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Aldous Huxley: Point Counter Point

Huxley continues his satire of his contemporaries but throws in some musings on life and science, as well. The blurb on the copy of my book says it also contains hints of mysticism but I must have missed those. There is a rich cast of characters and some of them are clearly recognisable. The story starts with Walter Bidlake, assistant editor of a literary review, presumably based on the Athenaeum. He is clearly based on Huxley who was himself assistant editor of the Athenaeum. Walter is living with Marjorie who is fairly boring, pregnant and still married to a Catholic who won’t divorce her. Unfortunately, for Marjorie, Walter is bored with Marjorie and in love with Lucy Tantamount. Lucy is an independent woman (a widow) who enjoys having fun and is more than happy to have fun with Walter, as long as there is only fun and no commitment. During the course of the novel, Lucy and Walter have an affair but Lucy pushes him away when he gets too serious. She is clearly based on Nancy Cunard, with whom Huxley was smitten and had a brief fling, till his wife took him off to Italy. Lucy is the daughter of Lord Edward Tantamount who discovered early on that all he was interested in was science and we see him conducting some unpleasant experiments on newts.

Walter is the son of the John Bidlake, the renowned painter, whose best days are behind him. In her biography of Huxley, Sybille Bedford said the Huxley’s characters generally don’t die. Three do in this book and Bidlake Senior is on the point of death (from cancer) when the book ends. For Bidlake and two of the others, it is Huxley’s authorial condemnation. Bidlake is not a good man. He is very selfish and though married to Rachel for many years (she is his second wife), they live very separate lives unless Bidlake needs her, as he does at the end. Rachel Bidlake lives with her daughter, Elinor, Elinor’s husband, Philip Quarles, a writer, and their son, Little Phil. At the start of the novel Elinor and Philip are travelling in India, which gives Huxley opportunity for his usual racist views (Huxley and his wife did a similar tour). They return to England, where Philip becomes even more inward-looking than before and Elinor contemplates an affair with Everard Webley. She will pay the price for both Webley and Little Phil end up dead, the former shot, the latter from meningitis.

Webley is the head of the of the Brotherhood of British Freemen and is clearly modelled on Oswald Mosley. He is in love with Elinor but is killed before they start an affair. Philip Quarles’ father, Sidney, also figures strongly. He inherited a fortune, lost most of it, and has failed at everything else he has tried, including finance, politics, estate management and writing. He too is near death’s door at the end, as a result of his girlfriend getting pregnant and showing up at his home, though his death may be more in his own mind. Other characters include Walter Bidlake’s editor, Burlap, based on John Middleton Murry. Burlap is a great believer in Life and, for him, it is St. Francis who is the representative of his view. Huxley savages him as much as anyone. Murry was a great supporter of D H Lawrence, who appears as Mark Rampion, concerned with earthly reality and sexual love and not just sex. The third person to die is Spandreth, Huxley’s perennial cynic, who has no job and little money and who hates his step-father, an army general, with a passion. Somewhat out of character, he commits an acte gratuit (the term comes from Gide and means an act committed for no reason than its own sake) and murders Webley. His accomplice is Huxley’s token working-class character, Illidge, who is Lord Edward Tantamount’s assistant and who bitterly resents all privilege.

In his usual fashion, Huxley spares none of these characters, mocking their obsession with Life (Rampion and Burlap), their romanticising of love (Marjorie, Elinor and Walter Bidlake), their detachment from real life (Bidlake Senior and Lord Edward), their cynicism (Spandreth), their politics (Webley) and their plain stupidity (Sidney Quarles). Even the minor characters are mocked for their foibles. There is discussion of art and life and science but it all seems to slide under the mocking of everyone, which Huxley does, of course, supremely well.

Publishing history

First published 1928 by Chatto & Windus