Lack of Proportion in Antic Hay : Understanding Aldous Huxley’s Early Aesthetic and Social Views
Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair
The polyphony of ideas expressed in Aldous Huxley’s Antic Hay (1923), and the often fast pace in which these ideas are presented at times veils what is being said, what views are being satirized, as well as which, if any, position Huxley sides with. The novel is filled with many references and allusions to art. Understanding Huxley’s aesthetic and social views in the twenties helps to make sense of the comments about art and society that are both explicitly and inexplicitly expressed in the novel. Societal changes occurring in England, such as the decline in religious belief, industrial and technological advances and mass culture, the view of art as a symbol of status and wealth, and the drastic changes in art forms and movements, among other things, affected the way art was being produced and the art world/scene in general. Reading the novel along with some of Huxley’s essays and articles written around the same time, as well as reviewing some of the major artistic and literary movements and historical shifts, helps the reader to view the novel as an attempt to criticize the moral decline and the loss of cultural and artistic values in society.
Antic Hay criticizes the loss of values within society and the art world. It is a novel that depicts the unstableness and confusion of early twentieth century London and the post World War I society. Huxley also satirizes extremism in art and behavior. If there is one clear message in the novel, it is the call for proportion in art and life. Many early critics, however, thought that Antic Hay was immoral and that it and Huxley endorsed the extreme, immoral, decadent and irreverent behavior described in the novel. But Huxley is not advocating this behavior he is satirizing it. Huxley, like his granduncle Matthew Arnold before him, was a proponent of art as a means to cultural values and morality.
Huxley’s aesthetic taste includes art that is traditional to art that is too experimental, art and literature that has a balance between form and content to that which exclusively focuses on form, art that has an overall humanistic and/or moral influence to art that is rhetorically indifferent and/or an “art for art’s sake” approach, and architecture that is proportional to Ruskin’s theory of irregularity. But Antic Hay's own lack of structure and unconventional style endangers its function as a vehicle for morality in an Arnoldian sense.
Antic Hay is not structurally proportioned, and although it uses traditional techniques and borrows from traditional genres such as satire and the “Peacockian” “novel of ideas,” it is not traditional. The lack of structure and the novel’s convoluted style, however, reflect the disjointedness and chaos of twentieth century England. Even though the novel is not a proportioned, organic whole, it stresses the importance of balance in art and life. And although the novel offers no explicit resolution in the end, understanding Huxley’s aesthetic and social views in the 1920s, helps to clarify the novel and Huxley’s overall desire for the return of morality and artistic and social values.
Reyes, Sandy, "Lack of Proportion in Antic Hay : Understanding Aldous Huxley’s Early Aesthetic and Social Views" (2008). Theses, Dissertations and Culminating Projects. 1244.