Huxley completed his first (unpublished) novel at the age of 17 and began writing seriously in his early 20's. His first published novels were social satires, beginning with Crome Yellow (1921). Huxley satirises the fads and fashions of the time. It is the story of a house party at Crome, a parodic version of Garsington Manor, home of Lady Ottoline Morrell, a house where authors such as Huxley and T. S. Eliot used to gather and write. The book contains a brief pre-figuring of Huxley's later novel, Brave New World. Mr. Scogan, one of the characters, describes an "impersonal generation" of the future that will "take the place of Nature's hideous system. In vast state incubators, rows upon rows of gravid bottles will supply the world with the population it requires. The family system will disappear; society, sapped at its very base, will have to find new foundations; and Eros, beautifully and irresponsibly free, will flit like a gay butterfly from flower to flower through a sunlit world."
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
Becoming once more aware of the outer world, he found himself on the crest of a descent. The road plunged down, steep and straight, into a considerable valley. There, on the opposite slope, a little higher up the valley, stood Crome, his destination. He put on his brakes; this view of Crome was pleasant to linger over. The facade with its three projecting towers rose precipitously from among the dark trees of the garden. The house basked in full sunlight; the old brick rosily glowed. How ripe and rich it was, how superbly mellow! And at the same time, how austere! The hill was becoming steeper and steeper; he was gaining speed in spite of his brakes. He loosed his grip of the levers, and in a moment was rushing headlong down. Five minutes later he was passing through the gate of the great courtyard. The front door stood hospitably open. He left his bicycle leaning against the wall and walked in. He would take them by surprise.--Chapter 1
I just finished reading Crome Yellow and found it very dull. I have read Brave New World several times and find it fascinating each time, but if I hadn't known better, I wouldn't have believed they were written by the same author. The writing style was so different; Crome was rambling and unfocused, while BNW was tight well-thought-out.
The previous person's comment that Crome Yellow had little or now story line to follow has peaked my interest. I would say that the story line was so simple and obvious that it could go unnoticed. The story line is exactly what Mr. Scogan "intuits" Denis' story line to be- a troubled artist trying to understand life and love. But that has almost nothing to do with the meaning of the story itself- which is of course why everyone like the book so much. What I find interesting is that the copy I have is very old (it has an add in the back for prints of Picasso for 10 cents, and claims the book is 35 cents, but I paid $2) and its front cover states that the book is "A bold exploration into love an sex, it is the modern classic which shocked and enlightened a generation" - What a rediculous mistake of a description- am I missing something? The book had nothing to do with sex, it had to do with Aldous Huxley expressing his philosophical ideas through Mr. Scogan and the interplay of characters and their ideas- it was almost completely satire, but for a few points that Mr. Scogan argued, that were in fact mostly satirical themeselves. The book was excellent, but not amazing, it was mearely good- In fact the ending was rediculous, if I handed in a story like this to my professor he would give me a B and ask what the story really meant- for all its satire and interesting characters Crome Yellow fails to present a truly coherent idea about anything- it flutters about in an attempt to get at existentialism but merely fails to do so. Denis is so rediculous a character and the book ends in such an unfinished sort of way, one wonders if Aldous simply got tired and stopped writing.
Listening to this book on tape I found to be very discombobulating.
It seems as if any kind of story line is subservient to the the author's scathing portraits of the main characters. That is not a criticism. In exploring the characters of the book, artists, writers and gentry, one is struck with the idea that Huxley has constructed a literary 'Ship of Fools' and is anxious to let the reader be exposed to each one in his/her turn. Lascerating satire.
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