by Aldous Huxley

Primroses and landscapes have one grave defect: they are gratuitous. A love of nature keeps no factories busy.”

BRAVE NEW WORLD COVI eagerly snarfed down Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in my early teens, and positively devoured Atwoods’s The Handmaid’s Tale aged 20 – both titles significant to my youthful understanding of totalitarian regimes – but it has taken half a lifetime for me to finally read Aldous Huxley’s 1932 work of speculative fiction, Brave New World.

‘Why so long?’ you might ask. My answer, I’m afraid, is somewhat vague: I recall reading a particularly scornful disquisition on the novel by a once popular critic, which may account for my initial reluctance, then, I suppose, there were all the other (seemingly more important) books waiting to be read. Neither of which are adequate explanations, I know, but they are the best I can offer.

Whatever my reasons for deferring Huxley’s satirical take on a futuristic world of genetically modified citizens and an intelligence-based social hierarchy, I found his witty prognostication surprisingly entertaining, not to mention deceptively lighter in tone than the two previously mentioned novels.

Brave New World is set in the city of London in AF (After Ford) 632 (2540 CE in the Gregorian calendar ), within a World State built upon the principles of Henry Ford’s My Life and Work, i.e. mass production, uniformity, predictability and an insatiable consumption of disposable consumer goods. Its people are scientifically engineered through artificial wombs, the children subjected to indoctrination programmes from birth, and all individuals are predestined to belong to a particular ‘caste’. Different classes of citizens are designed for varying purposes (Alpha-Plus being at the top of the pile) – some doing humdrum tasks while others work in laboratories or sit behind desks – but all are designed to be content with their lot, existing together in peaceful, narcotized, eroticized, worry-free harmony.

Huxley’s utopian society may seem blissful; indeed, it is for the majority of its people, especially those living within ‘civilized’ settlements. However, there are anomalies – perhaps caused by minor chemical input errors at the test tube stage – which render individuals such as Bernard Marx, a sleep-learning specialist at the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, discontented and inclined to mild subversion. Then there are those on the outside, such as the natives of Malpais, a Savage Reservation in New Mexico, where marriage, natural birth, family life and religion are still practiced – the source of much childish mirth to new worlders.

When John, the illicit son of the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning and a woman he long ago abandoned in the wilderness, is invited by Bernard to return with him to London from Malpais (where he was born and reared) for scientific purposes, the young, highly moralistic ‘savage’ is horrified by what he finds and becomes the catalyst for a series of unwelcome developments.

My 2004 Vintage paperback copy boasts two Introductions; the first by Margaret Atwood and the second by the late Professor David Bradshaw. There is also a 1946 update included from Huxley, in which he writes: “All things considered, it looks as though Utopia were far closer to us than anyone […] could have imagined. Then, I projected it six hundred years into the future. Today it seems quite possible that the horror may be upon us within a single century.”

He was seemingly much influenced by the novels of H. G. Wells as well as the effects of Britain’s 1931 Depression. He used science fiction to give voice to commonly held concerns about loss of identity and the quickening pace of the world. Following a visit to the USA, he was also disturbed by the apparent inward-looking nature of many Americans.

Brave New World is an ironic take on the ultimate consumerist society controlled by a seemingly benevolent dictatorship. It was courageous in its time, continues to be prophetic in many ways and is deeply unsettling – even to this 21st century reader. In short, it is a wonderfully clever utopian, dystopian masterpiece.

We haven’t any use for old things here. Particularly when they’re beautiful. Beauty’s attractive, and we don’t want people to be attracted by old things. We want them to like the new ones.”


Categories: Sci-Fi / Speculative Fiction, The Classics Club

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42 replies

  1. 1984 and Brave New World were gloomy reads in college. They still hold up well though. Reluctant to read Atwood—sounds too dark for my current tastes.

  2. Having worked in advertising and marketing that final quote gave me shivers.

  3. Now, of course, I’m older and wiser so I must re-read Huxley’s book.

  4. Beautiful review, Paula. So incredibly thoughtful. It amazes me, too, how these classics continue to be timely, no matter how much “time” passes.

  5. I usually read either ‘Brave New World’ or ‘1984’ every year because they’re two of my favourite books. I don’t know if you’ve read Zamyatin’s ‘We’ – if you haven’t, I’d highly recommend it, as it was part of Orwell’s inspiration behind ‘1984’ and is a well-written insight into totalitarian regimes and Zamyatin’s fears regarding Soviet Russia . This was a wonderful review, Paula!

  6. I’m sad to admit that I really struggled to get into this one and eventually gave up after a few chapters. Perhaps the mood just wasn’t right? I’m so intrigued by the premise of this book that I think I should give it another try.

    • I’ve had the same experience, Kathy, with books that appear to be admired by everyone else. Sometimes I’ve tried again at a later date and enjoyed them, but others never really fire my imagination. Such is life!

  7. Do you know, I have read Brave New World, but I don’t think I absorbed any of it – it was at least a decade ago – and I’d really like to revisit it. Not to mention H.G. Wells, of whose work I’ve read almost nothing except for The War of the Worlds (and which, similarly, seems not to have absorbed properly).

    • I know what you mean, Elle. You need your absorbing head on to read some books! 🤯

      • This seems to be a common theme with things that I read as a young teenager: I read a lot, and fast, but often lacked life context, so there are a few things I know I’ve read but retained very little of. Wells and Huxley aren’t the only victims – Catch-22 is another, and random popular books like Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which I obviously picked up just because it was there.

      • It’s funny you should mention Catch 22 because I really couldn’t get into that book and abandoned it less than half way through. I often wonder if I should try reading it again – perhaps I was in the wrong frame of mind on my first attempt. I read and enjoyed Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five a couple of years ago (which I didn’t expect to like), so it’s quite possible.

      • Slaughterhouse-Five has a very different vibe to its prose style, but yeah – it might just need another attempt. (I’ve tried Independent People by Halldor Laxness three times now, to no avail, but am told it is worth pursuing!)

  8. Great review Paula. It’s so long since I read this I can remember little, but as someone who loves Orwell and “We” I should revisit it soon. “We” is excellent – I can recommend it too.

  9. Another great review! It is odd how some Americans can be insular at the same time as facing the future in technological terms.

    Despite the precedents, I don’t know how Huxley was so prescient. His poetry is what moves me most (Song of Poplars):

    When it comes to totalitarianism, I’m old enough to recall that it was the Soviet Union that smashed the Nazis and that the Red Army probably saved the lives of some of my Jewish ancestors. The sad degeneration of the Bolshevik Revolution is different from the rise of Nazism as the history books tell us so well.

    If you like Brave New World, you should try Huxley’s Island- it’s more of an acquired taste, but worthwhile nonetheless.

  10. I read Brave New World as a teen, and was quietly horrified to learn that when my husband got to OCS for the Navy, they put him in “Delta.”

  11. I enjoyed Brave New World, when I read it in my teens. This was probably because I was idealistic, a Shakespeare fanatic, and I empathized with ‘the savage’ deeply. The book also did not hit the reader over the head with its ‘lesson’ as some of the others did, leaving an impressionable mind free to extrapolate what truly resonated. It was entertaining, as well as thought-provoking–qualities I appreciate in all of my reading. However, it has been many years, since that first (and even second) reading, and your post has inspired me to see what I glean from it, with a third reading.

  12. Great review 🙂 This is one I still haven’t read and must get to at some point. I haven’t any memories of 1984 but Animal Farm was very unsettling, and I suspect this will be too.

  13. I’ve also read 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale, but not got round to this one yet… I really should though!

  14. Like Kaggsy, I read this many years ago and really feel I should re-read it, although there’s only so much dystopia I can take at the moment. Great review Paula!

  15. Like you, it took me a long time to read this after both you mentioned above. I almost wish I would’ve read it prior to Atwood or Orwell because it would’ve made those that much better to me.

  16. I need to read this. Will come back and read it properly then. Thanks for the reminder to read it.


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