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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
Aldous Huxley was born in 1894, a year that marked a significant decline in Victorian values. He died in 1963, the same year that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. In between his birth and his death, Huxley was witness to cataclysmic events in the world. He endured two world wars, saw his native England bombed, experienced rapid moral, cultural, and financial changes and became aware of rapidly developing technology. All of these things influenced Huxley's life and writing.
Huxley's genealogy is impressive. He was the grandson of Thomas Huxley, an illustrious scientist and well-known agnostic; he was the grandnephew of Matthew Arnold, a famous Victorian poet; he was the son of Julia Huxley, a pioneering educator, and Leonard Huxley, a scholar and a reputed man of letters; and he was the brother of Julian Huxley, a famous scientist and humanist. It is no wonder that Huxley had a strong and abiding interest in both science and art. Huxley was also privileged to have an outstanding education. He attended Eton and Balliol College, Oxford, where he studied medicine. He was prevented from pursuing a medical career due to an eye-problem that temporarily blinded him. In 1919 he married Maria Nys, a woman from Belgium and moved with her from England to California in 1947. After Maria died in 1956, he married Laurel Archers the following year.
Huxley became a prolific author, writing novels, short stories, essays, poetry, biographies, travelogues, and art and literary criticism. He began his writing career by joining the staff of the Athenaeum. His first novel Crome Yellow was published in 1921, followed by Antic Hay in 1923. From 1923 to 1930 he lived in Italy, where he befriended D.H. Lawrence, the writer who greatly influenced Huxley. While living in Italy, he published Point Counter Point in 1928. Brave New World was next published in 1932, followed by Eyeless in Gaza in 1936. Huxley's later works include Ends And Means (1937), After Many a Summer (1944), The Perennial Philosophy (1946), Ape And Essence (1948), The Devils of Loudun (1952), Brave New World Revisited (1958), and Island (1962).
Throughout his career, Huxley belonged to the intellectual aristocracy, where he was comfortable in both artistic and scientific circles; but he was also capable of communicating with ordinary society. In fact, he directs his writing to the masses and tries to bring science and philosophy to all levels of people through his writing. Although Huxley admitted that he was a keen and curious observer of all of life, he valued first-hand experience above all else. His novels satirize the upper class for trying to survive on a depleted moral and religious tradition; they further praise the pleasure derived from the senses. A certain dualism between the sensual and the ascetic is constant in his work.
As a novelist, Huxley was criticized for not striking an emotional chord in his writing. As a person, he was accused of lacking commitment to any cause. He did, however, influence the younger generation, which found his blend of science and art to be appealing; they also believed that he was futuristic - ahead of his age.
After World War I, two basic Themes emerged in literature: isolation and relationship within a decaying moral order. In Brave New World, Huxley deals with both Themes. In fact, the novel is an example of science fiction dystopia, a utopia-in-reverse. Huxley clearly portrays a disenchanted world that has become dehumanized by scientific advancement. The novel further belongs to the literature of ideas, following in the tradition of Dickens, Shaw, Wells, and Orwell.
Several authors influenced Huxley before he wrote Brave New World. In fact, the novel is modeled largely upon H.G. Well's Men Like Gods, but it offers a more negative point of view. Additionally, the new world order created by Huxley is not greatly different from the one painted by Wells in his Experiment in Autobiography. Huxley was also inspired by books like Pavlov's Conditioned Reflexes (translated in 1927) and Bertrand Russell's The Scientific Outlook (1931).
Although Brave New World is science fiction, many of the advances described in the book had already been introduced. The cultivation of embryos of small mammals in vitro and the cloning of parasitic insects had already been accomplished in the scientific community by the time Huxley wrote the novel. And largely due to leaders like Darwin and Freud, science had begun to supplant ethics, religion, art, and philosophy. In the political sphere, the individual was no longer the central concept of society; instead, there was a powerful movement towards a government controlled welfare state. Because of post-war change, social instability, and economic chaos, it was a time of great anxiety and stress for all people. As a result, many searched for a simple formula that could serve as a panacea to all the problems that they encountered. The totalitarian system of Huxley's new world was such a panacea, but the author clearly points out that it was not an answer to the many problems of his day.