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Authors: Aldous Huxley

Antic Hay

BOOK: Antic Hay
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About the Book

About the Author

Also by Aldous Huxley

Title Page


Aldous Huxley (1894–1963)


Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

Chapter XI

Chapter XII

Chapter XIII

Chapter XIV

Chapter XV

Chapter XVI

Chapter XVII

Chapter XVIII

Chapter XIX

Chapter XX

Chapter XXI

Chapter XXII


About the Book

When Theodore Gumbril hits upon the notion of designing a type of pneumatic trouser (‘a comfort to all travellers, indispensable to first-nighters, the concert-goers' friends') to ease the discomfort of the sedentary life, he decides the time has come leave his position as a housemaster in a boys' public school and seek his fortune in the metropolis. But post-First-World-War London seems to be gripped by a fever of hedonism. Gumbril is soon caught up in the delirious world of aesthetes extraordinaire Mercaptan, Casimir Lypiatt and the thoroughly civilised Myra Viveash, and finds his burning ambitions are beginning to lose their urgency–A contemporary commentator coined the word ‘futilitarian' to describe the type of desultory, pleasure-seeking intellectual Huxley pinned so mercilessly to the literary map in Antic Hay. Wickedly funny and deliciously barbed, the novel epitomises the glittering neuroticism of its decade.

About the Author

Aldous Huxley was born on 26 July 1894 near Godalming, Surrey. He began writing poetry and short stories in his early twenties, but it was his first novel,
Crome Yellow
(1921), which established his literary reputation. This was swiftly followed by
Antic Hay
Those Barren Leaves
(1925) and
Point Counter Point
(1928) – bright, brilliant satires of contemporary society. For most of the 1920s Huxley lived in Italy but in the 1930s he moved to Sanary, near Toulon.

In the years leading up to the Second World War, Huxley's work took on a more sombre tone in response to the confusion of a society which he felt to be spinning dangerously out of control. His great novels of ideas, including his most famous work
Brave New World
(published in 1932 this warned against the dehumanising aspects of scientific and material ‘progress') and the pacifist novel
Eyeless in Gaza
(1936) were accompanied by a series of wise and brilliant essays, collected in volume form under such titles as
Music at Night
(1931) and
Ends and Means

In 1937, at the height of his fame, Huxley left Europe to live in California, working for a time as a screenwriter in Hollywood. As the West braced itself for war, Huxley came increasingly to believe that the key to solving the world's problems lay in changing the individual through mystical enlightenment. The exploration of the inner life through mysticism and hallucinogenic drugs was to dominate his work for the rest of his life. His beliefs found expression in both fiction (
Time Must Have a Stop,
1944 and
1962) and non-fiction (
The Perennial Philosophy
, 1945,
Grey Eminence
, 1941 and the famous account of his first mescalin experience,
The Doors of Perception
, 1954).

Huxley died in California on 22 November 1963.


Crome Yellow

Those Barren Leaves

Point Counter Point

Brave New World

Eyeless in Gaza

After Many a Summer

Time Must Have a Stop

Ape and Essence

The Genius and the Goddess


Short Stories


Mortal Coils

Little Mexican

Two or Three Graces

Brief Candles

The Gioconda Smile
(Collected Short Stories)


Grey Eminence

The Devils of Loudun


Along the Road

Jesting Pilate

Beyond the Mexique Bay

Poetry and Drama

The Burning Wheel


The Defeat of Youth


Verses and a Comedy

The Gioconda Smile

Essays and Belles Lettres

On the Margin

Proper Studies

Do What You Will

Music at Night

Texts and Pretexts

The Olive Tree

Ends and Means

The Art of Seeing

The Perennial Philosophy

Science, Liberty and Peace

Themes and Variations

The Doors of Perception

Adonis and the Alphabet

Heaven and Hell

Brave New World Revisited

Literature and Science

The Human Situation


For Children

The Crows of Pearblossom

Antic Hay
Aldous Huxley
With a Foreword by
David Lodge
And a Biographical Introduction by
David Bradshaw


Antic Hay
was one of the first adult modern novels I read. I still possess the vermilion and white Penguin edition, published in 1948 at one shilling and sixpence, that I bought secondhand two or three years later, when I was a sixth-former at a Catholic grammar school, preparing to take A levels and nourishing secret literary ambitions of my own. Huxley's novel made a powerful impression on me, and I carried bits of it in my head for the next forty-odd years: the joke about the key to the Absolute, for example, and Gumbril's inflatable trousers, and the image of Rosie, pink and naked on Coleman's bed, glimpsed by her surprised former lover from the open front door of Coleman's flat.

It was probably the sexual promiscuity of Huxley's characters, so different from the moral climate of the lower middle class Catholic subculture in which I grew up, that most excited my adolescent imagination. Though reticent by today's fictional standards,
Antic Hay
seemed almost as daring in the late Forties and early Fifties as it must have done in 1923 when it was first published. The character of Coleman, inventively blaspheming, and insisting on the essential degradation of the sexual instinct even in the act of satisfying it, was a particularly exciting component of the novel; and on reacquaintance his seduction of Rosie, at once funny and erotic still seems one of its high points.

But I learned about more than just the sexual mores of London's Bohemia in the Twenties from
Antic Hay
. I learned about modern art and French literature and Wren's architecture and many other things. I greatly extended my vocabulary. Re-reading the novel in middle age, I found it still stimulated and stretched the mind, and had me reaching several times for the dictionary. No doubt much of it was over my head in adolescence, but I was entertained even when I did not fully understand. Huxley was always a formidably clever writer, but in
Antic Hay
(and in its precursor
Crome Yellow
) he carried his learning more lightly than in his later novels.

Antic Hay
is not a strongly plotted novel. It holds the reader's attention by the energy and wit of its prose, and the extravagant behaviour of its characters. Their dissipation, ennui and despair are observed with such cool detachment and sparkling humour that the effect is exhilarating rather than depressing. One of the best things ever written about the novel was by Evelyn Waugh, in a symposium published in the
London Magazine
in 1955. ‘It is placed in London in springtime,' Waugh wrote. ‘The weather, page after page, is warm and airy and brilliant . . . No character in
Antic Hay
ever uses the telephone. They write letters, they telegraph, they call, and there are always servants to say “not at home” to bores. It is Henry James's London possessed by carnival. A chain of brilliant young people linked and interlaced winds past the burnished front doors in pursuit of happiness. Happiness is growing wild for anyone to pick, only the perverse miss it.'

Waugh slightly discounted the philosophical and moral pessimism which underlies the euphoric high spirits and frantic partying of
Antic Hay
– what one might call its ‘Wastelandism', remembering that T.S. Eliot's poem had appeared just a year before. Perhaps Waugh was anxious to stress its difference from his own early novels, like
Decline and Fall
Vile Bodies,
for the resemblances are very clear: there is the same mixture of satire and farce, of culture and anarchy, and the same metropolitan setting where high society, bohemia and the bourgeoisie mingle and collide. The early novels of Iris Murdoch (especially
Under the Net
) and of the Amises
père et fils
also remind one intermittently of
Antic Hay.
Huxley's novel made a seminal contribution to one of the most cherishable strains in English fiction – the intelligent comic novel.


ON 26 JULY 1894,
near Godalming in Surrey, Aldous Leonard Huxley was born into a family which had only recently become synonymous with the intellectual aristocracy. Huxley's grandfather, Thomas Henry Huxley, had earned notoriety as ‘Darwin's bulldog' and fame as a populariser of science, just as his own probing and controversial works were destined to outrage and exhilarate readers and non-readers alike in the following century. Aldous Huxley's mother was a niece of the poet and essayist Matthew Arnold, and he was a nephew of the redoubtable Mrs Humphry Ward, doyenne of late-Victorian novelists. This inheritance, combining the scientific and the literary in a blend which was to become characteristic of his vision as a writer, was both a source of great pride and a burden to Huxley in his formative years. Much was expected of him.

Three traumatic events left their mark on the young Huxley. In 1908 his mother died of cancer, and this led to the effective break-up of the family home. Two years later, while a schoolboy at Eton, Huxley contracted an eye infection which made him almost completely blind for a time and severely impaired his vision for the rest of his life. The suicide of his brother Trevenen in August 1914 robbed Huxley of the person to whom he felt closest. Over twenty years later, in
Eyeless in Gaza
(1936), Huxley's treatment of the death in the main character's mother and his embodiment of ‘Trev' in the novel as the vulnerable Brian Foxe give some indication of the indelible pain which these tragic occurrences left in their wake. To a considerable degree, they account for the darkness, pungency and cynicism which feature so prominently in Huxley's work throughout the inter-war period.

Within months of achieving a First in English Language and Literature at Balliol College, Oxford in 1916, Huxley published
The Burning Wheel.
Huxley's first collection of verse, and the three which followed it,
The Defeat of Youth
(1918) and
(1920), reveal his indebtedness to French symbolism and
fin de siècle
aestheticism. Also discernible, however, beneath the poetry's triste and ironic patina, is a concern with the inward world of the spirit which anticipates Huxley's later absorption in mysticism. These volumes of poetry were the first of over fifty separate works of fiction, drama, verse, criticism, biography, travel and speculative writing which Huxley was to produce during the course of his life.

BOOK: Antic Hay
6.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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