On vacation from school, Denis goes to stay at Crome, an English country house inhabited by several of Huxley's most outlandish characters--from Mr. Barbecue-Smith, who writes 1,500 publishable words an hour by "getting in touch"
with his "subconscious,"
to Henry Wimbush, who is obsessed with writing the definitive "History of Crome"
. Denis's stay proves to be a disaster after his weak attempts to attract the girl of his dreams, and endures the ridicule regarding his plan to write a novel about love and art. Lambasting the post-Victorian standards of morality, Crome Yellow
is a witty masterpiece that, in F. Scott Fitzgerald's words, "is too ironic to be called satire and too scornful to be called irony."
Regardless of what it was meant to be, this novel, from a 21st century viewpoint is socially-advanced fiction. The moral and intellectual viewpoints of the curious bunch of characters that inhabit it are so far removed from the accepted attitudes of the 1920's that its impact at that time must have been weakened by incomprehension. The apparently vapid main character, is subjected to such a barrage of opinions from his fellow guests at Crome, an isolated but civilised country house, that he departs even more irresolute and confused than when he arrived a few days earlier. How familiar this is to we few media-saturated inhabitors of the present who can find time to read a book! As with all works more than forty years old it helps if the reader has some feeling for historical context. Crome is very much a reflection of Garsington Manor, a refuge for pacifists and refugees during the First World War, and the home of Lady Ottoline Morrell. She was a great supporter of nascent literary talent, including Huxley himself, and liked to be surrounded by artists and intellectuals, so the fictional gathering at Crome is certainly autobiographical; often a fascinating aside to first novels. At a loose end after leaving Oxford University, Huxley moped around at Garsington hoplessly smitten by a very young Belgian refugee with lesbian tendancies, Maria Nys. He would certainly have met Lady Ottoline's rather domineering lover, the philosopher Bertrand Russell. Needless to say, all appear mutatis mutandis in Crome--I just couldn't resist that Huxleyan touch! It means 'with necessary changes'). Approach Crome Yellow as you would a painting by Rene Magritte; it is surreal yet civilised. A Magritte-like character even tells a story within a story, and a cynic cross-dresses to seduce a country maiden, so maybe it's not all intellectual chat. One thing is very striking. All the players get along fine. Crome could be the stereotypical setting for a Twenties murder mystery, but these eccentrics express their views, listen politely, and depart amicably.--Submitted by John Rowland
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