Interesting trivia about the life of Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World
1. Aldous Huxley was the great-nephew of Matthew Arnold. Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), the author best known for the dystopian novel Brave New World (1932), could boast the nineteenth-century poet and educational reformer Arnold (1822-88) as his great-uncle. This literary ancestry is worth mentioning at the outset of this list of interesting Aldous Huxley facts, not least because it is often eclipsed in accounts of Huxley’s life by his more famous family connection – namely, his grandfather, the great Victorian biologist T. H. Huxley, who coined the word ‘agnostic’. And while we’re discussing the coining of words…
2. Huxley is credited with the first use of the words bitchy, Dadaist, futurology, nymphomaniacal, and snooty. The Oxford English Dictionary lists Huxley as the first recorded user of these words. Another notable coinage was the sexophone, an imaginary musical instrument that arouses sexual desire, which appears in Huxley’s most famous novel, Brave New World – in the novel, recreational sex is positively encouraged.
Many readers know Brave New World, but how many people know of the sequel Huxley wrote, Brave New World Revisited, published in 1958? Well, despite the title it’s not really a sequel as such: it’s a non-fiction work in which Huxley ponders, just over a quarter of a century on from his original novel, how many of his ‘predictions’ from the novel have come true. His conclusion, gloomily, was that the world is heading for A. F. 632 (the year in which Brave New World is set – the initials stand for ‘After [Henry] Ford’) faster even than Huxley had expected.
3. Aldous Huxley taught George Orwell at Eton. As we’ve remarked elsewhere in our post comprising five fascinating facts about George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, this means that the future author of one of the great dystopian novels of the twentieth century taught the future author of one of the other great dystopian novels of the twentieth century. (He was Orwell’s French teacher.) The interesting author connections don’t end there. In 1930, Huxley was one of only ten mourners who attended the funeral of D. H. Lawrence.
4. Walt Disney rejected Aldous Huxley’s synopsis for the screenplay of Alice in Wonderland as ‘he could only understand every third word’. Huxley’s script, which he worked on in the years following the end of WWII, mixes live action and animation and focuses on the friendship between Carroll (or Charles Dodgson, as he was known at the University of Oxford – Carroll, of course, being his pen name) and Alice Liddell.
5. Huxley died on 22 November 1963 – the same day as C. S. Lewis. Huxley died of laryngeal cancer, aged 69 (he took LSD shortly before he died). Neither of their deaths received much press attention, however, as it was also the day of the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas. Huxley’s later work had a considerable influence on the counterculture of the 1960s, notably Timothy Leary, though perhaps his influence is most clearly displayed by the fact that the rock group The Doors took their band name from Huxley’s 1954 book The Doors of Perception, Huxley’s account of his experiences taking mescaline (Huxley’s title was, in turn, borrowed from another notable drug-user and writer, William Blake). Indeed, many of Huxley’s other book titles are allusions to other works of literature: he took Antic Hay (1923) from Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II, Eyeless in Gaza (1936) comes from Milton’s closet drama Samson Agonistes, Those Barren Leaves (1925) is from Wordsworth’s ‘The Tables Turned’, and Brave New World is from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
That concludes our interesting Aldous Huxley facts – if you enjoyed these, you might enjoy this post by David Izzo on Aldous Huxley’s novel Island and our compilation of great facts about George Orwell’s life.
Image: Cover of 1972 Penguin paperback of Brave New World (cover art: F. Leger, ‘Mechanical Elements’ (detail), Musee National d’Art Moderne, Paris, via Simon Jones on Flickr.