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Happy brave new birthday, Aldous Huxley!

A young Aldous Huxley.
A young Aldous Huxley.
(Huxley family photo / file)

Happy birthday, Aldous Huxley! The author of “Brave New World,” a classic of dystopian literature, was born 123 years ago Wednesday.

The British novelist and intellectual, and longtime Southern California resident, remains best known for “Brave New World,” his 1932 novel about a fascist government that controls its population with strict rules and widely available mind-numbing drugs.

Still widely taught in schools today, the book received mostly (but not uniformly) positive reviews when it was released just a few years before dictators would seize power in Germany, Spain and other European countries.

British philosopher Bertrand Russell was among the book’s admirers. “In the unhappy days in which it is our lot to live, Utopias are written in order to make us still more unhappy,” Russell wrote. “Mr.Aldous Huxley, in his ‘Brave New World,’ has shown his usual masterly skill in producing this result upon the reader, for he has undertaken to make us sad by the contemplation of a world without sadness.”

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The novel spawned film and radio adaptations, even into the present day. A television adaptation is in the works from Stephen Spielberg’s production company Amblin Television; the series is expected to air on the Syfy network.

Huxley would follow up the novel in 1958 with “Brave New World Revisited,” a long essay in which he argued that his pessimistic predictions for the future were being proven true.

Aldous Huxley and some of his archives
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

While “Brave New World” is by far his most famous book, Huxley also gained acclaim for novels like “Point Counter Point” (1928), a biting satire of intellectualism, and “Island” (1962), a utopian answer to “Brave New World.”

He also gained fame for his 1954 essay “The Doors of Perception,” which chronicled his experiment with the psychedelic plant extract mescaline. He took the drug on a spring day in 1952 in West Hollywood with the British psychiatrist Humphry Osmond. (A young, hopeful poet and musician in Los Angeles, Jim Morrison, was so taken with the book, he named his band The Doors after it.) The onetime member of the Bloomsbury set was an early proponent of psychedelics.

Huxley moved to Southern California in the late 1930s. The writer, who by some accounts was nearly blind (others said he’d regained his eyesight) was heavily involved with the Hindu group the Vedanta Society of Southern California, and contributed frequently to its journal, Vedanta and the West.

Huxley died of cancer in Los Angeles at the age of 69. Any other day, his death might have dominated headlines, but he died on Nov. 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.

“Brave New World” continues to be read and to draw controversy, 85 years after it was published. The novel was among the top 10 challenged and banned books in American schools and libraries in 2010 and 2011.


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