Aldous Huxley was born 119 years ago, on July 26, 1894. Happy birthday, Aldous Huxley!
Huxley is best known for his prophetic 1932 novel "Brave New World." The book envisioned a dystopic future characterized by extreme government control, enticing entertainments, media manipulation, genetic engineering and a populace drugged into submission. Free will is sapped, and one man's efforts to make his own decisions spells disaster. It's considered a classic work of the 20th century.
Huxley was born into an intellectual family in England; his father was a magazine editor, his mother a relative of Matthew Arnold, and a half-brother a Nobel Prize-winning physiologist. Perhaps destined to become bookish, he was tall, thin and plagued by poor eyesight. He had been studying medicine when an eye infection forced him to take a break from his schooling and he turned to writing.
Of that turn of events, he said, "providence is sometimes kind, even when it is harsh."
Huxley graduated from Oxford in 1919 and joined the staff of the British literary magazine the Athenaeum. After his 1921 novel "Chrome Yellow" became a bestseller, he left England behind for Italy and the south of France. He was headed to India in 1937 when he stopped in Los Angeles and decided to make this city home.
In Southern California, Huxley's intellectual explorations took him into the spiritual realm. He was a key member of the Vedanta Temple in Hollywood and wrote about the ancient religion. His spiritual questing prompted him to take peyote and mescaline; his hallucinatory experiences led to his 1954 book "The Doors of Perception," from which the rock band the Doors took their name.
Writing in fiction and nonfiction as well as poetry — his first book was a 1916 poetry collection — Huxley published almost four-dozen books in his 69 years.
After Huxley passed away in 1963 (on Nov. 22, the same day John F. Kennedy was assassinated), The Times wrote, "it is not too early to say that this brilliant and prolific writer was one of the most important writers in the English language in the 20th century."
"He was dedicated to the pursuit of the central truths of man's existence, a task which was neverending," Robert Kirsch continued. "For his was the kind of intelligence and spirit which would not rest on the corroded pedestal of success and prominence. To the end, he was growing, exploring, questioning, developing, willing and even anxious to accept intellectual and spiritual challenges which would have (and indeed have) frightened younger men."
Sometimes Huxley's vision had to be frightening. "A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories," "Brave New World" ominously begins. "Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State's motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY."
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