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Barron's Booknotes-Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
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He put his beliefs in such a drug and in sanity into several books. Two, based on his experiences taking mescaline under supervision, were nonfiction: Doors of Perception (1954) and Heaven and Hell (1956). Some readers have read those books as encouragements to experiment freely with drugs, but Huxley warned of the dangers of such experiments in an appendix he wrote to The Devils of Loudun (1952), a psychological study of an episode in French history.

Another work centering on drugs and sanity was Island (1962), a novel that required 20 years of thought and five years of writing. Among other things, Island was an antidote to Brave New World, a good Utopia. Huxley deplored the drug he called soma in Brave New World-half tranquilizer, half intoxicant-which produces an artificial happiness that makes people content with their lack of freedom. He approved of the perfected version of LSD that the people of Island use in a religious way.

Huxley produced 47 books in his long career as a writer. The English critic Anthony Burgess has said that he equipped the novel with a brain. Other critics objected that he was a better essayist than novelist precisely because he cared more about his ideas than about plot or characters, and his novels' ideas often get in the way of the story.

But Huxley's emphasis on ideas and his skin as an essayist cannot hide one important fact: The books he wrote that are most read and best remembered today are all novels-Crome Yellow, Antic Hay, and Point Counter Point from the 1920s, Brave New World and After Many a Summer Dies the Swan from the 1930s. In 1959 the American Academy of Arts and Letters gave him the Award of Merit for the Novel, a prize given every five years; earlier recipients had been Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Mann, and Theodore Dreiser.


The range of Huxley's interests can be seen from his note that his "preliminary research" for Island included "Greek history, Polynesian anthropology, translations from Sanskrit and Chinese of Buddhist texts, scientific papers on pharmacology, neurophysiology, psychology and education, together with novels, poems, critical essays, travel books, political commentaries and conversations with all kinds of people, from philosophers to actresses, from patients in mental hospitals to tycoons in Rolls-Royces...." He used similar, though probably fewer, sources for Brave New World.

This list gives you some perspective on the wide range of ideas that Huxley studied. He also wrote an early essay on ecology that helped inspire today's environmental movement. And he was a pacifist. This belief prevented him from becoming an American citizen because he would not say his pacifism was a matter of his religion, which might have made him an acceptable conscientious objector.

Huxley remained nearly blind all his life. Maria Huxley died in 1955, and Huxley married Laura Archera a year later. He died November 22, 1963, the same day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He was cremated, and his ashes were buried in his parents' grave in England.

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Barron's Booknotes-Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
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