Capable biography capturing the English writer in his many guises: artist, aesthete, acidhead, even happy and well-loved man.
Born in 1894, Huxley died on the day JFK was assassinated; understandably, news of his passing was buried deep inside the papers, and soon he was all but forgotten save as a kind of psychedelic prophet, thanks to his consciousness-expanding experiments with LSD and mescaline in the 1950s. But in his time he had acquired considerable fame for such fiction as Point Counter Point and After Many a Summer Dies a Swan, better liked by general readers than critics. In between his many novels, Huxley wrote travel journalism, essays, and eccentric philosophy that blended his psychotropic voyages with the wisdom of the East by way of southern California (“Like everyone else,” he wrote, “I am functioning at only a fraction of my potential”). Only a few of his 50-plus books are now in print, though he is well-known for (and, really, only for) the dystopian Brave New World. Murray makes a good case for Huxley’s value as a writer on a level with at least some of the Bloomsbury crowd; Virginia Woolf, it happens, was an early champion, though she warned in print that “we would admonish Mr. Huxley to leave social satire alone, to delete the word ‘incredibly’ from his pages, and to write about interesting things that he likes.” His biographer also finds reason to criticize Huxley’s work (as did the self-aware author himself) for its didacticism and undervaluing of plot and drama in favor of proselytizing on such matters as the generation gap and the dangers of totalitarianism. Nonetheless, Huxley emerges from Murray’s pages as a decent, contented, and pleasant person whose life and work merit our regard.
A useful addition to Sybille Bedford’s two-volume authorized life of Huxley, drawing on letters and memoirs that have surfaced in the 30 years since its publication.