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Aldous Huxley: Crome Yellow

Huxley’s first novel is an amusing if relatively slight satire on the English and their foibles. It is set in an English stately home called, of course, Crome, reached by railway after passing through some picturesque places such as Spavin Delawarr and Camlet-on-the-Water. It is loosely based on Garsington Manor, home of Lady Ottoline Morrell and where Huxley first met Maria, whom he later married. The hero, for want of a better word, is would-be writer Denis Stone and the novel recounts his stay at Crome. Denis has written a book of poetry. It has been published (as was Huxley’s) but, judging by the other efforts of his we see, it is not very good. The other people at Crome are the owners, Henry Wimbush (clearly based on Philip Morrell – this portrait caused an estrangement between Huxley and Lady Ottoline) and his wife Priscilla, Mr. Scogan, Anne, Henry Wimbush’s niece, Jenny Mullion, deaf but, as we later find out, very observant (based on Dorothy Brett), Mary Bracegirdle and the Provençal painter, Gombauld. The writer, Mr. Barbecue-Smith, and the multi-talented Ivor Lombard make short visits.

All of these characters have their shortcomings and Huxley does not fail to make fun of them all. Denis is in love with Anne (his love is not returned) and is clearly an inept writer, a judgement which, of course, he himself does not share. Mr. Scogan’s brilliantly accurate summary of the plot of his novel and examples of his poetry shows us only too well his ineptitude. Henry is obsessed with his ancestors and has written a history of the family which, by coincidence, first sees the light of day during the course of the novel. His ancestor’s obsession with the need to defecate from on high is just one example of the eccentricity of the aristocracy that Huxley gently mocks. Mary, as the New Woman, is an obvious target as is Barbecue-Smith, a writer of those awful books, still found today, full of homilies about how to live your life. Mr. Scogan, who is the rational man, and whose utterings will find echo in Brave New World, sees everything in scientific terms. In short, Huxley has taken a variety of English types – at least the ones found in his universe – and cleverly mocked them while still showing a gentle fondness for them. It may not be great literature but it is very enjoyable reading.

Publishing history

First published 1921 by Chatto & Windus