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THE AUTHOR AND HIS TIMES
Aldous Leonard Huxley was born on July 26, 1894, into a family that included some of the most distinguished members of that part of the English ruling class made up of the intellectual elite. Aldous' father was the son of Thomas Henry Huxley, a great biologist who helped develop the theory of evolution. His mother was the sister of Mrs. Humphrey Ward, the novelist; the niece of Matthew Arnold, the poet; and the granddaughter of Thomas Arnold, a famous educator and the real-life headmaster of Rugby School who became a character in the novel Tom Brown's Schooldays.
Undoubtedly, Huxley's heritage and upbringing had an effect on his work. Gerald Heard, a longtime friend, said that Huxley's ancestry "brought down on him a weight of intellectual authority and a momentum of moral obligations." Throughout Brave New World you can see evidence of an ambivalent attitude toward such authority assumed by a ruling class.
Like the England of his day, Huxley's Utopia possesses a rigid class structure, one even stronger than England's because it is biologically and chemically engineered and psychologically conditioned. And the members of Brave New World's ruling class certainly believe they possess the right to make everyone happy by denying them love and freedom.
Huxley's own experiences made him stand apart from the class into which he was born. Even as a small child he was considered different, showing an alertness, an intelligence, what his brother called a superiority. He was respected and loved-not hated-for these abilities, but he drew on that feeling of separateness in writing Brave New World. Bernard Marx and Helmholtz Watson, both members of the elite class, have problems because they're different from their peers. Huxley felt that heredity made each individual unique, and the uniqueness of the individual was essential to freedom. Like his family, and like the Alphas of Brave New World, Huxley felt a moral obligation-but it was the obligation to fight the idea that happiness could be achieved through class-instituted slavery of even the most benevolent kind.
Another event that marked Huxley was his mother's death from cancer when he was 14. This, he said later, gave him a sense of the transience of human happiness. Perhaps you can also see the influence of his loss in Brave New World. The Utopians go to great lengths to deny the unpleasantness of death, and to find perpetual happiness. But the cost is very great. By denying themselves unpleasant emotions they deny themselves deeply joyous ones as well. Their happiness can be continued endlessly by taking the drug soma by making love, or by playing Obstacle Golf, but this happiness is essentially shallow. Standing in contrast to the Utopians are the Savages on the Reservation in New Mexico: poor, dirty, subject to the ills of old age and painful death, but, Huxley seems to believe, blessed with a happiness that while still transient is deeper and more real than that enjoyed by the inhabitants of London and the rest of the World State.
When Huxley was 16 and a student at the prestigious school Eton, an eye illness made him nearly blind. He recovered enough vision to go on to Oxford University and graduate with honors, but not enough to fight in World War I, an important experience for many of his friends, or to do the scientific work he had dreamed of. Scientific ideas remained with him, however, and he used them in many of his books, particularly Brave New World. The idea of vision also remained important to him; his early novels contain scenes that seem ideal for motion pictures, and he later became a screenwriter.
He entered the literary world while he was at Oxford, meeting writers like Lytton Strachey and Bertrand Russell and becoming close friends with D. H. Lawrence, with whom you might think he had almost nothing in common.
Huxley published his first book, a collection of poems, in 1916. He married Maria Nys, a Belgian, in 1919. Their only child, Matthew Huxley, was born in 1920. The family divided their time between London and Europe, mostly Italy, in the 1920s, and traveled around the world in 1925 and 1926, seeing India and making a first visit to the United States.