Saturday, March 26, 2011

Brave New World

I'm now re-reading Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley, in this Harper Perennial Modern Classics edition with back cover blurb reminders that it is terribly pertinent still today. Ack, it is!

It is a dystopian novel that first came out in 1932, but it does anticipate a world built on self-centered and money-based values we have now in a future he imagined, satirically, then.

Workers and citizens tend not to have a say, as they are genetically engineered and socially predestined.

I'm only on page 27 of this re-reading, having first read it in my teens--and will re-read again, as this, like Genesis and Willa Cather, is for shared-inquiry discussions with Great Books Chicago in April--but already I see shocking connections to now.

"A love of nature keeps no factories busy," says the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning, explaining why babies are being taught to hate and fear roses.  "It was decided to abolish the love of nature, but not the tendency to consume transport."  Nature is free.  Cars, gas, and other consumer goods keep the economy going.  Oh, yes, and time is figured as A.F. in the brave new world: After Ford. (It's all coming back to me now.)

The society and the economy also run on: "Standard men and women; in uniform batches." Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons, a biological class system, specifically: "The principle of mass production at last applied to biology." People no longer live in small families with a "mother" and a "father" (now "smut" words) but are raised in appropriate groups according to society's needs.

So it's icky and funny and makes you think and re-think. There are technologies Huxley couldn't predict--card files for record-keeping instead of computers--but it's a good way to think about drastic changes during his time, after one world war and just before another, and ours.

Horribly, discussing the need to replenish the population to produce more workers after "unforeseen wastages," Mr. Foster of the hatchery says, "If you knew the amount of overtime I had to put in after the last Japanese earthquake!"

Moments like that in this book make me cringe. In addition, I now read it in the light of Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, which both my mother and father (not smut words; instead, terms of respect and love!) have now read. And the Matrix movies.

The Wikipedia article on Brave New World shows us the blue first edition cover and traces Huxley's inspirations and (disputed) influences, including that he "found a book by Henry Ford on the boat to America." I love details like that, showing how what's at hand comes together in a piece of writing.

And how the title comes from Shakespeare--Miranda exclaiming on the beauty of humans in The Tempest--and a Kipling poem that contains these lines:  And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins / When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins...

My husband came to bed last night, finding me immersed in Brave New World, with updates on the nuclear power plant in Japan. Alas, as great writers keep suggesting, the man who doesn't pay for his sins commits future generations to that awful debt.


Nick said...

Had to read it in high school - ok, but preferred Dickens!

Collagemama said...

You keep adding to my must-read list, but instead I must-pay bills.

Vatingui is the verification today.

Anonymous said...

In putting today into context, I've been dipping back into the 1930s, too, reading Huey P. Long's autobiography "Every Man a King" ( and T. Harry Williams' biography "Huey Long" ( Next on the reading list, for another view of the question of how much evil a man may do in pursing good, and what that does to you: Robert Penn Warren's "All the King's Men" (

All that reading, because today's policies seem closer to Andrew Mellon's recommendation to Herbert Hoover: "liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate farmers, liquidate real estate… it will purge the rottenness out of the system. High costs of living and high living will come down. People will work harder, live a more moral life. Values will be adjusted, and enterprising people will pick up from less competent people." For some reason, it turns out that the "enterprising people" define who is "less competent" - and liquidate them - while still enjoying "high living" (a la a certain crop of new governors, and their supporters).


Kathleen said...

Fascinating, Bob, as always! I have been having the urge to read All the King's Men, which I think I can borrow from my parents (excellent library) or the public library, having giving up buying books for Lent!