Aldous Huxley: Biography, Books & Death

Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

Whether you're completely unfamiliar with Aldous Huxley or you'd like to get to know him a little better, this lesson can take you into a 'brave new world.' Keep reading to find our more about the life, death, and work of this famous British author!

A Learned Life: A Brief Biography of Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), British novelist, essayist, and philosopher
Photo of Aldous Huxley

Have you ever felt like you had to live up to the family name? It's almost certainly the way Aldous must've felt after being born into the Huxley family at Godalming, Surrey in England on July 26, 1894. The Huxley's had long been esteemed for their endeavors in the scientific community, particularly as biologists. His grandfather, Thomas Henry Huxley, had even helped Darwin develop his famous Theory of Evolution! Aldous also held a life-long fascination with scientific inquiry and application; however, a debilitating eye disease contracted in 1911 almost completely blinded him, preventing him from pursuing a career as a scientist dealing with such delicate instruments.

Even before this, though, young Aldous had already experienced another major setback. His mother, who had educated him up to this point with the help of the Hillside School, died from cancer in 1908. Following his mother's death, Aldous enrolled at Eton College. Despite the fact that he regained some of his eyesight, Huxley's vision remained extremely poor for the rest of his life. Luckily for him, though, this wouldn't stop him from pursuing his love of literature.

After Eton, Huxley entered Balliol College at Oxford University, and it was there that his literary career began to take shape. He published his first poems in 1916 in Oxford Poetry - a magazine he was editor of at the time. His time at Oxford also brought him in contact with several important literary figures, including D.H. Lawrence, with whom Aldous developed a close friendship. In desperate need of money, though, Huxley needed to find work somewhere and was briefly a clerk for the Air Ministry beginning in 1918.

In 1919, Aldous married Maria Nys, and their only child Matthew was born the following year. Fortunately, Huxley had already begun to build a reputation as a writer and literary critic, affording the family the opportunity to travel throughout Europe. It was on these excursions in the 1920s that Aldous began to take great interest in artistic theory and criticism, as well as in the social turmoil that characterized much of Europe in the early 20th century.

During the 1920s, the Huxley's also traveled to the United States and India, where Aldous was able to explore his growing interest in mysticism and parapsychology. Following their initial visit to the U.S., the family eventually relocated there in the late 1930s. While living in America, Aldous continued to write novels, short stories, and poetry; however, he also began writing scripts and screenplays for Hollywood, including a film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

As Aldous got older, he became more and more captivated by questions of spirituality, and in 1946, he published The Perennial Philosophy - a work on comparative religion that attempts to tie together ideas from many of the world's belief systems. In the 1950s, his curiosity for religious experiences led to experimentation with psychedelic drugs, making him an almost iconic figure to the counterculture that would develop over the next decade.

The Death of Aldous Huxley

In the early 1960s, Aldous was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer and eventually lost the ability to speak. He ultimately succumbed to the disease on November 22, 1963; however, his death went by largely unnoticed. The world was instead in shock over the assassination of President John F. Kennedy that happened on the same day, so media coverage of the passing of Huxley and fellow renowned author C.S. Lewis was scarce. Although his death was overshadowed by that of a president, like Lewis, Huxley is nonetheless still remembered today for his timeless contributions to literature. Take a look below to get a peek at two of his most famous!

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