Aldous Huxley is most famous for his novel Brave New World, but the English writer produced a substantial body of work throughout his prolific career. Apart from novels, Huxley wrote short stories, poetry, non-fiction work, and even numerous screenplays. He had a keen interest in philosophical mysticism and universalism, which he explored in many of his works. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature seven times, and the following books showcase a wide range of his talent.
1. Crome Yellow
Published in 1921, Crome Yellow is Aldous Huxley’s first novel. It satirizes the British literary scene of the time. The story revolves around Denis Stone, a sensitive man and aspiring poet who attends a house party in the English countryside with other prominent literary figures. While a summer party promises a good time, not everything goes smoothly for Denis. His love for the host’s niece seems to be unrequited, and his writing attempts are mocked by his fellow authors. The subject and the episodic structure of the book are reminiscent of Thomas Love Peacock’s country-house novels, which by default involved a group of people sitting at the table and discussing philosophical matters. Huxley’s characters are peculiar to say the least, and they reflect the questionable morals of post-war Britain.
Published in 1955, The Genius and the Goddess follows the story of John Rivers, a student working as a lab assistant for Henry Maartens, a physicist with a brilliant mind and poor social skills. On Christmas Eve, now-older Rivers recounts the events from his student days and an affair he had with Maartens’s wife. Rivers describes the unique personalities of these two people and the nature of their relationship. Despite being one of Huxley’s shorter works, this novel is full of social, historical, and literary references. It presents the writer’s views on matters such as literature, history, intellect, sex, God, and death.
Brave New World was Aldous Huxley’s first dystopian novel that would set new standards for the science fiction genre. It depicts a technologically-advanced society called World State, where people are genetically bred and socially controlled. And while life is seemingly care-free and illnesses, hunger, crime, and environmental threats have all been eradicated, there is no place for emotions or any sense of individuality. With the help of mood stabilizers, an authoritarian ruling order keeps people passive and obedient, until the actions of the protagonist Bernard Marx cause a stir in their perfect world.
Huxley wanted to express the anxieties people felt as a result of the speeding technological progress, especially the fear of losing your identity and human touch. The novel was heavily inspired by his early trips to America and his observations of the culture of youth, sexual promiscuity, and the rise of commercialism.
Another bestselling novel, Eyeless in Gaza centers on Anthony Beavis, a high-end Oxford graduate who grows up in the aftermath of World War I. The novel portrays his coming of age through numerous adventures and love affairs, but when these fail to fulfill him, he eagerly joins the Marxist movement and Mexican revolutionaries. However, his illusions soon are shattered by the terrors of violence, and he is forced to find comfort in a different kind of ideology.
The novel’s title comes from a phrase in “Samson Agonistes,” a poem by John Milton which describes the biblical story of Samson who was betrayed by his lover and captured by the Philistines. His eyes were burned out, and he was taken to Gaza to work grinding grain in a mill. Both Samson and Anthony question God and ponder about their own purpose in life, realizing that violence only brings death, not peace.
Published in 1944, Time Must Have a Stop tells the story of Sebastian Barnack, an English schoolboy who goes to Florence for summer holidays and gets exposed to two different teaching philosophies. Bruno Rontini, a righteous and pious bookseller, teaches him about spirituality. Uncle Eustace, on the other hand, shows him all the hedonistic pleasures of life. Through his diverse characters, Huxley explores various aspects of spirituality, mysticism, and decadence, and leaves it up to the reader to decide which path to take.
After witnessing the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Huxley wrote another anti-utopian novel that offers a pessimistic view on the future of humanity. Ape and Essence is set in the year 2108 in Los Angeles, where a rediscovery expedition from New Zealand tries to pick up the pieces of what is left of the old world. It’s been a century since the nuclear war destroyed the entire planet, but the radioactivity and illnesses that came as a result of it still plague the survivors. The members of the New Zealand expedition are prepared for the sights of physical destruction, but they are not ready for the gravity of moral demise they are about to meet.
Point Counter Point is Huxley’s longest novel and it’s written as a series of arguments in a debate, which is referenced in the title. Rather than a single plot, the writer introduces several recurring themes and storylines that are linked together. This is also an example of a roman à clef, which is a novel about real life events mixed with an overlay of fiction. Huxley’s characters are based on real people, some of which include his friends and fellow writers. Huxley himself is portrayed in the book as a novelist named Philip Quarles. Through a series of exchanges between the characters, Huxley once again satirizes the intellectual life of the 1920s and explores the contrast of passion and reason.
8. After Many A Summer Dies The Swan
After Many A Summer Dies The Swan explores people’s obsession with staying young and living forever. The story follows a Hollywood millionaire named Jo Stoyte, a man in his sixties who’s afraid of dying and desperately seeks ways to postpone his demise. He hires a physician to research the theory of longevity and discover a way to prolong his life. Huxley wrote this novel shortly after he left England and moved to California, and the themes he explores represent his understanding of American cultures of narcissism, superficiality, and obsession with youth. The title is taken from Alfred Tennyson’s poem “Tithonus,” which involves a Greek mythological figure whose lover was the Goddess of Dawn. She gave him eternal life, but not eternal youth.
Published in 1954, The Doors of Perception details Huxley’s experience taking mescaline, a psychedelic drug with an effect similar to that of LSD. The author describes the insights of his mescaline trip that took place during one afternoon in 1953, and he considers its influence on psychology and philosophy. He also discusses the meaning of such experiences for art, religion, and science. Huxley believed that the use of psychedelic drugs could help him gain insight into religious mysticism more easily, and he continued to use them until his death, modifying his conclusions along the way. In 1956, he wrote Heaven and Hell, an essay in which he discusses his contemplations in greater detail, and these two works are often published as a single book.
The Crows of Pearblossom is a short story that shows a different side of the famous writer, which he wrote as a Christmas gift to his niece. The tale is about Mr. and Mrs. Crow who live in a cottonwood tree. The mischievous Rattlesnake lives at the bottom of the tree and, since he’s always hungry, he tends to steal Mrs. Crow’s eggs before they get a chance to hatch. To put an end to this, Mr. Crow and his friend Old Man Owl come up with a cunning plan to outsmart the Rattlesnake. Complete with stunning illustrations by Barbara Cooney, this children’s book resembles the works of A.A. Milne, and it’s a compelling read for kids and adults alike.
Island is Huxley’s final book, and it serves as a utopian counterpart to Brave New World. The story is set on the fictional Pacific island of Pala, where a perfect society has been thriving for 120 years. However, there is a conspiracy to take over Pala, and things begin to gain momentum when an agent of the conspirators, a journalist named Will Farnaby, ends up shipwrecked on the island. The novel deals with themes that were of interest to Huxley in the years after World War II, namely ecology, democracy, overpopulation, mysticism, and the use of psychoactive substances that alter perception or behavior.