Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)
Aldous Huxley was born on July 26, 1894, into an illustrious family. His maternal great-grandfather was Thomas Arnold, a former Head of Rugby School who had been involved in modernising the education system, and appeared as a character in Tom Brown's Schooldays. His paternal grandfather was Thomas Henry Huxley, who had been a great biologist and fellow of the Royal Society. It was later confirmed, as one might expect, that this heritage put some pressure on Huxley. Gerald Heard, a life-long friend and confidant, later said that Huxley's parentage "brought down on him a weight of intellectual authority and a momentum of moral obligations."
Huxley went to Eton in 1908 and studied there until 1913, during the course of this time getting an eye infection which would plague him for the rest of his life and hearing of his mother's death from cancer. Despite these setbacks, he went on to join Balliol College, Oxford, graduating with first class honours in English Language and Literature. While at Oxford, he joined literary circles, coming into contact with writers such as Bertrand Russell and Lytton Strachey, as well as becoming a close friend of D H Lawrence's. It was, no doubt, by their inspiration that he published his first book in 1916, a collection of poems.
After graduating, Huxley took a job as a teacher, and married Maria Nys, a Belgian, in 1919, having his only son, Matthew Huxley, by her in 1920. This young family travelled the world, alternating between living in London and Italy in the early 1920s and around the whole world in the latter part of the century. His visit to America inspired him in his description of the perpetual happiness attempted in Brave New World, his magnum opus.
Perhaps the defining inspiration for the novel, however, was Huxley's time spent in Italy under Mussolini, who fought against birth control in an attempt to increase the size of the army in preparation for the next war. The book was published in 1931, and paints a picture of a dystopia, much like George Orwell's 1984, although Orwell in his writing had the benefit of hindsight to the Nazi regime, and Huxley was later to say of the comparison between the two novels: ""The future dictatorship of my imaginary world was a good deal less brutal than the future dictatorship so brilliantly portrayed by Orwell."
Aldous moved to America, disenamoured with the 'Europe of dictators' of the time, and there he moved to Hollywood, where he became a screenwriter. In 1946, he wrote The Perennial Philosophy, his most important non-fictional work.
In the 1950s, Huxley became notorious for his affinity with LSD. One reason for his experiments, according to friends, was the feeling of escaping from himself, a desire he had had as a child when he felt alienated. He wrote several books on his experiences, including the non-fiction works Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell, based on his experiences with taking mescaline under supervision. His (mis)adventures also inspired him to fiction, leading to the creation of Island, which can be seen as an antidote to Brave New World. In this novel, the islanders take psilocybe mushrooms in a ritualistic manner.
Huxley wrote 47 books in his career. Maria Huxley died in 1955, and he married Laura Archera a year later. He died on November 22, 1963, and was cremated. Anthony Burgess said of him that he 'equipped the novel with a brain'.