Book Review: “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley

This is the first book I have bought on Kindle, I have wanted to buy others but have always had difficulties with my payment cards. I couldn’t find a hard copy of this novel locally; Prospero’s Bookshop had “Brave New World Revisited” but not the original novel.

sergeant pepper album cover with Aldous Huxley ringed
Sergeant Peppers cover with Aldous Huxley ringed in blue

Aldous Huxley merited a place on the Beatles Sergeant Peppers album cover amidst an eclectic mix of movie stars, musicians, writers, gurus and occultists. Aldous Huxley’s works, The Doors Of Perception and Brave New World were required reading for the countercultural elite in the 60s. The Doors Of Perception detailed the author’s own experience of taking mescaline, it chimed with the consciousness-expanding ethos of the decade, and even gave The Doors their name.

Brave New World
screenshot from phone

Unusually, this was the second time I’d read “Brave New World“, the first time was way back in the eighties. I rarely reread novels, no matter how much I loved them. I remembered the hierarchy of the citizens of Brave New World: Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons. I also remembered the drug soma and entertaining feelies which were used to keep the citizens happy and passive. But most of the details I had forgotten.

There is an interesting debate, which can be viewed on YouTube, about which dystopian novel is closest to our present situation Huxley’s Brave New World or George Orwell’s Nineteen  Eighty-Four, Will Self champions Huxley’s novel and Adam Gopnik champions Orwell’s. Here is the link: Brave New World v 1984

Huxley imagined a plastic techno-society where sex is casual, entertainment light and consumerism rampant. There are pills to make people happy, virtual reality shows to distract the masses from actual reality, and hook-ups to take the place of love and commitment. Isn’t that all a bit close to home?

The title comes from Shakespeare’s The Tempest :

Miranda:“O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world That has such people in’t!”

 

Shakespeare is quoted by the savage, John in the novel when he is confronted by the technologies and customs of civilisation. This is a Brave New World without Shakespeare. Young children are conditioned to abhor books and nature. It is a world where sadness has been virtually eliminated but at a heavy price. From the embryonic stage the inhabitants of the world are grown to fit in. There are different castes: Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons each with their roles to play. The Epsilon semi-morons have the menial tasks, which are not too demanding, they are happy with their lot because they have their drugs (soma) and entertainment (feelies and casual non-reproductive sex). From birth, members of every class are indoctrinated by recorded voices repeating slogans while they sleep (called “hypnopædia” in the book) to believe their own class is superior, but that the other classes perform needed functions. Outside civilization there are reserves for savages, there are also islands like Iceland, where those who are  discontent can go and live. Bernard Marx an unusually short Alpha Plus  visits a reserve out of curiosity and returns with John, a savage who had a mother, Linda, who was stranded on the reserve many years earlier. Mothers and fathers are strange, even vulgar, concepts in the civilised world, where embryos are grown in bottles and there is effective contraception.

Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1931, when casual sex was largely frowned upon, he like Orwell was influenced in part by Yevgeny Zemyatin’s dystopia “We” (published 1924). The names assigned to the bottle grown inhabitants of Brave New World are influenced by historical and cultural figures like Marx, Hoover, Freud, Darwin and especially Ford. Henry Ford, the father of mass production, is almost worshipped like a God, the citizens make the sign of the “T” (after Henry Ford’s Model T) instead of the sign of the cross. The World State calendar numbers years in the “AF” era — “Anno Ford” — with the calendar beginning in AD 1908, the year in which Ford’s first Model T rolled off his assembly line. The novel’s year by our calendar is AD 2540, but it is referred to in the book as AF 632. In the Brave New World art and religion have been eradicated as they create strong emotions.

Ford Model T 1911
Ford Model T (Matchbox Yesteryear)

In Brave New World Revisited (published 1958), Huxley concluded that the world was becoming like Brave New World much faster than he had originally thought. A prophetic fantasy that sheds much light on our own time some 87 years after it was written. For a society developped to eradicate sadness it is a sad and cautionary tale. Huxley understood well how easily we could be distracted by things.

My rating : 5 out of 5

One thought on “Book Review: “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley

  1. Pingback: e-books v printed books – Blog #2

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