Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Adventure classics -- Lost moms of the brave new world

Brave New World

by Aldous Huxley


“The greatest care is taken to prevent you from loving any one too much,” World State Controller Mustapha Mond tells the misfit young Savage near the end of Aldous Huxley’s 1932 dystopian classic, Brave New World.

And though Savage yearns for a woman of the new world, his greatest anguish stems from the death of his mother, the woman who is literally the only mother in this not so brave world.

Let me back up a moment and jog memories of the methods of reproduction proposed in his book by Huxley, grandson of early evolutionary proponent T.H. Huxley and younger brother of biologist and proponent of the practice of eugenics. In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World children are not born, they are decanted. Decanted, that is, after the ova of surgically-excised ovaries are artificially fertilized by male gametes (not, I hope, taken from surgically-excised testes, but the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning who opens the novel delicately glosses over that issue). Decanted after being suitably conditioned to produce the batches of young humans necessary to keep this brave new world turning.

In a brief history lesson, the director explains to a group of student observers at the Hatcheries, human beings used to be products of “gross viviparous reproduction,” with fathers and mothers (obscene terms that cause blushes among the young people who “had not yet learned to draw the significant but often very find distinction between smut and pure science”).

And the purpose of this deliberate separation between the production of human beings and the donors of those ova and male gametes? It’s the first step in the purveyance of consumption (including consumption of sex and hallucinogenic drugs) that keep people happy in this best of all possible worlds.

With appetite, intellect and emotions all neutralized, who can summon the energy to rebel?

Only three young misfits: the Savage, his discoverer Bernard Marx, and Marx’s excessively intellectual friend Helmholtz Watson, a writer of state-sanctioned propaganda becoming disillusioned with his own work. Savage is the product of an accidental viviparous birth which occurred when his mother Linda became lost during a visit to one of the “reservations” set aside for those the World State didn’t consider worth civilizing. Rediscovered by Marx but now an outcast in her own land, the Savage’s mother demands massive amounts of the state-sanctioned hallucinogenic drug, soma, to quiet her fears even while hastening her death.

(When Huxley wrote Brave New World, LSD, which matches his description of soma, had not been synthesized, although he may have been introduced to cactus-derived mescaline while visiting D. H. Lawrence in New Mexico in the late 1920’s.)

How in a brave world did a mom’s death change the direction of her son’s life? The germ seems to have arisen in Huxley’s own family. The descendent of scientific royalty on his father’s side, Huxley was the beneficiary of equal intellectual heritage from his mother, educator Julia Arnold Huxley, niece of Victorian poet Matthew Arnold.

“Julia was the social pivot of the family,” biographer David King Dudley writes in Huxley in Hollywood, “(and) though she didn’t know it, she was dying of cancer.” To Aldous, her youngest son, it was “the irreparable loss, a betrayal of his faith in life, ” a friend later wrote. “He never got over it.”

And in any world where “loving any one too much” is the greatest crime, prevention must start by banishing the mothers.

(Next Wednesday, Adventure classics continues a July of science fiction with another book about control of the world--or worlds--Isaac Asimov’s Foundation.)

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