Biography of Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)
Aldous Leonard Huxley was born on July 26, 1894 in Surrey, England, as the third son of Dr. Leonard Huxley and Julia Arnold. Huxley was born into a long line of scientists and intellectuals. His grandfather Thomas Henry Huxley had the nickname “Darwin's Bulldog” for his fierce defense of evolutionary science and for his passion for teaching Victorian scientific advancements to Britain's working classes. Aldous Huxley was also related to the poet Matthew Arnold on his mother's side of the family. These two disciplines, literature and science, converged at the end of the Victorian era and characterize Huxley's own career and ambitions as an author, journalist, and humanist.
Educated at Eton, Aldous Huxley was forced to leave the school at the age of seventeen due to an affliction of the eyes. He was partially blind for two or three years and therefore was unable to complete the rigorous scientific training he had undertaken. Though problems with his eyes would remain with him for the rest of his life, Huxley was able to attend Oxford where he received a degree in English literature.
Huxley's career began in journalism and included music and artistic criticism as well as book reviews. He also began writing poems, essays, and historical pieces. Huxley's first introduction to British intellectual society occurred while working as a farm laborer at Garsington Manor, the site of the “Bloomsbury Society,” a group of public intellectuals that included Bertrand Russell. There he would marry Maria Nys and they would have one child, Matthew Huxley. He also wrote his first book, a volume of poetry called The Burning Wheel. While working as an editor for “House and Garden” during the1920s, Huxley wrote many novels including Brave New World.
Huxley spent several years in Italy where he formed a friendship with D.H. Lawrence. They would remain close friends and Huxley would later edit Lawrence's collected letters after his death. In 1937, Huxley moved back to the United States to live in Hollywood, California, where he helped write scripts for several Hollywood movies of the time, although he never had a lasting career in movies. After World War II, he famously became involved with the early psychedelic drug movement. Huxley was an early proponent of the use of LSD, mescaline, and peyote for their mind-altering effects. His 1954 book The Doors of Perception argued that through the use of psychedelic drugs, people would be able to “cleanse” the doors of perception in order to embrace the infinite reality of the world.
A controversial figure for most of his life, Huxley died from cancer on November 22, 1963, only hours after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas. By the time of his death, he was embraced in some circles as an intellectual and writer of the highest class, especially for his creation of the dystopian fantasy in his novel Brave New World and his engagement of the theme of commercialization in modern society. Others, however, saw him as a pseudo-scientist for his work in mystical traditions and his insistence on experiencing alternate realities through meditation, Eastern religions, and drug use. For his accomplishments, Huxley received the Award of Merit for the Novel from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1959.