Monday 19 October 2015

RIP Book I: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Counting Brave New World for the RIP challenge is a bit of a joke because I started reading it in... June/July/August/a summer month where everything got a bit mushy because I was dissertating. As is my current pace of reading, I actually finished it last week, and oh man. It's so good.

So. A mini-tale. After my first meeting with my dissertation supervisor, I left past all the other English department offices and from one of them I heard this little exchange: 'So what do you want to write your dissertation on?' 'dystopian novels'. At this point, I don't think I'd even had time to finish any kind of novel since February (this was May) but this one remark set my soul on fire and made me want to go 'ME TOO!' Shakespeare be damned, and holy shit why did I even do an entire Masters on Shakespeare when my area of speciality is the 20th Century Novel?


Anyway. The point is that I was reminded how much I love a dystopia, and since the title Brave New World comes from The Tempest AND I had already read it, I figured I was allowed to read it as 'Shakespeare research' and not feel too naughty about it. And I think I must have forgotten how good it is because, I mean, it's pretty amazing. Brave New World is set in a world where Henry Ford is considered the supreme being, his production line method being the ultimate example for all facets of life in the dystopia. Babies are no longer born but created in test tubes, each foetus being given various chemicals and vitamins to determine if they will be a Delta, used for menial tasks, all the way up to alphas, who have a greater level of intelligence, but are as subject to the system as the Deltas.

Everything in this society is built to be consumed and thrown away, casual sex is hugely encouraged but parenthood is forbidden (prevented by the mass consumption of birth control), meaning that any close or non-shallow relationships between people is widely discouraged. It's a world where 'everyone belongs to everyone' and where everything is disposable and in many ways it's frighteningly close to today's society, just as all good dystopias should be. The way the past world, our world is seen in Brave New World is, in a sense, in taking things too seriously, that,

"Their world didn't allow them to take things easily, didn't allow them to be sane, virtuous, happy. What with mothers and lovers, what with the prohibitions they were not conditioned to obey, what with the temptations and the lonely remorses, what with all the diseases and the endless isolating pain, what with all the uncertainties and the poverty-they were forced to feel strongly. And feeling strongly (and strongly, what was more, in solitude, in hopelessly individual isolation), how could they be stable?"
Brave New World attacks these problems in modern life by ensuring that no one is alone, that no one feels anything too strongly, and if they do, there's a handy little pill called soma (which, to be fair, sounds amazing, and which is, quite upsettingly, the brand name of a muscle relaxant) that allows you to take a holiday from day-to-day life, which has already been sanitised so much as to not have any meaning anymore.

Brave New World is more than just world building, and its narrative is centred around one man's struggle to accept and fit into the world he has found himself in, as all good dystopias should be. What is especially interesting about Bernard, the sort-of hero of Brave New World, however, is that his dislike for the system is fairly soon revealed to be more of a general dislike for not fitting in, and when he is accepted more into people's lives, his hatred for his society fades almost completely. Compelling as this narrative is, however, it fades in relation to the terrifying and all too real society the novel takes place in, and as a result of this, Huxley seems completely comfortable letting Bernard's narrative fall to the side in many cases, and focusing in on the details of this society that are especially and completely fucked.

So. Although I am predisposed to like a good dystopia, I do really think that Brave New World is an exceptional one. More so than even 1984, the warnings it carries are completely relevant to today, and sometimes too close for comfort in terms of what are considered good ways to act and live. It's one of my very favourite dystopias, but more than that, I think it might be another one of those books that silently helped to form some of my deepest held ideas, about things like consumerism, drugs and just generally about the importance of maybe not being happy all the time, about letting the things that affect you ACTUALLY affect you rather than just ignoring them. The new world in Huxley's novel is practically the opposite of brave, but the living the way we do, with feelings? That might just be the bravest thing we can do.


  1. I actually wrote my coursework on dystopias for A-Level and wrote about Brave New World versus 1984, starting off about government control in each of the books but ended up being "wooo, spooky, look how they predicted the future in different ways!"

  2. I always think of Brave New World as 1984 but happy. And also kind of scarier what with all the stuff done to keep people happy and to not question things too much.