The Provocations of Lenina in Huxley's Brave New World

By Higdon, David Leon | International Fiction Review, January 2002 | Go to article overview

The Provocations of Lenina in Huxley's Brave New World


Higdon, David Leon, International Fiction Review


As befits a Juvenalian satirist, indignantly, bitterly, misanthropically chastising his culture, Aldous Huxley often expresses outright disgust with the entire human species. In Antic Hay (1923), his second novel, an anonymous old man tells Theodore Gumbril, the protagonist, as they look at London's suburban houses, "What disgusts me is the people inside the architecture. The numbers of them, sir. And the way they breed. Like maggots, sir, like maggots. Millions of them, creeping about the face of the country, spreading blight and dirt wherever they go; ruining everything." (1) He then forecasts that the world will soon become "a pretty sort of bear garden ... a monkey house ... a warthoggery" (264). Five years later, in Point Counter Point (1928), this vision has deepened into the "modern Bestiary" of parasitical animals, who are "damned, destroyed, irrevocably corrupted." (2) Here Spandrell complains to Mark Rampion that the beings around them are "ambitious of being angels; but all they succeed in being is either cuckoos and geese on the one hand or else disgusting vultures and carrion crows on the other," (3) excellent metaphors for a satirist become fabulist.

It is equally obvious, however, that Huxley reserved especial bile for the female of the species, whose presence provokes even more heated rhetoric. In Antic Hay, for example, Mercaptan tells Myra Viveash, "ces femmes! They're all Pasiphaes and Ledas. They all in their hearts prefer beasts to men, savages to civilised beings," and the anonymous gentleman, watching Myra as she walks down London's King Street, acidly thinks: "Vicious young women. Lesbians, drug-fiends, nymphomaniacs, dipsos--thoroughly vicious nowadays, thoroughly vicious." (4) Indeed, he is correct so far as the women in the world of Antic Hay go, because they are depicted as dangerous predators, ranging from the serpent-like Rosie Shearwater to the "sullen and ferocious" Zoe, to the Sphinx-like, "bored" Myra who announces that "`to-morrow ... will be as awful as to-day'." (5) These women pale, though, when compared to Lucy Tantamount of Point Counter Point. Lucy, "the consummate flower of this charming civilization," bluntly warns that she needs victims, and Philip Quarles describes her as a "man-eater" (6) She wants "to be herself ... ruthlessly having her fun." (7) These characterizations, misogynist as they are, do not get in the way of Huxley's Juvenalian vision, but they do hint at a potential imbalance in this vision.

The misogyny, everywhere evident in Huxley's novels written before 1931, does become a serious narrative issue and a thematic problem in Brave New World (1932). A careful consideration of Lenina's attitudes, decisions, and actions shows that the overlay of misogyny careened Huxley into contradicting his ideas, into failing to see that Lenina is more heroic in her resistance to the Fordian world than are the men his narrative praises, and into taking an unearned and mean-spirited revenge on Lenina. In brief, Lenina's resistance goes unnoticed in the novel because of the novel's misogyny, but it can go unnoticed no longer, given feminism's attention to such marginalized characters. This misogyny has, of course, not gone completely unnoticed in Huxley criticism. In one of the more inclusive discussions, Milton Birnbaum notes that women in Huxley's world "are seen chiefly in relationship to the males" and only "occupy a satellite position." And in an enlightening general discussion of misogyny in dystopias, Deanna Madden concludes that the men in Brave New World "have a spiritual dimension that the women lack ... mired in the physical, the women interfere with or prevent the men from achieving spiritually" and that "Huxley's misogyny has its obvious roots in a more general inability to accept the body." (8)

At least once in his career, then, misogyny disastrously impeded characterization, theme, and intention and virtually deconstructed his book before the eyes of his readers. …

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