Book Worm: Are Huxley's ideas just too hippy-dippy?
Amid all the commerative documentaries and newspaper supplements that were released on the 50th anniversary of John F Kennedy's assassination, there was no mention of two famous writers who died on that same fateful day and who have had mixed posthumous fortunes.
It was understandable that the passing of CS Lewis and Aldous Huxley received scant media attention in the immediate aftermath of JFK's murder, but a half-century later Huxley remains a forgotten writer.
That looked like being Lewis's fate, too, though in recent years his literary standing received something of a boost – due partly to the movie adaptations of his Narnia chronicles and to a revived interest in his Christian musings, and helped also by the 1993 film Shadowlands, which, in Anthony Hopkins's affecting performance, portrayed him as a buttoned-up romantic figure who found love late in life only to have it cruelly wrenched from him.
But Huxley's reputation has been in the doldrums for decades. No one now reads his 1920s satirical social comedies (though I still have the Penguin Modern Classics editions of Crome Yellow and Antic Hay on my shelves), while even his most famous novel, Brave New World (1931), is ignored in favour of George Orwell's similarly dystopian fantasy Nineteen Eighty Four.
Perhaps it's because the Orwell book, though clearly the product of a tired and ailing writer, seems more relevant to contemporary concerns – especially our paranoia about erosions of freedom and individualism by all-controlling masters. Indeed, in the time of Wikleaks and Snowden, Orwell's nightmarish vision seems extraordinarily prescient.
And perhaps Huxley's vision of a genetically-engineered society made docile by enslavement to sex and drugs seems a bit too hippy-dippy for these cynical times, just as the aura of Huxley himself as an advocate of hallucinogenics faded with the demise of the flower-power California in which he resided during his later years.
But it's surprising that no one has made a movie of his imaginative and intriguing futuristic novel – after all, there have been two film versions of Nineteen Eighty Four.