Review: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Bentley’s Grade: A+

Title: Brave New World
Author: Aldous Huxley
Publisher and Date: Arcturus Publishing Ltd. 2018 (Originally published in 1932 by Chatto & Windus)
Pages: 220
Genre: Dystopian Fiction

Brief Summary:
Bernard Marx is unhappy, even though in the year AF632 “everybody’s happy nowadays.” Despite all his Alpha-Plus conditioning, no amount of soma, the feelies, readily-available women, or Orgy-Porgies can make him forget how abnormal he is compared to the rest of the people in his perfectly bottled and engineered caste. To distract himself, he decides to take a trip with a girl he wants to have. Marx and Lenina Crowne travel to a Savage Reservation in America, excited to experience an “uncivilized” part of the world; however, they find an unexpected surprise soon after arrival. They promptly return to London, where the lines of what constitutes “civilized” and “uncivilized” behaviour become blurred. 

I certainly don’t need to review Brave New World, but I so enjoyed it and wanted to share a few thoughts with you. I can see why the novel has been, and continues to be, so popular because the issues Huxley manages to bring to the forefront are just as relevant today as they were in 1931. I can also see how influential Huxley has been on subsequent dystopian fictions (think Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, or George Orwell’s 1984. The novel seems to have even influenced the writers of the TV series Orphan Black; for example, the director of the DYAD institute is named Aldous Leekie, and the opening scene of the first episode takes place at Huxley station.)

Now, I’ve read Shakespeare’s The Tempest at least a dozen times, discussed it in my honours thesis, written a graduate paper on it, watched the film adaptation, and seen it performed live at the Stratford Festival and at Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan; hence, my utter embarrassment when I admit to you that I did not connect the title of this novel to the play. I highly recommend taking the time to read a selection of Shakespeare’s plays prior to reading Brave New World because any familiarity with the plays, which are integral to the plot, will add a rich layer of understanding and enjoyment to your experience of the novel—it certainly did for me. If you only have time for one play, let it be The Tempest. I’d recommend following that with Hamlet and Othello. (And if you’re really keen, read King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, and Richard III next.)

O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, 
That has such people in’t! (The Tempest)

If you’ve read The Tempest, then you’ll remember Prospero’s cautionary words in regard to Ferdinand’s goodly appearance: “To the most of men this is a Caliban / And they to him are angels.” When we first meet John in Brave New World, he clearly sees himself as the Miranda character, excited by Bernard and Lenina’s similar faces and ready to go back home with them. But by the end, he realizes that this brave new world is not as goodly as it seems. I would venture to say that John is actually the Caliban character, or rather the “savage” brought back to London to be put on display just as Trinculo considers doing with Caliban: “Were I in England now, / as once I was… they will lazy out ten [pieces of silver] to see a dead / Indian.” Interestingly, another similarity between Caliban and John is their high command of the English language, having both been taught by the “civilized” newcomers. At times, John also sees himself as Hamlet—since, like Hamlet, he considers both his mother and Lenina to be whores. I could go on and on, but you probably don’t want to read an essay.

“Words can be like X-rays, if you use them properly—they’ll go through anything. You read it and you’re pierced” (64).

Brave New World is the type of novel that reminds me why I love university English classes. The novel is very philosophical and thought provoking; I mean, there’s so much to discuss: religion, death, autonomy, consumerism, capitalism, genetics, eugenics, normalcy, racism, Freud, sexuality, beauty, ageing… the list of topics is seemingly endless. It has much that I want to tease out and discuss in the company of other well-read people as they often force you to see the text in different, and sometimes even more exciting, ways.

I don’t really have much to critique, and my one complaint is rather minor. I found Chapter 3 very disorienting owing to the rapid and unmarked shifts between the two and then three difference scenes, and would have appreciated some sort of visual marker to differentiate them. A minor issue, right? 

I definitely recommend you give Brave New World a read, if you haven’t already. Let me know your thoughts in the comment box below! 

Suggestions for further reading/viewing: 
The Fixed Period by Anthony Trollope (1882)
1984 by George Orwell (1948) 
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)
The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)
Orphan Black (2013-2017)

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