 22 November. This coincidence was the inspiration for Peter Kreeft’s book Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis, & Aldous Huxley. Huxley’s literary legacy continues to be represented by the literary agency headed by Georges Borchardt.

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