by Sybille Bedford ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 1, 1974
*** It would be hard to think of a literary biography of even approximate magnitude -- Holroyd's Strachey -- this is almost as long -- was inherently limited by the fever blister curiosity of the man; Quentin Bell's ""purely historical"" Virginia Woolf retained a deliberate reserve. Mrs. Bedford's spacious work is informed by a forty-year friendship with the Huxleys and all the resources (letters, documents, etc.) -- it is also enlightened by her affectionate understanding of that ""multiple amphibian"" (Aldous"" nagging conception of man). Aldous who as a child was called Ogie, short for Ogre, was a pretty boy already ""contemplating the strangeness of things."" Different, like all the Huxley boys who ""looked green -- they didn't eat."" One committed suicide -- Aldous grew up to become an ageless adult early on. The fastidious, under-feeling, scientific rationalist contended that ""Luckily people don't leave much trace on me."" How untrue. He fell in love, exclusively in love, with Belgian Maria Nys, just a slip of a gay, soignee girl for whom he waited more than two years. It is Maria, the self-effacing, supportively devoted wife of thirty years who pervaded his life as she does this book -- the wife who at the end appraised him as honest and good but ""sad to live with."" Indeed, difficult -- particularly during the years when he was plagued by his poor vision or his insomnia or his writing. Until circa 1933, he changed his points of reference -- making the volte-face from ""reason jusqu'au bout"" to the search for spiritual reality, a faith without any designated direction-finders, a ""divine serenity and goodwill"" as well as a simultaneous existence in parallel worlds where he hoped to find the best of each. Mrs. Bedford makes almost seamless transitions from the spoken or written sources to her own interpretations -- not only of his life but of the books as they appeared -- placing them in relation to his intellection and increasingly gnostic but confirmed humanitarian beliefs. The personal material is marvelous -- the scenes at Garsington where Lady Ottoline presided with her bizarre elegance, or all over with the Lawrences (D.H. liked Maria, Aldous found Frieda stupid) or countercircling the ""Haute Coulture"" of the emigre Moans. Or later in Southern California where Aldous found increasing serenity and stability (via whatever -- meditation, mescalin, parapsychology, etc.) and where Maria died having already ""thought ahead"" and prepared the way for Laura Archera (charitably? subdued here). Mrs. Bedford's portrait is much, much more than just a ""truthful and coherent account of the life of Aldous Huxley."" Perfectly appointed, graced with inconspicuous tone and style, this is a real occasion -- one to be attended with tremendous pleasure and admiration.
Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1974
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1974
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