Aldous Huxley was born in England on 26 July 1894. He helped out in his father's botanical laboratory, sparking a keen interest in science. While Huxley was studying at Eton, his mother died of cancer. Huxley was devastated, and succumbed to an illness which left him temporarily blinded. This condition exempted him from military duty in World War 1. When his eyesight began to return he was able to continue his studies at Oxford University, where he read English Literature and graduated with first class honours.
After university, Huxley worked to repay his financial debt to his father. He taught French at Eton; among his students were Eric Blair (aka George Orwell) and Stephen Runciman (a famous historian). For a short time in the 1920s Huxley worked at Brunner & Mond, a technologically-advanced chemical plant in Teesside. The experience showed him "an ordered universe in a world of planless incoherence" – this was the idea which led to Brave New World.
In 1937 Huxley and his family moved to California with his friend Gerald Heard. Huxley spent time in Taos, New Mexico, where he wrote Ends and Means, a collection of essays on topics such as war, religion, nationalism and ethics. Heard introduced Huxley to Vedanta (Veda-Centric Hinduism), meditation and vegetarianism. Drawing on these traditions, Huxley wrote The Perennial Philosophy. This book discusses the nature of reality, humanity and consciousness – truths independent of epoch and culture.
In the 1940s, Huxley was employed to co-write screenplays including Pride and Prejudice (1940) and A Woman's Vengeance (1947). Later he was asked to write a synopsis for Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland, but his version was considered too slow and pondering. His time in Hollywood was short-lived.
During the 1950s Huxley's interest in the field of psychical research heightened. He became a regular consumer of the Class A drug LSD. His later works are strongly influenced by both mysticism and his experiences with psychedelic drugs. These experiences are captured as essays in his books The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell.
In 1960, Huxley was diagnosed with cancer. As his health deteriorated, he wrote his last novel Island, based on an idea of utopia. He died, aged 69, on 22 November 1963.
Interview by Mike Wallace
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On Brave New World:
Huxley argues that man is naturally chaotic and reckless. This – he says – was the cause of the two world wars he lived through. But given the consequences – hyper-inflation, the Great Depression, and the ruin of Europe – people yearned for a happy, settled life, with no more conflict. Huxley predicts that in the future this is very likely to happen again. A government will be elected that can offer an economically and socially stable state like that found in Brave New World. Scientific and technological advancement, as well as the threat of nuclear weapons, will play a major role in the creation of such a state.
In order for a state to remain stable, its citizens must be happy. Otherwise production declines and the state begins to deteriorate. Happiness comes from satisfaction with life, and so is clearly linked to a person's enjoyment of their job. In order, then, for people to be happy, they must be truly satisfied with their job. Conditioning to fully accept and enjoy one's position and role in life is an important aspect of the state in Brave New World.
During his time in America, Huxley was shocked by its youth culture, commercialism and sexual promiscuity. He also disapproved of Americanization, the process by which other countries were beginning to be dominated by American culture and ideas. In Brave New World, he portrays an entire world that has succumbed to what he saw as America’s free, immoral way of life. This is the World State.
Interview about Brave New World: