Title: Brave New World
Author: Aldous Huxley
Genre: Science Fiction / Dystopian Fiction / Classics
Publisher: Vintage Classics
Started: 10th June 2016
Completed: 11 June 2016
Summary: Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society. Through clever use of genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs, all its members are happy consumers. Bernard Marx seems alone harbouring an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations, where the old, imperfect life still continues, may be the cure for his distress…
Aldous Huxley is best known for writing Brave New World but he also wrote non-fiction, essays, short stories, poetry, travel writing, and even film scripts. Huxley was a humanist, pacifist, and satirist. He was interested in the effects of psychedelic drugs on the human body and this inspired him to write The Doors of Perception.
Brave New World was published in 1932 and it was inspired by the utopian novels of H. G. Wells, including A Modern Utopia, despite being a dystopian novel or a ‘negative utopia’. Brave New World is often compared to George Orwell’s 1984 but it actually provides a wildly different vision of the future, a future that I used to consider less realistic than the one depicted in 1984. The book also draws inspiration from many other figures including Shakespeare, Henry Ford, and Sigmund Freud.
Unlike many of the other classics on my shelves I’ve only read this book twice. Once in 2010 and once in 2016. This is because I absolutely hated this book when I first read it. I didn’t like the plot, the characters, or the writing. However, I was 16 at the time so I can be excused for bad taste (although I did still love 1984, Dracula, and other amazing novels when I was 16). However, I really enjoyed reading it the second time around. This could be because I’m older or it could be because I was just more open-minded but it doesn’t really matter because I finally gained an appreciation for this novel.
I really enjoyed the plot of this book because it feels unique. The World State controls everything about society in Brave New World from the abolition of natural reproduction to providing people with an abundance of material goods. This all contributes to a society that we cannot recognise as marriage, romantic relationships, parenthood, and natural pregnancy are too vulgar to discuss in polite conversation but drug taking and orgies are readily accepted.
People are split into different castes by the World State before they’re even bred. The breeding of children, and later the education of these children, predestines them to fit into one of five ranked castes, from Alpha (the highest) to Epsilon (the lowest), and each of these castes has a different role within the society of Brave New World. Alpha and Beta foetuses are allowed to develop almost naturally, well as naturally as they can in a situation like this, but the others, Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon, are pumped full of chemicals during their development to stunt their growth and intelligence. It’s all very creepy and it’s like a very scary version of IVF (I’m not against IVF at all, by the way).
In contrast to this society there is a society that we would recognise because it is our society. Our way of life, natural birth and monogamous relationships, has been classified as ‘savage’ and people who live this type of life are exiled. It’s almost scary when you read about your own type of society dwindling away into nothing and being cast out from the rest of society. This is one part of the novel that really hit home because we often talk about threats to our lifestyle, our ideals and beliefs, and to our society as a whole but the main threat, at least according to Huxley, is ‘progress’. The idea that we will essentially wipe out our whole society and belief system through the use of technology and in the name of ‘progress’ is pretty scary.
I love that the title is a Shakespeare quote as the phrase ‘brave new world’ comes from The Tempest. Miranda, who has been sheltered her whole life by her father, finally meets new people who are all terrible but since she is so sheltered she exclaims ‘O wonder!/How many goodly creatures are there here!/How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,/That has such people in’t.‘ This was always intended to be ironic but Huxley takes it to a new level when he implies that the old ‘savage’ world is actually something new and beauteous after the World State has tried so hard to eradicate it. There’s actually a fair amount of Shakespeare in this book as John, a natural born human, is taught how to read through the works of Shakespeare and scientific manuals. John can only express his feelings in terms of Shakespearean tragedies which is incredibly odd.
The characters were an odd mix. Some of them represented the old world and some represented the new world and this collision of two worlds makes for very interesting character relationships. I didn’t like some of the characters but that’s because they were the embodiment of the society that the World State had created. Although there were only three major female characters I felt like there was a good balance of different personalities and social statuses in the novel. I hated the idea of the Freemartins though. It made me feel sick.
Huxley’s writing style is always something that I’ve struggled with. It seems almost detached and lacking emotion which I seem to have a problem with. His writing is clear and concise, his description is excellent, and I love the world that he builds. It’s just a bit cold for me but that could be a reflection of the topic he’s writing on and the types of characters that he has created.
I’d highly recommend this book. It’s a unique dystopian universe, very different from the dystopias created today, and it’s an incredibly engaging book. Re-reading this book gave me a whole new appreciation for it and I really do like it now.