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Historical/Literary Background Notes: Brave New World

I. Aldous Huxley Biography Aldous Leonard Huxley (July 26, 1894 – November 22, 1963) was a British writer who emigrated to the United States. He was a member of the famous Huxley family who produced a number of brilliant scientific minds. Best known for his novels and wide-ranging output of essays, he also published short stories, poetry, travel writing, and film stories and scripts. Through his novels and essays Huxley functioned as an examiner and sometimes critic of social mores, societal norms and ideals, and possible misapplications of science in human life. While his earlier concerns might be called "humanist," ultimately, he became quite interested in "spiritual" subjects like parapsychology and mystically based philosophy, which he also wrote about. By the end of his life, Huxley was considered, in certain circles, a 'leader of modern thought'. Huxley was born in Godalming, Surrey, England. He was the son of the writer Leonard Huxley by his first wife, Julia Arnold; and grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley, one of the most important naturalists of the 19th Century, a man known as "Darwin's Bulldog." His brother Julian Huxley was a biologist also noted for his evolutionary theories. Huxley understandably excelled in the areas he took up professionally, for on his father's side were a number of noted men of science, while on his mother's were people of literary accomplishment. Huxley was a lanky, delicately framed child who was gifted intellectually. His father was a professional herbalist as well as an author, so Aldous began his learning in his father's well-equipped botanical laboratory, then continued in a school named Hillside, which his mother supervised for several years until she became terminally ill. From the age of nine, Aldous was then educated in the British boarding school system. He took readily to the handling of ideas. His mother Julia died in 1908, when Aldous was only fourteen, and his sister Roberta died of an unrelated incident in the same month. Three years later Aldous suffered an illness (keratitis punctata) which seriously damaged his eyesight. His older brother Trev committed suicide in 1914. Aldous's nearblindness disqualified him from service in World War I. Once his eyesight recovered, he was able to read English literature at Balliol College, Oxford, where he was a member of the Cambridge Apostles. Following his education, Huxley was financially indebted to his father and had to earn a living. For a short while in 1918, he was employed acquiring provisions at the Air Ministry. But never desiring a career in administration (or in business), Huxley's lack of inherited means propelled him into applied literary work.


Huxley had completed his first (unpublished) novel at the age of seventeen and began writing seriously in his early twenties. He wrote great novels on dehumanizing aspects of scientific progress, most famously Brave New World, and on pacifist themes (e.g. Eyeless in Gaza). …Middle years Huxley moved to Hollywood, California in 1937 with his wife and friend Gerald Heard. Heard introduced Huxley to Vedanta (a form of Hindu mystical thought) and meditating. In Huxley's 1937 book Ends and Means, most people in modern civilization agree that they want a world of 'liberty, peace, justice, and brotherly love', though they haven't been able to agree on how to achieve it. His book goes on to explore why the confusion or disagreement is there and what might be done about it. In 1938 Huxley became a Vedantist (follower of the mystical branch of Hinduism). Not long after, Huxley wrote his book on widely held spiritual values and ideas, The Perennial Philosophy, which discussed teachings of the world's great mystics. For most of his life since the illness in his teens which left Huxley nearly blind, his eyesight was poor (despite the partial recovery which had enabled him to study at Oxford). Around 1939 he heard of the Bates Method for Natural Vision Improvement, and of a teacher (Margaret Corbett) who was able to teach him in the method. He claimed his sight improved dramatically as a result of using the method, then later wrote a book about it (The Art of Seeing) which was published in 1942 (US), 1943 (UK). He reported that for the first time in over 25 years, he was able to read without spectacles and without strain. …Later years After World War II Huxley applied for United States citizenship, but was denied because he would not say he would take up arms to defend America. He became a vegetarian. Thereafter, his works were strongly influenced by mysticism and his experiences with the hallucinogenic drug mescaline. His years on psychoactive drugs were described as a “paradise”, generally washed down with bourbon. He was a pioneer of self-directed psychedelic drug use in a search for enlightenment, famously taking 100 micrograms of LSD as he lay dying. Huxley's psychedelic drug experiences are described in the essays The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell. The title of the former became the inspiration for the naming of the rock band, The Doors. Some of his writings on psychedelics became frequent reading among early hippies of the 1960’s counterculture. Huxley's main interest was not in just anything vague, mysterious, or subjective, but in what is sometimes termed "higher mysticism"; he liked the term "perennial philosophy" that he used as the title of his noted book on the topic. During the 1950s, Huxley's interest in the related field of psychical research grew keener. Huxley's wife, Maria, died of breast cancer in 1955, and in 1956 he married Laura Archera, who was herself an author and who wrote a biography of Aldous. In 1960, Huxley was diagnosed with throat cancer. In the years that followed, with his health deteriorating, he wrote the utopian novel Island, and gave college and institutional lectures. His ideas were foundational to the forming of the Human Potential Movement. The Human Potential Movement came out of the social environment of the 1960’s and was formed to promote the cultivation of extraordinary potential believed to be largely untapped in most people. The movement is premised on the belief that through the development of human potential, humans can experience an exceptional quality of life filled with happiness, creativity, and fulfillment. A corollary belief is often that those who begin to unleash this potential will find their actions within society to be directed towards helping others release their potential. The belief is that the net effect of individuals cultivating their potential will bring about positive social change at large.


Huxley was also invited to speak at several prestigious American universities. At a speech given in 1961 at the California Medical School in San Francisco, Huxley warned: "There will be in the next generation or so a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them but will rather enjoy it,". Amongst humanists, Huxley was considered an intellectual's intellectual. Although his financial circumstances had forced him to churn out articles and books, his thinking and best writing earned him an exalted esteem. His books were frequently on the required reading lists of English and modern philosophy courses in American colleges and universities. He was one of the twentieth-century thinkers honoured in the Scribners Publishing's "Leaders of Modern Thought" series (a volume of biography and literary criticism by Philip Thody, Aldous Huxley). …Death and afterwards On his deathbed, unable to speak, he made a written request to his wife for "LSD, 100 µg, i.m." She obliged, and he died peacefully the following morning, November 22, 1963. Media coverage of his death was overshadowed by news of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which occurred on the same day, as did the death of the Irish author C. S. Lewis. In all of Huxley's mature writings, one finds an awareness that seems to bridge the gap between "The Two Cultures" – the sciences and the humanities. This gulf posed a potentially enormous problem, one that was recognized by other thinkers during Huxley's lifetime, such as C.P. Snow. The interest among professors of humanities and liberal arts in Huxley's work, both during the writer's lifetime and afterwards, rests on this consciousness on the part of the author, and of course on the artful and often humorous way in which he expressed himself. Huxley's satirical, dystopian, and utopian novels seldom fail to stimulate thought. The same may be said for his essays and essay collections. Perhaps his main message is the tragedy that frequently follows from egocentrism, self-centredness, and selfishness


II. Brave New World Historical Influences A. Utopia – Definition and Origin In its most common and general positive meaning, refers to the human efforts to create a better, or perhaps perfect society. Ideas which could be/are considered able to radically change our world are often called utopian ideas. "Utopian" in a negative meaning is used to discredit ideas as too advanced, too optimistic or unrealistic, impossible to realize. Hence, for example, the use by Marxists, of such expressions as "utopian socialism". It has also been used to describe actual communities founded in attempts to create such a society. Although some authors have described their utopias in detail, and with an effort to show a level of practicality, the term "utopia" has come to be applied to notions that are (supposedly) too optimistic and idealistic for practical application. According to Oxford dictionary, it is usually used negatively to criticise proposals or ideas having or aiming for a level of perfection of utopia which is impossible or very difficult to achieve. The term utopia was coined by Thomas More as the title of his Latin book De Optimo Reipublicae Statu deque Nova Insula Utopia (circa 1516), known more commonly as Utopia. The term "utopia" is combined from two Greek words - "no" (ou) and "place / land" (topos), thus meaning "nowhere" or more literally, "no-place / no-land". The word "utopia" was created to suggest two Greek neologisms simultaneously: outopia (no place) and eutopia (good place). In this original context, the word carried none of the modern connotations associated with it. B. Thomas More's Utopia Thomas More depicts a rationally organized society, through the narration of an explorer who discovers it. Utopia is based on Plato's Republic, although More extended the communism of property to all citizens. Furthermore it is a perfect version of The Republic where the beauties of society, eg. equalism and a general pacifist attitude, although its citizens were all ready to fight if need be. The evils of society, eg. poverty and misery, are all removed. It has few laws, no lawyers and rarely sends its citizens to war, but hires mercenaries from among its war-prone neighbours (these mercenaries were deliberately sent into dangerous situations in the hope that they would be killed, thus ridding the world of a parasite). It is likely that Thomas More, a religious layman who once considered joining the Church as a priest, was inspired by monastical life when he described the workings of his society. Thomas More lived during the age when the Renaissance was beginning to assert itself in England, and the old medieval ideals – including the monastic ideal – were declining. Some of Thomas More's ideas reflect a nostalgia for that medieval past. It was an inspiration for the Reducciones established by the Jesuits to Christianize and "civilize" the heathens. His book reached high popularity so the term utopia became a byword for ideal concepts, proposals, societies etc. Like later utopian works, More's book contains explicit and implicit criticisms of perceived faults in existing societies. Utopian authors speculate that such faults could be eliminated in societies designed around their favored principles. The innovations portrayed in utopian visions are usually radical, revolutionary, inspirational, or speculative. C. Scientific and Technological Utopia These are set in the future, when it is believed that advanced science and technology will allow utopian living standards; for example, the absence of death and suffering; changes in human nature and the human


condition. These utopian societies tend to change what "human" is all about. Technology has affected the way humans have lived to such an extent that normal functions, like sleep, eating or even reproduction, has been replaced by an artifical means. Other kinds of this utopia envisioned, include a society where human has struck a balance with technology and it is merely used to enhance the human living conditon (ie. Star Trek). In place of the static perfection of a utopia, libertarian transhumanists envision an "extropia", an open, evolving society allowing individuals and voluntary groupings to form the institutions and social forms they prefer. Opposing this optimism is the prediction that advanced science and technology will, through deliberate misuse or accident, cause environmental damage or even humanity's extinction. These pessimists advocate precautions against the premature embrace of new technologies. D. Caste System Caste is defined as a rigid social system in which a social hierarchy is maintained for generations and allows little mobility out of the position to which a person is born. In Sanskrit, the word for caste is "Varna" which means color. The origins of this word refer to the old racial differences between conquerors and conquered; the Aryans nomads which conquered the original natives around 1500 BC. However, the basis of the caste divisions was social and economic rather than racial. Under the caste system, Indian society was divided into four hereditary divisions. The highest is the Brahmans (priests and teachers). Second was the Kshatriyas (rulers and warriors). Followed by the Vaishyas (merchants and traders) and finally was the Sudras (workers and peasants). In additional to these four castes, there were the Harijans or Untouchables, which were not in the social order. The Indian caste was hereditary and marriage was only permitted within the same caste. Each caste had its own occupation and any contacts with another caste was strictly regulated and prohibited. Marriage outside the caste is prohibited. Social status is determined by the caste of one's birth and may only rarely be transcended. In general, caste functions to maintain the status quo in a society. E. Henry Ford and Modern Industrialism Ford created the first inexpensive mass-produced automobile -- the Model T -- and revolutionized American industry by developing and refining assembly line manufacturing. Ford began his working life as a machinist, then became an engineer with the Edison Illuminating Company. (He and Thomas Edison remained close friends for decades.) In his spare time Ford tinkered with creating a motorized vehicle, and in 1896 introduced the Quadricycle, a four-wheeled cart with a gasoline engine. (Ford has often been credited with inventing the automobile, though historians now agree he was only one of many people who built motorized cars.) In 1903 the Ford Motor Company was founded, and in 1908 Ford introduced the Model T. By 1924, 10 million Model T cars had been sold due to Ford’s introduction of the assembly line; Detroit had become the auto-making capital of America. Ford remained one of the country's most famous and influential businessmen until his death in 1947. F. Pre & Post World War I Effects Although the novel is set in the future, the themes and issues raised were heavily influenced by contemporary issues of the early 20th century. The Industrial Revolution was bringing about massive changes to the world, and to the personal lives of people living in it. Mass production had made cars, telephones, and radios relatively cheap and widely available throughout the developed world. The Russian Revolution of 1917 had brought totalitarian governments to the forefront of the world stage and, although The First World War (1914-1918) was officially over, the social effects were still resonating throughout the world. Huxley was able to use the setting and characters from his futurist fantasy to express widely held opinions and concerns, particularly the fear of losing individual identity in the fast-paced world of the future.


III. Brave New World, a Brief Introduction… Brave New World is a 1932 dystopian novel by Aldous Huxley, set in London in the 26th century. The novel anticipates developments in reproductive technology, eugenics and hypnopædia (sleep hypnosis) that combine to change society. The world it describes could in fact also be a utopia, albeit an ironic one: Humanity is carefree, healthy, and technologically advanced. Warfare and poverty have been eliminated, all races are equal, and everyone is permanently happy. The irony is, however, that all of these things have been achieved by eliminating many things — family, cultural diversity, art, literature, religion and philosophy. Brave New World is Huxley's most famous and enduring novel. The title comes from Miranda's speech in Shakespeare's The Tempest, Act V, Scene I: "O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beautious mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in't!"

…Structure At its core Brave New World is a "novel of ideas". The characters exist in a shallow sense in order to advance the themes Huxley wishes to explore. The novel is split roughly into three sections. The first section introduces the reader to The World State and the characters that inhabit it. Bernard Marx begins the novel as the apparent main protagonist, portrayed as one of the few individuals in a world of conformity. In the second section Huxley defies traditional utopian novel structure as he introduces a separate and contradictory version of the future, the Malpais Savage Reservation. Both of them are presented in an equally convincing fashion allowing Huxley and the reader to contrast his futuristic utopian vision with contemporary society. Here again, Huxley defies convention by introducing the novel's real main protagonist nearly half way through the novel. An outcast in the Savage Reservation and The World State, John replaces Bernard Marx, becoming a heroic figure.

Brave New World Background Notes  

Introductory Information

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