Aldous Leonard Huxley (26 July 1894 – 22 November 1963) was an English writer, philosopher and a prominent member of the Huxley family.
He was best known for his novels including Brave New World, set in a dystopian London, and for non-fiction books, such as The Doors of Perception, which recalls experiences when taking a psychedelic drug, and a wide-ranging output of essays. Early in his career Huxley edited the magazine Oxford Poetry, and published short stories and poetry. Mid career and later, he published travel writing, film stories, and scripts. He spent the later part of his life in the U.S., living in Los Angeles from 1937 until his death. In 1962, a year before his death, he was elected Companion of Literature by the Royal Society of Literature.
Huxley was a humanist, pacifist, and satirist. He later became interested in spiritual subjects such as parapsychology and philosophical mysticism, in particular, Universalism. By the end of his life, Huxley was widely acknowledged as one of the pre-eminent intellectuals of his time. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in seven different years.
Aldous Huxley was born in Godalming, Surrey, England, in 1894. He was the third son of the writer and schoolmaster Leonard Huxley and his first wife, Julia Arnold, who founded Prior's Field School. Julia was the niece of poet and critic Matthew Arnold and the sister of Mrs. Humphrey Ward. Aldous was the grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley, the zoologist, agnostic, and controversialist ("Darwin's Bulldog"). His brother Julian Huxley and half-brother Andrew Huxley also became outstanding biologists. Aldous had another brother, Noel Trevelyan Huxley (1891–1914), who committed suicide after a period of clinical depression.
Huxley began his learning in his father's well-equipped botanical laboratory, then went to Hillside School, Malvern. His teacher was his mother, who supervised him for several years until she became terminally ill. After Hillside, he was educated at Eton College. Huxley's mother died in 1908 when he was 14. In 1911, he suffered an illness (keratitis punctata) which "left [him] practically blind for two to three years". Aldous volunteered to join the army at the outbreak of World War I, but was rejected on health grounds since he was half-blind in one eye. Once his eyesight recovered sufficiently, he was able to study English literature at Balliol College, Oxford. In 1916 he edited Oxford Poetry and later was graduated (BA) with first class honours. His brother Julian wrote:
I believe his blindness was a blessing in disguise. For one thing, it put paid to his idea of taking up medicine as a career... His uniqueness lay in his universalism. He was able to take all knowledge for his province.
Following his education at Balliol, Huxley was financially indebted to his father and had to earn a living. He taught French for a year at Eton, where Eric Blair (later to become George Orwell) and Steven Runciman were among his pupils, but he was remembered as an incompetent and hopeless teacher who couldn't keep discipline. Nevertheless, Blair and others were impressed by his use of words. For a short while in 1918, he was employed acquiring provisions at the Air Ministry.
Significantly, Huxley also worked for a time during the 1920s at the technologically-advanced Brunner and Mond chemical plant in Billingham, North East England, and the most recent introduction to his famous science fiction novel Brave New World (1932) states that this experience of "an ordered universe in a world of planless incoherence" was one source for the novel.
Huxley completed his first (unpublished) novel at the age of 17 and began writing seriously in his early 20s, establishing himself as a successful writer and social satirist. His first published novels were social satires, Crome Yellow (1921), Antic Hay (1923), Those Barren Leaves (1925), and Point Counter Point (1928). Brave New World was Huxley's fifth novel and first dystopian work. In the 1920s he was also a contributor to Vanity Fair and British Vogue magazines.
Left to right: Bloomsbury Group members – Lady Ottoline Morrell, Maria Nys, Lytton Strachey, Duncan Grant, and Vanessa Bell
During World War I, Huxley spent much of his time at Garsington Manor near Oxford, home of Lady Ottoline Morrell, working as a farm labourer. There he met several Bloomsbury figures, including Bertrand Russell, Alfred North Whitehead, and Clive Bell. Later, in Crome Yellow (1921) he caricatured the Garsington lifestyle. Jobs were very scarce, but in 1919 John Middleton Murry was reorganising the Athenaeum and invited Huxley to join the staff. He accepted immediately, and quickly married the Belgian refugee Maria Nys, also at Garsington. They lived with their young son in Italy part of the time during the 1920s, where Huxley would visit his friend D. H. Lawrence. Following Lawrence's death in 1930, Huxley edited Lawrence's letters (1932).
Works of this period included important novels on the dehumanising aspects of scientific progress, most famously Brave New World, and on pacifist themes (for example, Eyeless in Gaza). In Brave New World, set in a dystopian London, Huxley portrays a society operating on the principles of mass production and Pavlovian conditioning. Huxley was strongly influenced by F. Matthias Alexander and included him as a character in Eyeless in Gaza.
Starting from this period, Huxley began to write and edit non-fiction works on pacifist issues, including Ends and Means, An Encyclopedia of Pacifism, and Pacifism and Philosophy, and was an active member of the Peace Pledge Union.
In 1937, Huxley moved to Hollywood with his wife Maria, son Matthew, and friend Gerald Heard. He lived in the United States, mainly in southern California, until his death, but also for a time in Taos, New Mexico, where he wrote Ends and Means (published in 1937). In this work he examines the fact that although most people in modern civilisation agree that they want a world of "liberty, peace, justice, and brotherly love", they have not been able to agree on how to achieve it.
Heard introduced Huxley to Vedanta (Upanishad-centered philosophy), meditation, and vegetarianism through the principle of ahimsa. In 1938, Huxley befriended Jiddu Krishnamurti, whose teachings he greatly admired. He also became a Vedantist in the circle of Hindu Swami Prabhavananda, and introduced Christopher Isherwood to this circle. Not long after, Huxley wrote his book on widely-held spiritual values and ideas, The Perennial Philosophy, which discussed the teachings of renowned mystics of the world. Huxley's book affirmed a sensibility that insists there are realities beyond the generally accepted "five senses" and that there is genuine meaning for humans beyond both sensual satisfactions and sentimentalities.
Huxley became a close friend of Remsen Bird, president of Occidental College. He spent much time at the college, which is in the Eagle Rock neighbourhood of Los Angeles. The college appears as "Tarzana College" in his satirical novel After Many a Summer (1939). The novel won Huxley that year's James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. Huxley also incorporated Bird into the novel.
During this period, Huxley earned a substantial income as a Hollywood screenwriter; Christopher Isherwood, in his autobiography My Guru and His Disciple, states that Huxley earned more than $3,000 per week (an enormous sum in those days) as a screenwriter, and that he used much of it to transport Jewish and left-wing writer and artist refugees from Hitler's Germany to the U.S. In March 1938, his friend Anita Loos, a novelist and screenwriter, put him in touch with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer who hired Huxley for Madame Curie, which was originally to star Greta Garbo and be directed by George Cukor. (Eventually, the film was completed by MGM in 1943 with a different director and cast.) Huxley received screen credit for Pride and Prejudice (1940) and was paid for his work on a number of other films, including Jane Eyre (1944). Huxley was commissioned by Walt Disney in 1945 to write a script based on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the biography of the story's author, Lewis Carroll. The script was not used, however.
Huxley wrote an introduction to the posthumous publication of J. D. Unwin's 1940 book Hopousia or The Sexual and Economic Foundations of a New Society.
On 21 October 1949, Huxley wrote to George Orwell, author of Nineteen Eighty-Four, congratulating him on "how fine and how profoundly important the book is". In his letter to Orwell, he predicted:
Within the next generation I believe that the world's leaders will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging them and kicking them into obedience.
Huxley had deeply felt apprehensions about the future the developed world might make for itself. From these, he made some warnings in his writings and talks. In a 1958 televised interview conducted by journalist Mike Wallace, Huxley outlined several major concerns: the difficulties and dangers of world overpopulation; the tendency toward distinctly hierarchical social organisation; the crucial importance of evaluating the use of technology in mass societies susceptible to wily persuasion; the tendency to promote modern politicians, to a naive public, as well-marketed commodities.
Post World War II
After World War II, Huxley applied for United States citizenship. His application was continuously deferred on the grounds that he would not say he would take up arms to defend the U.S. He claimed a philosophical, rather than a religious objection, and therefore was not exempt under the McCarran Act. He withdrew his application. Nevertheless, he remained in the country; and in 1959 he turned down an offer of a Knight Bachelor by the Macmillan government.
Huxley married Maria Nys (10 September 1899 – 12 February 1955), a Belgian he met at Garsington, Oxfordshire, in 1919. They had one child, Matthew Huxley (19 April 1920 – 10 February 2005), who had a career as an author, anthropologist, and prominent epidemiologist.
In 1956, Huxley married Laura Archera (1911–2007), also an author. She wrote This Timeless Moment, a biography of Huxley. Laura felt inspired to illuminate the story of their marriage through Mary Ann Braubach's 2010 documentary, "Huxley on Huxley".
In 1960, Huxley was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer and, in the years that followed, with his health deteriorating, he wrote the Utopian novel Island, and gave lectures on "Human Potentialities" both at the University of California's San Francisco Medical Center and at the Esalen Institute. These lectures were fundamental to the beginning of the Human Potential Movement.
Huxley was a close friend of Jiddu Krishnamurti and Rosalind Rajagopal and was involved in the creation of the Happy Valley School (now Besant Hill School of Happy Valley) in Ojai, California.
The most substantial collection of Huxley's few remaining papers (following the destruction of most in a fire) is at the Library of the University of California, Los Angeles. Some are also at the Stanford University Libraries.
On 9 April 1962, Huxley was informed he was elected Companion of Literature by the Royal Society of Literature, the senior literary organisation in Britain, and he accepted the title via letter on 28 April 1962. The correspondence between Huxley and the society are kept at the Cambridge University Library. The society invited Huxley to appear at a banquet and give a lecture at Somerset House, London in June 1963. Huxley wrote a draft of the speech he intended to give at the society; however, his deteriorating health meant he would not be able to attend.
On his deathbed, unable to speak due to advanced laryngeal cancer, Huxley made a written request to his wife Laura for "LSD, 100 µg, intramuscular". According to her account of his death, in This Timeless Moment, she obliged with an injection at 11:20 a.m. and a second dose an hour later; Huxley died aged 69, at 5:20 p.m. (Los Angeles time), on 22 November 1963.
Media coverage of Huxley's passing — as with that of the author C. S. Lewis — was overshadowed by the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy on the same day. This coincidence served as the basis for Peter Kreeft's book Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis, & Aldous Huxley, which imagines a conversation among the three men taking place in Purgatory following their deaths.
Huxley's memorial service took place in London in December 1963 which was led by his older brother Julian, and his ashes were interred in the family grave at the Watts Cemetery, home of the Watts Mortuary Chapel in Compton, a village near Guildford, Surrey, England.
Huxley had been a long-time friend of famous Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, who later dedicated his last orchestral composition to Huxley. Stravinsky began Variations in Santa Fé, New Mexico in July 1963, and completed the composition in Hollywood on 28 October 1964. It was first performed in Chicago on 17 April 1965, by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Robert Craft.