Best known for his 1932 novel Brave New World, Aldous Huxley later wrote about his experimentation with psychedelic drugs. But there’s a lot more to Huxley’s life than dystopian novels. Here are 10 things you might not know about the author.
1. Aldous Huxley was almost completely blind as a teenager.
Born in Surrey, England in 1894, Huxley had a challenging early life. During his teenage years, his mother died of cancer, his brother died by suicide, and he began having problems with his vision. Following an infection, his corneas became inflamed (a condition called keratitis), and thus he couldn’t see well. In an interview with The Paris Review, Huxley explained that he was almost completely blind for a few years in his late teens: “I started writing when I was 17, during a period when I was almost totally blind and could hardly do anything else. I typed out a novel by the touch system; I couldn’t even read it,” he said.
2. Aldous Huxley struggled with eyesight for most of his life.
Historians debate the extent and duration of Huxley’s vision problems. In 1942, Huxley wrote The Art Of Seeing, a book in which he described how he regained his sight. He used the Bates Method, a series of suggestions—get natural sunlight, do eye exercises, and don’t wear glasses—for improving eyesight. The Art of Seeing was immediately attacked after its release by medical professionals for supporting pseudoscience, and questions remain about how much Huxley’s vision actually improved.
3. Aldous Huxley’s grandfather was a vocal proponent of evolution.
Huxley’s paternal grandfather, Thomas Henry Huxley, was a biologist who advocated for the theory of evolution. Nicknamed “Darwin’s bulldog,” he wrote, spoke, and participated in debates about the merits of Charles Darwin’s groundbreaking theory. He also coined the word agnostic in 1869, describing it as the opposite of the gnostic of the Church, who said that they conclusively knew about how we came to exist.
4. Aldous Huxley taught George Orwell.
In 1917, Huxley briefly worked as a teacher at Eton, the esteemed boarding school in England. One of his students was Eric Blair, who later wrote 1984 and Animal Farm under the pen name George Orwell. Decades later, Orwell wrote in a 1946 magazine review that Huxley partially plagiarized Brave New World by using themes that appear in Yevgeny Zamyatin’s 1923 dystopian novel We. (Huxley's classic was released in 1932.)
Despite Orwell’s accusation, Huxley sent a letter to Orwell in October 1949, praising his work in 1984 but also getting in a slight dig at his former pupil. Huxley wrote that his own bleak view of the future was a more accurate prediction than Orwell’s: “I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World.”
5. Aldous Huxley wrote for Vanity Fair and Vogue.
In the early 1920s, Huxley contributed articles to a few magazines, including Vogue, Vanity Fair, and House and Garden. The future author of Brave New World wrote on a broad range of topics and later reflected on this time as a positive learning experience: As he recalled, "I used to turn out articles on everything from decorative plaster to Persian rugs … I did dramatic criticism for the Westminster Gazette. Why—would you believe it?—I even did music criticism. I heartily recommend this sort of journalism as an apprenticeship. It forces you to write on everything under the sun, it develops your facility, it teaches you to master your material quickly, and it makes you look at things."
6. Aldous Huxley worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood.
In the 1930s, Huxley moved California. In the 1940s and early 1950s, he worked as a screenwriter, collaborating on films such as Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Madame Curie. In 1945, Disney paid Huxley $7500 to write a treatment based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland that also incorporated Carroll's biography. That December, Huxley had a meeting with Walt Disney and his staff about the project. Disney eventually decided not to proceed with Huxley’s script partly because it was, according to Disney, too literary.
7. Aldous Huxley’s commitment to pacifism precluded him from becoming an American citizen.
Huxley frequently wrote about Hindu and Buddhist spiritual ideas, pacifism, and mysticism. He renounced all war, and his pacifist views ultimately prevented him from becoming a U.S. citizen. After living in California for 14 years, Huxley and his wife applied for citizenship. However, he refused to say that he would, if necessary, defend the U.S. in wartime. Because his refusal to fight was based on philosophical rather than religious reasons, he realized the government would most likely deny his application, so he withdrew it before they had a chance to turn him down.
8. The Doors named their band after Aldous Huxley’s book about mescaline.
Jim Morrison’s band The Doors is named after Huxley’s 1954 book The Doors of Perception, though Huxley himself took the phrase the doors of perception from English poet William Blake. Although Huxley depicted the pernicious effects of the fictional drug soma in Brave New World, he volunteered for mescaline experiments and praised mescaline as physically harmless, potentially therapeutic, and spiritually enlightening in The Doors of Perception.
9. Aldous Huxley spoke of the potential dangers of overpopulation.
In a May 1958 interview with Mike Wallace, Huxley shared his beliefs about the dangers of overpopulation. Describing how overpopulation means that people will have less food to eat and fewer goods to use per capita, Huxley warned that a precarious economy leads to a more powerful central government and social unrest. “I think that one sees here a pattern which seems to be pushing very strongly towards a totalitarian regime,” Huxley said.
10. Aldous Huxley’s death wasn’t highly publicized due to JFK’s assassination.
On November 22, 1963, Huxley died of cancer of the larynx, three years after he was diagnosed with the illness. His death received little notice because he died on the same day that then-President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Texas. British author C.S. Lewis also died that day, and his death similarly got little immediate attention.
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A version of this story ran in 2016; it has been updated for 2021.