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Archive for the ‘Aldous Huxley’ Category

Patrick Fermor mentions enjoying  Huxley’s Antic Hay in one of his wonderful travel books, and I picked it up. Lord, such a withering vision, of loss and uselessness. While Fermor was tramping across Europe in that tenuous time between the wars, Huxley stayed in England, transfixed by the  brilliant society about him –so clever, so silly, so self infatuated–and so doomed. The book is so amazingly witty and at the same time so completely filled with despair that it takes some effort to read it. It struck me that the times so mordantly transcribed  in Antic Hay exactly coincided with  Bertie Wooster’s–but such a different vision. Wodehouse doesn’t despair, not ever–though he knows about it, of course: “Freddie experienced the sort of abysmal soul-sadness which afflicts one of Tolstoy’s Russian peasants when, after putting in a heavy day’s work strangling his father, beating his wife, and dropping the baby into the city’s reservoir, he turns to the cupboards, only to find the vodka bottle empty.” Not that Huxley doesn’t also make you chuckle, but he is so intensely scornful of the foolish schemes and self delusions of the lost souls whose story he tells–chilling, rather.

Nancy Cunard, the model for Myra Viveash

Nancy Cunard, the model for Myra Viveash

Gumbril, our hero–if we can call him that– is a schoolmaster, who quits his job for the delights of London, and for the opportunity to gain riches with his amazing invention, Gumbril’s Patent Small Clothes–pneumatic trousers, with an inflatable seat to provide a way for those with meagre hams to rest comfortably on the most unforgiving surfaces. Artists, poets, con men, lovely ladies, and other scholars come into the story, and it all ends unhappily, of course, but with much entertainment along the way. I read a very involved review of the book which gave some interesting background, pointing out that the characters–in particular, the beauteous and lost Myra Viveash–were based on people the author knew, some of them fairly notorious for various society high jinks.

A very clever book indeed, though charged with melancholy.
Quote here.

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