Monday, May 2, 2016

After Many a Summer

"After Many a Summer..." is not, it must be said, one of Aldous Huxley's best novels for even a novel of ideas needs some form of plot to frame its intellectual explorations and this fable of a search for a means of prolonging life feels too contrived. The threads tend to come loose rather than weave a pattern.

Nevertheless it has many a good moment. The canvas of Los Angeles as the dilettante Jeremy is driven to meet the American tycoon (who is funding the quest for longevity out of a fear of death and consequent damnation) is Huxley at his observant satirical best. Mr Propter, the tycoon's only school friend and radical opposite, expounds Huxley's evolving emphasis on the need for spiritual liberation lucidly if in, as yet, unfinished form. The final denouement in the caverns under an English aristocratic house is suitably Gothic with the 5th Earl admirably demonstrating that longevity may not bring an upward cycle of self-improvement but a long slow spiral into decay.

However, two things linger in the mind most.

The first is Huxley's prescience where we even have Mr Propter singing (and practising) the virtues of solar power (and recognising that true democracy is dependent, as Jefferson argued, on the degree to which people exercised economic as well as political freedom). How he would have relished the potential decentralisation of energy production that new technology might begin to allow.

The second is the balance between pessimism and optimism, perfectly struck, as Mr Propter remarks if we take people as they are, often lost in either idealism or fear, we have little to hope for because both are driven by egotism (and recognising this is as true of the first as of the second is one of Huxley's great [and difficult] virtues) but if one focuses on each person's potential towards a seeing rinsed and cleansed, out of eternity and beyond a confining personality, what then would not be possible? This potentiality is at the heart of every authentic religion's heart (much as they fail to live from there) and is always, and continually, a cause for hope.

It was to light such candles of hope in the darkness that Huxley's later fiction existed and here is an early example of the taper being put to wick.

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