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Aldous Huxley: After Many a Summer (US: After Many a Summer Dies the Swan)

This book was published nine years before The Loved One and it does seem that Waugh must have read this book. Both books mercilessly mock the Americans (not an original idea) but, in particular, they both mock the American idea of death and, especially, life after death. Both have a somewhat naïve Oxford graduate if not as the hero, then as a major character, who struggles to cope with American ways. However, while Waugh likes nothing better than to attack and satirise, Huxley is now in his American phase and looking at life (and death) in a different way.

The book starts with the arrival in Los Angeles of the Englishman, Jeremy Pordage (possibly named after the English mystic John Pordage). Pordage is taken to a huge modern structure, which looks like a medieval castle and is clearly based on William Randolph Hearst‘s San Simeon. The Hearst-like owner, Jo Stoyte, has made a fortune from oil but also has many other interests, including surreptitiously buying up land in the San Fernando valley, because of the water rights (shades of Chinatown!). He is now a widower and lives in his castle, with his doctor, the somewhat Machiavellian Sig Obispo who, with his assistant, Pete Boone, is doing research into aging and immortality, and his (Stoyte’s) girlfriend, Virginia Maunciple, a devout Catholic. There are doubtless assorted servants but they are entirely invisible, except for a passing reference to a secretary. The only other character is the Reasonable Man, Bill Propter, a former schoolfriend of Stoyte, who has now dropped out and lives out his dream of a Jeffersonian democracy (every man his own employer), though with a good dose of both realism and spirituality.

There is not much plot as Huxley hammers home the Propter point of view which is anti-capitalism and living the good life, with a dose of the Pete Boone point of view (left-wing and pro-Republic in the Spanish Civil War, which is going on during the course of the novel). Pordage is there to examine the Hauberk papers, a collection of papers that Stoyte has bought, without having any idea of what they are, from an impoverished and almost extinct English noble family. It is only at the end that anything interesting comes out of the papers, when the secret to a long life is revealed, as discovered by the Fifth Earl two hundred years ago and possibly still alive. While enjoyable this a slight work, with Huxley laying on his views about how we should live and satirising the Americans along the way.

Publishing history

First published 1939 by Chatto & Windus