Review of Brave New World (1932)


Aldous Huxley (writer).

Read in 2016.

Following a catastrophic “Nine Years’ War”, literate civilization purposely minimizes religion, privacy, ambition and critical thinking, including both complex art and science. This has achieved social and political stability and an almost universal belief that all people are happy. Surrogates for pregnancy and violence provide a dysteleological substitute for the forms of deeper emotion that would be destabilizing. Childhood conditioning and the deliberate production of a “semi-moron” caste makes the majority of people unaware of the possibility of change. Promiscuity and collective frivolity are universally encouraged. The material standard is kept high. For anything that might trouble you in spite of all these advances, there is a perfect drug called soma.

A classic dystopia.

The plot temporarily grinds to a halt to provide the unlikely backstory of Linda and John. I would have preferred a descendant of discontents who moved to the reservation (or one of the islands) on purpose and brought Shakespeare with them on purpose, instead of Jesus-figure John. Some scenes, particularly John with the vacant Lenina, read like awkward sexual fantasies. As a result it’s a bit of a slog up to the police raid and the beginning of Mustapha Mond’s methodical explanation.

Mond spells it all out with intelligence, providing a reasoned defence except that he nonsensically admits to theism. Precisely what Huxley has against the World State isn’t clear, perhaps not even to the author, and this is what makes the novel interesting and chilling. Huxley certainly made an effort to imagine the benefits. As for the supposed drawbacks, these are tied to antiquated notions of psychology and religion.

The use of language, in particular the stigmatization of the word “mother” as one that is expected to frighten women, is mostly intelligent, but much less integrated than in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).

References here: Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), Fahrenheit 451 (1953), “Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB” (1967), Always Coming Home (1985), “The Masterpiece Society” (1992), The Hunger Games (2012).

text fiction