Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Huxley conundrum

I few months ago, I posted some thoughts on Orwell's "Down and Out in Paris and London", a book I thought deserved more than just fame as having been written by Mr. Orwell. Now I do the same for an author often compared to Orwell - Aldous Huxley.

In the list of books we tend to lie about, even unrelated books such as "The Selfish Gene" and "Dreams From My Father" trumped the famous "Brave New World", while the book often viewed to be its rival, "1984", reigned supreme. Huxley's novel was published years before Orwell's, yet despite being better written, more coherent, enjoyable, and all-out better, it is "1984" that time and time again gets the fame. Perhaps unjustly.

How so? Well, I've now read 3 Huxley novels and 3 Orwell novels, two dystopia types among both. Even where Huxley flubs on fluid writing, he brings forth fascinating thoughts and complex ideas ("Island"). And where he ignores plot, he instead brings forth clever, delightful writing, bringing readers to the heart of characters' lives ("Point Counterpoint"). I was originally frustrated by "Point Counterpoint"'s lack of plot, but after now finishing "Island", I think it's part of Huxley's inconsistencies as a writer. Yes, both books were enjoyable reads (though "Island" took a bit of time to plod through), but neither held a candle, in my mind, to the brilliance and wit of "Brave New World".

But where is "Brave New World"? I hadn't even heard of it until I was maybe 15 years old, but I'd heard my entire life about George Orwell and "1984". I read the two books in the same month and was immediately struck by how Orwell's writing was heavy-handed and dull, but Huxley's managed to suck me straight into the book. Later, when I asked others, they agreed - "1984" could have done with a good edit and "Brave New World" was the better book.

Does this mean Huxley is not recognized? Hardly. He is clearly known for his writing, most especially for "Brave New World". And while Orwell should, in my mind, be judged by every book other than "1984", Huxley should be judged by "Brave New World", clearly the best of his books that I've read so far.


  1. It has been years since I read them both (and I am not lying!) but I do remember liking Brave New World a lot...while I only reading 1984. Honestly, I couldn't really tell you another book that he wrote. Perhaps I should give one of his other books a try.

  2. I agree with you that Brave New World has the better writing- Huxley was a brilliant prose stylist. I'm not sure why 1984 is more famous but I think part of the reason may be that it gets taught more in schools, because some of the sexual and drug content on BNW renders it less suitable for children. But there are probably other reasons too!

  3. I went through a period (must have been related to some course in school) in which I knocked down these books (1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451) in rapid fire. Your review makes me want to return to Huxley, though I shudder to think how many of his dark predictions are reflected in society today.

  4. I agree. Huxley is a beautiful craftsman, but "Brave New World" has some plot problems. Orwell, on the other hand, is a little clumsier with prose but I think has a better grasp of plotting. I didn't read Huxley until like 2 years ago! I think all the sex in "Brave New World" kept it out my high school curriculum!


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