Aldous Huxley: Eyeless in Gaza
Huxley has now moved completely away from his essentially linear satires and created here a complex novel of ideas. Influences abound but three struck me. The first is Proust (and, if weren’t aware of this, the narrator/Huxley character of this novel tells us that he has read Proust three times.) Huxley himself was much influenced by Proust and, indeed, appears in A la recherche du temps perdu. Here, time takes on a different dimension as we jump backwards and forwards to key events in his life. The second is George Meredith. Meredith is rarely read these days outside academic circles and, frankly, he is a difficult novelist. However, in Huxley’s day he was much admired and read and Huxley was one of his admirers. Meredith wrote social novels but novels of ideas and traces of Meredith can clearly be seen in this novel. Finally, the earthiness of Huxley’s friend D H Lawrence can also be seen. It is difficult to imagine the earlier Huxley being so frank about sex and the body as he is here.
The story concerns Anthony Beavis who, as in earlier Huxley novels, is based on Huxley himself. Because Huxley divides the novel into chunks we follow his story not chronologically but with the key events all occurring towards the end of the novel. The key events include the betrayal of his friend Brian Foxe (by having a brief fling with Foxe’s fiancée), leading to Foxe’s apparent suicide, his travel to Mexico with his friend Mark Staithes, leading to Staithes’ gangrene, his relationship first with Mary Amberley, who becomes a drug addict, and then with her daughter, Helen, and his political development ending up, like Huxley, as more or less Buddhist in his views. But, as this is a novel of ideas, the novel is about more than just betrayal and failure but also about fitting in or, more appropriately, not fitting in with the current mores. There is also wide-ranging discussion of these ideas, including pacifism and socialism, two -isms Huxley was fully advocating at the time. It is this complex set of ideas that make this novel more interesting than it predecessors.
First published 1936 by Chatto & Windus