Three notable men died on this date fifty years ago. Most of the attention on this anniversary belongs to John F. Kennedy, assassinated in Dallas by a lone communist (somehow it is necessary to use both the adjective and the noun to quash various conspiracy theories). A strong runner-up for attention is C.S. Lewis, who collapsed and died in his home, “The Kilns,” on the outskirts of Oxford, England, weakened by recent heart and renal ailments.
The third famous man to die on this day was Aldous Huxley, transplanted Englishman, who died in Hollywood, California, of cancer, at the last receiving two injections of LSD (a drug he had long experimented with) administered by his wife Laura. Huxley’s claim on our attention comes in a very distant third after Kennedy and Lewis. Although many of his works remain in print, they are all—-unlike those of Lewis—-quite dated, and it is highly doubtful that by the end of the present century anyone will be reading anything by Huxley.
With just one exception: Brave New World , published in 1932, sells briskly to this day, is widely read in schools and universities, and is regularly invoked as one of the great prophetic dystopias written in the twentieth century. Today, as Huxley himself once told George Orwell, Brave New World seems a much more prescient and disturbing work than Orwell’s 1984 .
In the forthcoming fall issue of The New Atlantis , online in December, I will have an essay on Brave New World , and its surprising parallels to a great work of political philosophy. Today I will just say thanks to Aldous Huxley, a kind of tormented seeker whose end was neither as shocking and tragic as the death of Kennedy nor as quiet and peaceful as that of Lewis. To have published even just one book as good as Brave New World is to merit some remembrance, a half century after one’s passing.
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