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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

"Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley

A dystopia? Everyone in the world is happy. Babies are hatched, genetically manipulated and brainwashed into five castes, the clever alphas and the sub-human epsilons who do the donkey work. Everyone belongs to everyone else and everywhere there is guilt-free promiscuous sex. There is no disease. There is no ageing. People work, play, and take soma, the wonder drug that just keeps them happy with no ill effects.

Some places are different. There are some savage reservations (“A savage reservation is a place which, owing to unfavourable climate or geological conditions, or poverty of natural resources, has not been worth the expense of civilizing.” p 141) where aboriginals live brutish lives. On one of these lives John, born to a mother from the civilized world who found herself trapped on the reservation by accident. And when Bernard and Lenina vacation on the reservation they bring John and his mother back. John, educated on Shakespeare, is eager to see this brave new world that hath such creatures in it. But he can't cope. There is no solitude. Life has no meaning. “Nothing costs enough here” he complains. (p 211)

And he is in love with Lenina. She wants to sleep with him. But she will do it for fun. He wants to marry her and feel the passion of love. As Margaret Attwood's foreword puts it “Never were two sets of desiring genitalia so thoroughly at odds.” (p ix)

We wish to be as the careless gods, lying around on Olympus, eternally beautiful, having sex and being entertained by the anguish of others. And at the same time we want to be those anguished others, because we believe ... that life has meaning beyond the play of the senses and that immediate gratification will never be enough.” (p xvi)

It wasn't the threat of genetic manipulation that scared me, though I know that that is what the tabloids fear. For me the scary thing was that this brave new world is what we seem to have created. In the book it is immoral to mend things because throwing away and buying new keeps industry profitable. People work and shop and play games and then their sensibilities are number by entertainment that has none of the passion of great art. Even the sports they play have to use lots of expensive equipment. It keeps industry profitable. For me the scary vision of the Brave New World was the capitalist society of consumption that we have already created. Has it already stripped the meaning from our lives?

But perhaps the originality of Brave New World is that it is so hard to criticise the dystopian society presented. As Mustapha Mond, the world controller, puts it to the Savage, is he really claiming "the right to be unhappy"? “Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.” (p 212) Is it worth all that just to give life 'meaning'?

Lines I loved:
  • “Wintriness responded to wintriness.” (p 1)
  • The light was frozen, dead, a ghost.” (p 1)
  • Not philosophers, but fret-sawers and stamp collectors compose the backbone of society.” (p 2)
  • "The air was drowsy with the murmur of bees and helicopters.” (p 25)
  • Family, monogamy, romance. Everywhere exclusiveness, everywhere a focusing of interest, a narrow channeling of impulse and energy. But everyone belongs to everyone else.” (p 34)
  • Mother, monogamy, romance. High spurts the fountain; fierce and foamy the wild jet. The urge has but a single outlet. My love, my baby. No wonder those poor pre-moderns were mad and wicked and miserable. Their world didn't allow them to take things easily, didn't allow them to be sane, virtuous, happy.” (p 35)
  • Liberty to be inefficient and miserable. Freedom to be a round peg in a square hole.” (p 40)
  • ‘Oh, oh, oh!’ Joanna inarticulately testified.” (p 72)
  • five minutes later roots and fruits were abolished; the flower of the present rosily blossomed.” (p 90)
  • They disliked me for my complexion. It's always been like that. Always.” (p 100)
  • It never used to be right to mend clothes. Throw them away when they got holes in them and buy new ... Isn't that right? Mending’s anti-social.” (p 104) 
  • He did genuinely believe that there were things to criticize. (At the same time, he genuinely liked being a success and having all the girls he wanted.)” (p 136)
  • One of the principal functions of a friend is to suffer ... the punishments that we would like, but are unable, to suffer upon our enemies.” (p 156)
  • As though death were something terrible, as though anyone mattered as much as all that!” (p 181)
  • You can't make tragedies without social instability.” (p 193)
  • Being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.” (p 195) 
  • Every discovery in pure science is potentially subversive.” (p 198)
  • Industrial civilisation is only possible when there's no self-denial. Self Indulgence up to the very limits imposed by hygiene and economics. Otherwise the wheels stop turning.” (p 209)

October 2017; 229 pages

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