Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley

Biography by Ally Findley

Aldous Huxley was born in Godalming, Surrey, England on July 26, 1894. His father was Leonard Huxley, a teacher and editor of Cornhill Magazine, and his mother was Julia Arnold, who founded Prior’s Field School (and was the niece of famous poet and essayist Matthew Arnold). His grandfather was the famous Victorian biologist, T.H. Huxley, which could account for much of Huxley’s early interest in science and his initial interest in becoming a doctor.

In his youth, Huxley was educated at Eton College, and later at Balliol College at the University of Oxford. During this time, Huxley distinguished himself in the sciences and the arts. However, in 1911, an eye disease he contracted left him partially blind. Because of his eyesight, he could no longer pursue his original plan of practicing medicine, so he devoted himself instead to his literary pursuits. His brother Julian wrote, “I believe his blindness was a blessing in disguise. For one thing, it put paid to his idea of taking up medicine as a career … His uniqueness lay in his universalism. He was able to take all knowledge for his province.” (Julian Huxley 1965. Aldous Huxley 1894–1963: a Memorial Volume. Chatto & Windus, London. p. 22)

Because of his poor eyesight, when he volunteered to serve in World War I, he was rejected. During the war, he spent a great deal of time in London, where he was a member of several well-known literary circles, including the famous Bloomsbury Set. In 1919, he married Maria Nys, a Belgian WWI refugee whom he met in London through his association with this group. He and Maria moved to the United States in 1937.

One of the primary focuses of his work was social satire, which characterizes many of his most successful novels, including Crome Yellow (1921), Antic Hay (1923), Those Barren Leaves (1925), and Point Counter Point (1928). Brave New World (1932) is his most famous novel, a dystopia rife with political and social commentary including on drug use, sexual and emotional repression, monogamy, and consumerism. Brave New World is famous today for how eerily it seems to have predicted certain modern advancements in technology (for example, in-vitro fertilization, psychedelic drug use). Huxley was fascinated by the consumer culture he encountered in California, saying that people are willing to be subjugated if coddled by their oppressor, which was in many ways the premise of Brave New World and much of his other social commentary.

While his most famous work is Brave New World (1932), he was accomplished in many other media [or genres], including playwriting, poetry, philosophy, and non-fiction. Later in life, he moved to Hollywood where he took on lucrative employment as a screenwriter. Among his credits are screen adaptations of Pride and Prejudice (1940) and Jane Eyre (1944).

Huxley also took an interest in Eastern civilizations and their literature, in particular studying the Bhagavad Gita. He was also a member of the Vedanta Society in Southern California which instructed in meditation and spiritual practices. It was here that he met and befriended novelist Christopher Isherwood.

Huxley died on November 22, 1963 of laryngeal cancer. While he died, his second wife, Laura Archera, injected him with LSD twice, per his wishes. She wrote a biography of Huxley, called This Timeless Moment, in which she describes this incident. An incredibly disciplined and prolific writer, Huxley wrote 11 novels, in addition to several short story collections, poetry collections, travel journals, and essays.