|Aldous Huxley: The Novel of Ideas
Lector univ. dr. Marinela LUPŞA
Universitatea “1 Decembrie 1918”,Alba Iulia
The novel of ideas deals with “the drama implicit in an idea which becomes explicit when it is shown as a point of view; there is the drama of ideas rather than of persons, the drama of individualized ideas.”
The novel of ideas is a narrative form, one in which the standards are not fixed beyond alteration, or removal. It assumes a diversity of mood and intonation, but it is careful not merely to label its characters. They are not allegorical figures, for there is no single thing which the drama of their interaction is designed to illustrate. The novel which Philip Quarles wants to write is a novel of diversity in points of view, in each of which the intellectual nature is modified by the local circumstances governing it.
Such a novel has a development, which consists of the demonstration in terms of human events of the effects of a point of view upon the person who holds it. The drama implicit in an idea becomes explicit when it is shown as a point of view which a person holds and upon which he acts. There is never any fixed struggle between right and wrong, or between true and false, from which we are supposed to get the comfort we can or want.
The novels of ideas contain men of different temperaments and attitudes within the scope of one narrative. The chief objective of the novelist of ideas is to dramatize the conflict of opinions of these attitudes in his novel. Each character has given him a point of view drawn from the prevailing intellectual interests of his creator. Thus, the character stands, moves, or falls. In this type of novel there is the drama of ideas rather than of persons, or the drama of individualized ideas. The requirements of these novels of ideas is rather simple. One is to get these people together in one place where circumstances are favourable to a expression of intellectual diversity. The drawing room, the party, the dinner-these are points of structural focus. To supplement them, there are the notebooks (as in Point Counter Point), correspondence which serves as a substitute for conversation and varies the narrative procedure, the accidental meeting of two or three persons, who continue their discussions.
The best examples of the novel of ideas are Huxley’s novels of the 1920’s.He did not
always use this form; nor is any of his novels purely a novel of ideas. The works which mark the
development of Huxley as a novelist: ”Crome Yellow”, ”Antic Hay”, ”Point Counter Point”, are novels of ideas. The position, the point of view of the Huxley character is usually revealed in the course of Huxley’s discussion of his tastes, his intellectual preferences, his manner of behaving himself in the society of his fellows. Thus, the idea which is to demonstrate becomes in the novel the point of view he adopts-or actually is.
In his “Point Counter Point”, Aldous Huxley has Philip Quarles occasionally noted in his notebook random observations on the craft of fiction. This may be considered a kind of handbook for a study of “the novel of ideas”-not the novel which uses them for characterization and other qualities of the traditional narrative.
These passages from the notebook are valuable because they reveal Huxley as artist and thinker. They are peculiar for the way in which they illuminate an art form almost specific to the twentieth-century literary history. This note, is a “state of principle” for the novel of ideas.
“Novel of ideas. The character of each personage must be implied; as far as possible, in the ideas of which he is mouthpiece. In so far as theories are rationalizations of sentiments, instincts, dispositions of soul, this is feasible. The chief defect of the novel of ideas is that you must write about people who have ideas to express, which excludes all but about 01per cent of the human race. Hence the real, the congenital novelists don’t write such books. But then, I never pretend to be a congenital novelist”.(Point Counter Point,p.326)
The notion that ideas might take precedence over characters in a novel seems no less than unusual; and of this reaction , Philip is himself aware:
“People who can reel off formulated notions aren’t quite real, they’re slightly monstruous. Living with monsters becomes rather tiresome in the long run”.
Huxley has often demonstrated in his novels the fact that ideas may possess qualities which are comparable with those which animate persons-and this particularly in a period of time when ideas are not fixed, calculated or limited by canons of strict acceptance. Ideas, as they are used in Huxley, possess dramatic qualities.
Therefore, the ideas of Philip Quarles are very interesting. Philip is in a special sense “a modern intellectual”. He finds a greater charm in ideas than in persons. In the world of human relationships he is “curiously like a foreigner, uneasily not at home among his fellows finding it
difficult or impossible to enter into communication with any but those who could speak his native
intellectual language of ideas”.
He meets each personal word, each expression of feeling or intimacy, with a generalization, one which includes his own circumstances and indicates understanding but is removed from the danger of immediate participation. His reaction to the personal circumstances which demand intimate contact for their proper treatment is an understanding. All of which distresses Philip’s wife, Elinor, who is often hurt by his kind indifference and puzzled rather than made happy by “his occasional and laborious essays at emotional intimacy, but who is also attracted by his intelligence”, that quick , comprehensive, ubiquitous intelligence that could understand everything including the emotions it could not feel and the instincts it took care not to be moved by”.
Philip’s unwillingness to be involved in the affairs of ordinary people has no small relevance for his attitude toward his art. For him, persons are either specimens, or statistics, or demonstrations-anything which can be lifted from the personal to the abstract. Philip’s idea of personality is substituted for actual evidence of personality; ideas are acted out by characters, or demonstrated by them; and finally, a character often assumes monstruous appearance of such a demonstration. He becomes a caricature, which incorporates the furthest possible human demonstration of an attitude with certain grotesque inadequacies of person to which his bizarre creator condemns him.
Philip is a man of great sensitivity to philosophies and points of view. He is capable of accommodating each in its turn. This “generosity toward influences” is in essence a kind of ever-shifting eclecticism, as a result of which each form of thought may at one time attract him and then be deserted for some other:
“The essential character of the self consisted precisely in that liquid and undeformable ubiquity; in that capacity to espouse all contours and yet remain unfixed in any form; to take, and with an equal facility efface, impressions. To such moulds as his spirit might from time to time occupy, to such hard and burning obstacles as it might flow round, submerge and, itself cold, penetrate to the fiery heart of, no permanent loyalty was owing. The moulds were emptied as easily as they had been filled, the obstacles were passed by. But the essential liquidness that flowed where it would, the cool indifferent flux of intellectual curiosity-that persisted and to that his loyalty was due”.
But for the novelist of ideas, this point of view is ideal, though it is necessary. At one time in Huxley’s career, this it is which both Philip Quarles and his creator upheld. The true way of looking at things is “multiplicity”, says Philip to his wife on one occasion. Each point of view differs from one another; and all are valid. A large and ample demonstration of the several approaches to morality serves to bring one as close to truth as one may get. “Multiplicity of eyes and multiplicity of aspects seen; says Philip. “For instance, one person interpret events in terms of bishops, another in
terms of the price of the flannel camisoles; another , like that young lady from Gulmberg”, he nodded after the retreating group, “thinks of it in terms of good times. And then, there is the biologist, the chemist, the historian. Each sees professionally, a different aspect of the event, a different layer of reality. What I want to do is to look with all those eyes at once.”
“Point Counter Point” is more deliberately planned; the novel seems at least to have given each of its points of view some beginning, middle, and end. By interweaving these points of view, giving them a thematic structure, Huxley has placed a large premium upon his view of supplementary ideas. It is interesting how the several points of view are acted out, tested as the novel were, in the modern world, and the limitations of each are demonstrated in the individual fates of the persons who hold them. Spandrell, is himself not concerned with large social issues, lends courage to Illidge, scientist-Communist, so that Webley, Fascist, comes to a violent end. Lord Edward’s devotion to science is free, because he chooses it to be, of embarrassing complications which Illidge suffers through involvement in political action. He has instead what his assistant calls “a shameful and adulterous passion for idealistic metaphysics.” In each case, the point of view, which becomes quite clear very early in the novel, is so given as to form an essence of responsibility for the action consequent upon differences of opinion and opposing.
“Put a novelist into a novel”-that is what Philip advises himself in his notebook. He justifies aesthetic generalizations, which may be interesting-at least to me. He also justifies experiment. Specimens of his work may illustrate other possible or impossible ways of telling a story. And if you have him telling parts of the same story as you are, you can make a variation on the theme.”
Philip is talking here of novelist as one of the characters, not of the novelist, not of himself. He doesn’t consider it wise to set up the novelist in a place of authority, so that the other character may consult him on occasion about what they are to do next, or how to feel about what they have just done.
The author of a novel of ideas is a person of such greater interest in his own novel; his presence is more obvious, too. In the case of Huxley, there is a close interaction of the essayist with the novelist. They parallel each other for a time; they frequently supplement each other. The essayist is a kind of “supply station”, to which the novelist has recoursed. He is the novelist who steps where necessary. Huxley’s chiefly reputation is that of the novelist. In another sense, Huxley is the essayist-commentator upon twentieth-century morals and ideas. Just as his characters are often subordinate as persons to the ideas or points of view they express, so Huxley’s novels as a whole are mere carriers for the “load” of ideas which their author must retail.
The essayist’s attempt to give life to his ideas leads to the novel of ideas. In the course of Huxley’s
development as novelist, the characters of his creation are carried through his novels, supported almost always by the essayist. Feelins, such as those mixed feelings with which Walter Bidlake contemplates his mistress. These are points of view. To illustrate, Bidlake’s conquest of Lucy Tentamount proceeds by stages of speculation and comment, the essayist explaining and analyzing to the last detail of sentiment.
Walter, says Huxley, “treated Lucy ; not as the hard, ruthless amusement-hunter he had so clearly recognized her as being before he became her lover, but as an ideally gracious and sensitive being, to be adored as well as desired, a sort of combined child, mother, and mistress, whom one should maternally protect and be maternally protected by, as well as virilely and-yes !- faunishly make love to.”
There follows an elaborate essay on sensuality and sentiment based upon the relationship between Walter and Lucy, but a separate thing as well, an essay on the subject, broken to allow a further demonstration of the points it is making. Aldous Huxley says:
“This is a situation worthy of lengthy comment, because it illustrates what I have long thought to be true of modern moralities. Let me speak my mind, and in a short while see that I am right in my analysis.”
Then, the essay begins:
“Sensuality and sentiment, desire and tenderness are as often friends as they are enemies.” A comment generalized from experience not real but imagined, projected upon the essayist’ s scene; the comment in itself is a generalization:
“Walter’s desire to justify his longings by love was only, on final analysis, the articulately moral expression of his natural tendency to associate the act of sexual enjoyment with a feeling of tenderness, at once chivalrously and childishly self-based.”
Lucy and Walter-sensuality and sentiment, touching each other, and then separate,isolated points of view, their inherent conflict resorted after a brief moment of self-indulgent union.”Living modernly’s living quickly”, says Lucy to Walter, as if to underline finally the fact that sensuality and sentiment don’t mix well:
“You can’t cart a wagonload of ideas and romanticisms about with you these days. When you travel by air-plane, you must leave your heavy baggage behind. The good-old-fashioned soul was all right when people lived slowly. But it’s too ponderous nowadays. There’s no room for it in the air-plane.”
In the novels of the 1920’s, the essayist in Huxley strode along with the novelist. Beginning with “Eyeless in Gaza”, the essayist far exceeds the novelist. Why? The novel of ideas
requires an equilibrium. Once the novelist deserts this position, his novels may become essays almost purely, the narrative itself being an exposition rather than a dramatization of ideas. This is what happened in Huxley’s later novels. He is alternately a caricaturist and an essayist; no longer a novelist of ideas but a philosopher. Anthony Beavis and Miller in “Eyeless in Gaza” are persons to whom Huxley gives the responsibility of his later novels.
Huxley’s novels of the 1920’s are novels of ideas-ideas put into a world in which they may test themselves. These novels are an expression of the vitality of ideas in the 1920’s, but at the same time they are a testimony of the “intellectual confusion” of that period. Most important of all, the novel of ideas are really portraits of the age.
At a moment Philip Quarles shows the “defect” of the novel of ideas: ”the great defect of the novel of ideas is that it’s a made-up affair.”
Huxley himself was aware of the dangers of the novel of ideas; the same with Andre Gide (The Counterfeiters”). The difference is that Aldous Huxley went ahead and wrote such novel of ideas, like his author Philip Quarles; Andre Gide left the novel of ideas to his author Edouard, and he himself wrote a novel about men.
An interesting parallel is the idea, held by both Edouard and Philip, of constructing a novel on the anology of a musical composition. This idea appears in Gide’s novel:
“What I should like to do, understand me, is something like the Art of the Fugue.I don’t see why what was possible in music should not be possible in literature…”
In his novel Huxley describes Bach’s suite in B minor, for flute and strings, in terms of human emotion “In the human fugue these are eighteen hundred million parts. The resultant noise means something perhaps to the statistician, nothing to the artist. It is only by considering one or two parts at a time that the artist can understand anything. Here, for example, is one particular part; and John Sebastian puts the case”. There is also a passage in which, just as Edouard defends his plan to skeptical Bernard, Philip Quarles defends his plan to his wife. She thinks the novel he is proposing will be” rather too queer”. Like Andre Gide in “The Journal des Faux-monnaqueurs” , Philip contends that it cannot be too queer. Because the queer it is, the more it will be true to life:
“However queer the picture is, it can never be half so odd as the original reality. We take it all for granted; but the moment you start thinking, it becomes queer. And the more you think, the queerer it grows. That’s what I want to get in this book-the astonishingness of the most obvious things. Really, any plot or situation will do. The whole book could be written about a walk from Picadilly Circus to Charing Cross”.
It is a particular new “way of looking at things”; this makes Huxley still closer to Gide. The novel as such is the precisely type of novel that Huxley is undertaking to write in “Point Counter Point”.
1.Huxley,Aldous, -Point Counter Point, Modern Library Edition. New York: Random House, 1928
2. Daiches,David, -The Novel and the Modern World, Chicago Press,1939
3.Hoffman,Frederick,J., -Aldous Huxley and the Novel of Ideas, Forms of Modern Fiction: Essays Collected in Honor of Joseph Warren Beach, ed. Millan Van O’Connor. Mineapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1948, Pp. 189-200