I wrote an article some time ago about the “International book day”.
Well in that day I was at Carturesti library and they gave me a book for reading something in their library (If you are curious what, I read “Happy people read and drink coffee” by Agnes Martin-Lugand. I will come back later with an article about it) and I received “Antic Hay” by Aldous Huxley. It was the first time I had read a book of his.
The book was published in 1923 by Chatto & Windus publishing house, having 328 pages (the current version only has 281, maybe the size of the writing differs).
The book presents the life of Theodore Gumbril, a village teacher who feels that he fills the head of his students with nonsense. He decides to go to London to try his luck with his new invention the pneumatic pants (trousers which contain a pneumatic cushion in the seat).
When he gets to London, he realises that the city after the war is not as he used to know it. It is more likely a world with no values and full of snobs caught in the wave of hedonism, each one in the search of personal glory. In the attempt to seem important, they often fall in the trap of ridiculous, offering to the others the possibility to grow their contempt and feel superior. The selfishness of each character seems to grow with each chapter, and the hypocrisy also.
The characters resort many times to the idea of love, although they do not really feel it, maybe with the purpose to seem more sensible and more human.
Each one tries to impose his point of view so that they could be above others. Poor, sick or old people were seen with contempt. They provoke “real loathing”.
At some point Bruin, the partner of miss Viveash, is remembering a song his grandfather was singing:
“Rotten be the people, cursed be the people, to hell with the lower classes”.
There were also passages that I found quite interesting. One of them was a monologue of Coleman:
“Did it ever occur to you […] that in this moment we are walking in the middle of seven million people distinct and separate, each one with his distinct and separate life and all of them completely indifferent to our existence? Seven million people, each one considering himself as important as we consider ourselves. Millions of them are sleeping now in a contaminated atmosphere. Hundreds thousands couples are engaged right in this very moment with mutual caressing in a too hideous manner for our thoughts,but in no case different than the one in which one of us is making, full of pleasure, passionate and wonderful, his similar act of love. Thousands of women are now in the throes of childbirth and, from both sexes, thousands of people die because of the most diverse and awful diseases or simply because they lived too much. Thousands are drunk, thousands are full of food, thousands haven’t eaten enough because they didn’t have nothing to eat. And all of them are alive, all are unique and distinct and sensible, like me and you. It is a horrible thought. Oh if I could only take all of them to that big centipede pit.”
When you start reading it, you have the impression that he really thinks at the good of other people, but in the end you have the disappointment that he only thinks about himself and no one else. And most of the characters share more or less the same thoughts.
Another passage that I found interesting was the one recited by Miss Viveash from the painting catalogue of Lyppiat:
“A painting is a chemical combination between the plastic and the spiritual form”.
Many passages are recited in Greek, Latin, French or Italian, proving once more the intention of the characters to seem more interesting. There are many cites from the bible or from famous poems so that the person could seem cult and intelligent.
As The Saturday Review of Literature said in a review, “There are passages in Attic Hay of a pure and rhythmic beauty: passages so fine, so just that they move one like good music”.
An interesting fact is that the novel was banned for a while in Australia and burned in Cairo because of its cynicism and for its immorality on its open debate of sex
The book in my opinion has many meanings, and the reader must have the power to understand what the author wanted to say. Otherwise he will fall into the trap that it is not very beautiful or that they didn’t understand nothing, that the characters are empty and the intrigue is missing. But in fact the intrigue is in the characters, not in the actions.
My recommendation would be that the reader should document a bit about Aldous Huxley and about the book itself before reading it. With that being said, I would recommend it sincerely.
© picnicontheshelf, May 28, 2018