Tuesday, May 25, 2010

356. Crome Yellow – Aldous Huxley

History: This book was published in 1921. In the book, Huxley satirises the fads and fashions of the time. Crome Yellow is in the tradition of the English country house novel, as practiced most notably by Thomas Love Peacock, in which a diverse group of characters descend upon an estate to leech off the host. They spend most of their time eating, drinking, and holding forth on their personal intellectual conceits. Huxley's novel, however, has slightly more actual events and far more delineation of character than Peacock's novels -- which is interesting considering Huxley's tendency in most of his other novels to lecture at great length.
Also of interest is a brief pre-figuring of Brave New World. Mr. Scogan, one of the characters, describes an "impersonal generation" of the future that will "take the place of Nature's hideous system. In vast state incubators, rows upon rows of gravid bottles will supply the world with the population it requires. The family system will disappear; society, sapped at its very base, will have to find new foundations; and Eros, beautifully and irresponsibly free, will flit like a gay butterfly from flower to flower through a sunlit world."
Crome is very much a reflection of Garsington Manor, a refuge for pacifists and refugees during the First World War, and the home of Lady Ottoline Morrell. She was a great supporter of nascent literary talent, including Huxley himself, and liked to be surrounded by artists and intellectuals, so the fictional gathering at Crome is certainly autobiographical; often a fascinating aside to first novels. At a loose end after leaving Oxford University, Huxley moped around at Garsington hoplessly smitten by a very young Belgian refugee with lesbian tendancies, Maria Nys.
Plot: On vacation from school, Denis goes to stay at Crome, an English country house inhabited by several of Huxley's most outlandish characters--from Mr. Barbecue-Smith, who writes 1,500 publishable words an hour by "getting in touch" with his "subconscious," to Henry Wimbush, who is obsessed with writing the definitive "History of Crome". Denis's stay proves to be a disaster after his weak attempts to attract Anne, the girl of his dreams. The characters make the novel, and the history behind Crome, the festival, as well as the embarrassment Denis has to endure. In the end, Mary, an intellectual however emotionally devoid companion, talks him into leaving, because of his hopeless love and jealousy for Anne.
Review: A group of landed English aristocrats spend time in one of their mansions, taking walks, talking about history and politics, and trying to pair up. This particular mansion is called Crome, and it has some fun history. I especially liked the story about the three sisters who wouldn't eat in front of other people; one of them was blackmailed into marrying the man who discovered them gorging themselves in a secret room. The book is virtually plotless, but the characters are fun.
Opening Line: “Along this particular stretch of line no express had ever passed.”
Closing Line: “He climbed into the hearse.”
Quotes: "Perhaps, in the future, when machines have attained to a state of perfection--for I confess that I am, like Godwin and Shelley, a believer in perfectibility, the perfectibility of machinery--then, perhaps, it will be possible for those who, like myself, desire it, to live in a dignified seclusion, surrounded by the delicate attentions of silent and graceful machines, and entirely secure from any human intrusion. It is a beautiful thought."
Rating: Good.

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