"An Unforgivable Offense to Progress!"


Caitrin Nicol's appreciation of Brave New World over at The New Atlantis (the novel is now 75 years old) is fun reading throughout, but the selection of negative contemporary reviews really jumps off the screen.

"As prophecy it is merely fantastic," dismissed essayist Gerald Bullett. Wells's friend and fellow writer Wyndham Lewis called it "an unforgivable offense to Progress." Marxist literary critic Granville Hicks began his review by asking, "With war in Asia, bankruptcy in Europe and starvation everywhere, what do you suppose Aldous Huxley is now worrying about?" and ended it with several personal attacks. Economist Henry Hazlitt sarcastically remarked that "a little suffering, a little irrationality, a little division and chaos, are perhaps necessary ingredients of an ideal state, but there has probably never been a time when the world has not had an oversupply of them."

J. B. S. Haldane's then-wife Charlotte penned a snide review for Nature, complaining that Huxley's great-uncle Matthew Arnold, the conservative literary critic, had taken demonic possession of him, and that in any case, "biology is itself too surprising to be really amusing material for fiction." Even G. K. Chesterton thought Huxley's book sadly laughable, observing that, "However grimly he may enjoy the present, he already definitely hates the future. And I only differ from him in not believing that there is any such future to hate."

I'd not known that Henry Hazlitt made fun of the book. The rest of the criticisms have dated, uh, poorly.

Back in 1999, Virginia Postrel patiently explained why the future was nothing to be afraid of.