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Barron's Booknotes-Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
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Huxley liked the confidence, vitality, and "generous extravagance" he found in American life. But he wasn't so sure he liked the way vitality was expressed "in places of public amusement, in dancing and motoring... Nowhere, perhaps, is there so little conversation... It is all movement and noise, like the water gurgling out of a bath-down the waste. Yes, down the waste." Those thoughts of the actual world, from the book Jesting Pilate, were to color his picture of the perpetual happiness attempted in Brave New World.

His experiences in fascist Italy, where Benito Mussolini led an authoritarian government that fought against birth control in order to produce enough manpower for the next war, also provided materials for Huxley's bad Utopia, as did his reading of books critical of the Soviet Union.

Huxley wrote Brave New World in four months in 1931. It appeared three years after the publication of his best-seller, the novel Point Counter Point. During those three years, he had produced six books of stories, essays, poems, and plays, but nothing major. His biographer, Sybille Bedford, says, "It was time to produce some full-length fiction-he still felt like holding back from another straight novel-juggling in fiction form with the scientific possibilities of the future might be a new line."

Because Brave New World describes a bad Utopia, it is often compared with George Orwell's 1984, another novel you may want to read, which also describes a possible horrible world of the future. The world of 1984 is one of tyranny, terror, and perpetual warfare. Orwell wrote it in 1948, shortly after the Allies had defeated Nazi Germany in World War II and just as the West was discovering the full dimensions of the evils of Soviet totalitarianism.

It's important to remember that Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1931, before Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany and before Joseph Stalin started the purges that killed millions of people in the Soviet Union. He therefore had no immediate real-life reason to make tyranny and terror major elements of his story. In 1958 Huxley himself said, "The future dictatorship of my imaginary world was a good deal less brutal than the future dictatorship so brilliantly portrayed by Orwell."

In 1937, the Huxleys came to the United States; in 1938 they went to Hollywood, where he became a screenwriter (among his films was an adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, which starred the young Laurence Olivier). He remained for most of his life in California, and one of his novels caricatures what he saw as the strange life there: After Many a Summer Dies the Swan. In it the tycoon Jo Stoyte tries to achieve immortality through scientific experimentation, even if it means giving up humanity and returning to the completely animal state-an echo of Brave New World.


In 1946 Huxley wrote a Foreword to Brave New World in which he said he no longer wanted to make social sanity an impossibility, as he had in the novel. Though World War II had caused the deaths of some 20 million inhabitants of the Soviet Union, six million Jews, and millions of others, and the newly developed atomic bomb held the threat of even more extensive destruction, Huxley had become convinced that while still "rather rare," sanity could be achieved and said that he would like to see more of it. In the same year, he published The Perennial Philosophy, an anthology of texts with his own commentaries on mystical and religious approaches to a sane life in a sane society.

He also worried about the dangers that threatened sanity. In 1958, he published Brave New World Revisited, a set of essays on real-life problems and ideas you'll find in the novel-overpopulation, overorganization, and psychological techniques from salesmanship to hypnopaedia, or sleep-teaching. They're all tools that a government can abuse to deprive people of freedom, an abuse that Huxley wanted people to fight. If you want to further relate his bad new world to the real world, read Brave New World Revisited.

In the 1950s Huxley became famous for his interest in psychedelic or mind-expanding drugs like mescaline and LSD, which he apparently took a dozen times over ten years. Sybille Bedford says he was looking for a drug that would allow an escape from the self and that if taken with caution would be physically and socially harmless.

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Barron's Booknotes-Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
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