Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley
Aldous Huxley

Aldous Leonard Huxley (July 26, 1894November 22, 1963) was a British writer who emigrated to the United States. He was a member of the famous Huxley family who produced a number of brilliant scientific minds. Best known for his novels and wide-ranging output of essays, he also published short stories, poetry, and travel writing. Through his novels and essays, Huxley functioned as an examiner and sometimes critic of social mors, societal norms and ideals, and possible misapplications of science in human life. While his earlier concerns might be called "humanist," ultimately, he became quite interested in "spiritual" subjects like parapsychology and mystically based philosophy, which he also wrote about. By the end of his life, Huxley was considered, in certain learned circles, a 'leader of modern thought'.



Early years

Huxley was born in Godalming, Surrey, England. He was the son of the writer Leonard Huxley by his first wife, Julia Arnold; and grandson of the famous proponent of Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley. His brother Julian Huxley was a biologist also noted for his evolutionary theories. Huxley understandably excelled in the areas he took up professionally, for on his father's side were a number of noted men of science, while on his mother's were people of literary accomplishment.

Huxley was a lanky, delicately framed child who was gifted intellectually. He began his learning in his father’s well-equipped botanical laboratory (his father was a professional herbalist) and continued in the school (named Hillside) which his mother ran for several years until she became terminally ill. From the age of nine, Aldous was then educated in the British boarding-school system. He took readily to the handling of ideas.

His mother Julia died in 1908, when Aldous was only fourteen, and his sister Roberta died of an unrelated incident in the same month. Three years later Aldous suffered an illness (keratitis punctata) which seriously damaged his eyesight. His older brother Noel died (suicide) in 1914. Aldous's near-blindness disqualified him from service in World War I. Once his eyesight recovered, he was able to read English literature at Balliol College, Oxford.

Maturing as a lean young man well over six feet in height, the cerebrotonic Huxley's initial interest in literature was primarily intellectual. While he was noted for his personal kindliness, only considerably later (some say under the influence of such friends as D.H. Lawrence) did he heartily embrace feelings as matters of importance in his evolving personal philosophy and literary expression.

Following his education at Balliol, Huxley was financially indebted to his father and had to earn a living. For a short while in 1918, he was employed acquiring provisions at the Air Ministry. But never desiring a career in administration (or in business), Huxley's lack of inherited means propelled him into applied literary work.

Huxley had completed his first (unpublished) novel at the age of seventeen and began writing seriously in his early twenties. He wrote great novels on dehumanising aspects of scientific progress, most famously Brave New World, and on pacifist themes (e.g. Eyeless in Gaza). Huxley was strongly influenced by F. Matthias Alexander and included him as a character in Eyeless in Gaza.

Middle years

Already a noted satirist and social thinker, during World War I, Huxley spent much of his time at Garsington Manor, home of Lady Ottoline Morrell. Later, in Crome Yellow (1921) he caricatured the Garsington lifestyle, but remained friendly with the Morrells. He married Maria Nys, whom he had met at Garsington.

Huxley moved to Llano, California in 1937, but like his friend the philosopher Gerald Heard who accompanied him, Huxley was denied citizenship since he refused to ascribe his pacifism to religious beliefs. In his 1937 book Ends and Means, most people in modern civilization agree that they want a world of 'liberty, peace, justice, and brotherly love', though they haven't been able to agree on how to achieve it. His book goes on to explore why the confusion or disagreement is there and what might be done about it. In 1938 Huxley befriended J. Krishnamurti, whose teachings he greatly admired. He became a Vedantist in the circle of Swami Prabhavananda, and he also 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 teachings of the world's great mystics.

For most of his life since the illness in his teens which left Huxley near blind, his eyesight was poor (despite the partial recovery which had enabled him to study at Oxford). Around 1939 he heard of the Bates Method for Natural Vision improvement, and of a teacher (Margaret Corbett) who was able to teach him in the method. Apparently his sight improved dramatically as a result of using the method. He later wrote a book about it (The Art of Seeing) which was published in 1942 (US), 1943 (UK). Here he claims that for the first time in over 25 years, he was able to read without spectacles and without strain. Though it is likely he benefitted from the method his sight was probably never completely cured. He may also have suffered periodic relapses.

Later years

He started meditating and became a vegetarian. Thereafter, his works were strongly influenced by mysticism and his experiences with the hallucinogenic drug mescaline, to which he was introduced by the psychiatrist Humphry Osmond in 1953. Huxley's psychedelic drug experiences are described in the essays The Doors of Perception (the title deriving from some lines in a poem by William Blake) and Heaven and Hell. The title of the former became the inspiration for the naming of the rock band, The Doors. Some of his writings on psychedelics became frequent reading among early hippies.

Huxley's main interest was not in just anything vague, mysterious, or subjective, but in what is sometimes termed "higher mysticism"; he liked the term "perennial philosophy" and wrote a noted book under that title. During the 1950s, Huxley's interest in the related field of psychical research grew keener.

Huxley's wife, Maria, died of breast cancer in 1955, and in 1956 he re-married, to Laura Archera (Huxley), who was herself an author and who wrote a biography of Aldous. In 1960, Huxley was diagnosed with throat cancer. In the years that followed, with his health deteriorating, he wrote the utopian novel Island, and gave lectures on "Human Potentialities" at the Esalen institute. In 1959, Huxley, who remained a British Citizen turned down an offer of a Knight Bachelor by the Macmillan government.

His ideas were foundational to the forming of the Human Potential Movement. He was also invited to speak at several prestigious American universities. At a speech given in 1961 at the California Medical School in San Francisco, Huxley warned: "There will be in the next generation or so a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them but will rather enjoy it."

Huxley's views on the proper roles of science and technology (as he portrayed these, say, in Island) are akin to some other noted English and American thinkers of the twentieth century, such as Lewis Mumford and Huxley's friend Gerald Heard (and, in some ways, Buckminster Fuller and E.F. Schumacher). Clearly, these men found descendants in some significant movers of a younger generation, e.g., Stewart Brand.

Amongst humanists, Huxley was considered an intellectual's intellectual. Although his financial circumstances had forced him to churn out articles and books, his thinking and best writing earned him an exalted esteem. His books were frequently on the required reading lists of English and modern philosophy courses in American colleges and universities. He was one of the twentieth-century thinkers honored in the Scribners Publishing's "Leaders of Modern Thought" series (a volume of biography and literary criticism by Philip Thody, Aldous Huxley).

Death and afterwards

On his deathbed, unable to speak, he made a written request to his wife for "LSD, 100 g, i.m." She obliged, and he died peacefully the following morning, November 22, 1963. Media coverage of his death was overshadowed by news of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which occurred on the same day as did the death of Irish author C.S. Lewis.

In all of Huxley's mature writings, one finds an awareness that seems to bridge the gap between "The Two Cultures" - the sciences and the humanities. This gulf posed a potentially enormous problem, one that was recognized by other thinkers during Huxley's lifetime, such as C.P. Snow. The interest among professors of humanities and liberal arts in Huxley's work, both during the writer's lifetime and afterwards, rests on this consciousness on the part of the author, and of course on the artful and often humorous way in which he expressed himself.

Huxley's satirical, dystopian, and utopian novels seldom fail to stimulate thought. The same may be said for his essays and essay collections. Perhaps his main message is the tragedy that frequently follows from egocentrism: self-centeredness and selfishness.

Huxley's values were at odds with some of those that were evident in America, his adopted home. The artist Andy Warhol, who was rising to public awareness around the time of Huxley's terminal illness, is quoted by many sources as having said: "A lady friend of mine asked me. ‘Well, what do you love most?’ That’s how I started painting money.” While an examination of Huxley's life makes it clear that the author had to work continuously to maintain an income, clearly the "means" (money) did not determine the "end" (contributing to peace, understanding, freedom, and self-transcendent perspective) for Huxley.


Huxley wrote a good many screenplays, and many of his novels were later adapted for film or television. For instance, he wrote the original screenplay for Disney's animated Alice in Wonderland, and there were two productions of Brave New World, one of Point Counter Point, one of Eyeless in Gaza, and one of Ape and Essence. Director Ken Russell's 1971 film The Devils, starring Vanessa Redgrave, is adapted from Huxley's The Devils of Loudun, and a 1990 made-for-television film adaptation of Brave New World was directed by Burt Brinckerhoff.

Selected works


Short stories


  • The Burning Wheel (1916)
  • Jonah (1917)
  • The Defeat of Youth (1918)
  • Leda (1920)
  • Arabia Infelix (1929)
  • The Cicadias and Other Poems (1931)

Travel writing




Children's literature


  • Moksha: Writings on Psychedelics and the Visionary Experience (1977)


November 22, 1963, the date of Aldous Huxley's death, is the same day as the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the death of C. S. Lewis.
He was six feet four and a half inches tall.

External links


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