Brian Aldiss

Aldous Huxley smoking, circa 1946

Friendships: Aldous Huxley

Brian’s UK publishers The Friday Project is curating a series of short anecdotes that Brian has written about some of the many literary greats that he has been fortunate enough to know and meet over his illustrious career, and others that he has simply admired.

In a short series here on Brian’s blog we publish some appetisers ahead of their collated publication. We’ll be featuring the following friendships. For a list of all current friendship stories in the pipeline scroll down:

Aldous Huxley Bob Shaw
Marie Bashkirtseff Leo Tolstoy (Resurrection)
Mary Shelley Shakespeare
Henry Marsh Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Anna Kavan

Aldous Huxley

‘The old order changeth, giving place to the new’ as Alfred Lord Tennyson once profoundly said.

Certainly the old order changeth when it comes to the name and writings of Aldous Huxley. Here in my study stands a shelf full of Huxley’s writings, most of them bound in Chatto and Windus’s now faded cloth.

Look! Here’s Huxley’s “Brave New World” (1942), the book of the year. Due to be superseded by George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” (1945). Both books much enjoyed and discussed in their time.

To find a short passage for quoting here proved more difficult than I had expected. There is much talk of philosophy and some murmurs of fornication. But what of this, on only p.22?

The children started, screamed; their faces were distorted with terror.

‘And now,’ the Director shouted (for the noise was deafening} ‘now we proceed to rub in the lesson with a mild electric shock.’

He waved his hand again, and the Head Nurse pressed a second lever. The screaming of the babies suddenly changed its tone. There was something desperate, almost insane, about the sharp spasmodic yelps to which they now gave utterance. Their little bodies twitched and stiffened; their limbs moved jerkily as if to the tug of unseen wires.

It is a melancholy thing to find a novel, and certainly a writer, has suffered from decay. Our daily newspapers have taken up such matters, divided them into comic pieces by minor celebrities, and decorated them with
blondes about the age of 45.

When I was compiling my pamphlet, ‘Famous First Words’, I included Huxley. Two openers I particularly like. Huxley’s novel, ‘Island’, begins:

”Attention.” a voice began to call, and it was as though an oboe had suddenly become articulate. “Attention.”

Equally memorable, and more sly, is the opening sentence of “Ape and Essence”:

It was the day of Gandhi’s assassination; but on Calvary the sightseers were more interested in the contents of their picnic baskets than in the possible significance of the, after all, rather commonplace event they had turned out to witness.

Do these acute turns of phrase lure us on, as once they did.

Well, in my case. that time has gone by. I regret to find myself unlured. And to think that I once had a brief correspondence with this great and admired man.

Currently planned for publication:

Kingsley Amis Bruce Montgomery
Robert Conquest C.S. Lewis
J.R.R. Tolkien Hilary Rubenstein
Phillip Pullman ‘Bella’
‘Sheila North’ Tom Maschler
Anthony Storr T.S. Eliot
Felix Greene Iris Murdoch
William Boyd Harold Boyer
Anna Kavan Janet Gill
Doris Lessing Harry Harrison
Charles Monteith & Agatha Christie Philip K Dick
Anthony Burgess Karen Blixen
Frank Hatherley Wolfgang Jeschke
JG Ballard John Osborne & Colin Wilson
Desmond Morris Michael Moorcock
Humbert Oscar Mellor
Bob Shaw Philip Morsberger
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