Aldous Leonard Huxley (1894), descendant of the famous scientist T.H. Huxley, was educated at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford, where he began his literary career as a poet. In 1917 he was editor of Oxford Poetry, and he was a contributor to Wheels:an anthologyof verse. Under the pseudonym Autolycus, he wrote for The Athenaeum when he left the University. He is a man of the widest culture, with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and has traveled widely.
To trace the development of Huxley’s writing from the romantic tone and artistic finish of The Burning Wheel (1916) and The Defeat of Youth (1918), or the blasé cynicism and sensuality of Leda (1920)—–the three volumes which contains his youthful verse—to the point where he writes Eyeless in Gaza (1936) is to watch a steadily growing seriousness of manner, and a deeper concern with an attempt to show the barrenness of contemporary society found in Crome Yellow (1921) gives way to the equally lively, but more sensational and more daring, study of post-War disillusionment and immorality in Antic Hay (1923). In Those Barren Leaves (1925) a more earnest note enters in the discussions of moral problems. It was followed by his most successful piece of fiction, Point Counter Point (1928), which is technically of interest as Huxley’s attempt “to musicalize fiction,” and is even more striking as a mordant, unflinching picture of a disillusioned, frustrated society, in which the healthy life of the senses has been paralysed by the bonds of an inhibiting ethical code. Brave New World (1932) gives a satirical picture of what he imagines the world would be under the rule of science—no disease, no pain, but no emotion, and, worse, no spiritual life. Technically this novel leaves much to be desired, but it provokes much frightening thought. In Eyeless in Gaza (1936) Huxley’s faith in the life of the spirit, which first became evident in Those Barren Leaves, again finds expression. Whole portions of the book, particularly toward the end, consist of little more than dissertations on moral themes. After settling down in America, he produced two satirical novels in the witty, daring manner of his early works, though both have obvious links with his more philosophical books. These two, After Many a Summer (1939) and Time must have a Stop (1944), were followed by The Perennial Philosophy (1946), which stated his views on the importance of spiritual integrity directly and seriously.
Huxley’s prime importance is as a reflector of the feeling of his age. As a novelist he has limitations; he has no deep characterization, and his novels are slight in plot, but, like those of T.L. Peacock, they provide plenty of opportunity for conversation and discussion. The subjects discussed reveal him to be a man of great knowledge and wide culture. He is, above all things, a satirist, whose tone can vary from jovial irony to biting malice, and the striking incisiveness of his satire springs from an easy, polished style, a great gift for epigram, a ready wit, and an alert mind.
In addition to his novels, books of philosophy, and verse, Huxley has written a number of books of essays and short stories, among them Limbo (1920); Mortal Coils (1922); On the Margin (1923); Jesting Pilate (1926); Essays New and Old (1926); The Olive Tree, and other Essays (1936); and the striking The Devils of Loudun (1952), a reconstruction of a famous seventeenth-century witch-hunt.