DAWN AND THE DARKEST HOUR: A Study of Aldous Huxley by George Woodcock

DAWN AND THE DARKEST HOUR: A Study of Aldous Huxley

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KIRKUS REVIEW

When the microcosm is sick,"" wrote Aldous Huxley of Leopardi, ""the macrocosm is liable to be infected with its disease."" He might as well have been speaking of himself. Though Huxley came from a celebrated family and grew up in an Edwardian world of culture and privilege, he had a traumatic adolescence, overshadowed by an ocular disease and by the deaths of his mother and younger brother. His career is famously complex: a brilliant and satirical novelist of ideas; a popular journalist and essayist on scientific and political subjects; a prophet of the future (Brave New World); a pioneer of psychedelic experimentation (The Doors of Perception). After the First World War, Huxley immersed himself in the modern malaise as few men of letters have done -- but then he had no choice. He was a man plagued by excessive intellectual curiosity and a withdrawn melancholic nature. The conflicts of his own life continually forced him to confront the problems of the age. To some, of course, he has become passe. But in a striking and encompassing critical biography, George Woodcock persuasively asks us to reconsider Huxley's works as ""a movement out of darkness towards light,"" the stages of ""a spiritual pilgrimage,"" where the hedonist and the guru, doomsday centralization and communitarian decentralization, the multifarious themes and counter-themes of his fictions and nostrums, ultimately cohere: ""the progress of a dedicated generalist seeking to bring all knowledge into a synthesis that will give total meaning to existence."" No doubt, that is too large a claim; Huxley can be inconsistent or merely provocative. Still, the dramatic range of his characters and the encyclopedic quality of his thought do offer, in Woodcock's acute analyses, markers of what we've gone through and guideposts to what may come.

Pub Date: June 7th, 1972
ISBN: 1551642840
Publisher: Viking