Geoffrey Chaucer, the Critical Heritage

By Derek Brewer | Go to book overview

40.

ALDOUS HUXLEY, IN LOVE WITH THE INEVITABLY MATERIAL

1920

Aldous Leonard Huxley (1894-1963), novelist and man of letters, was educated at Balliol College, Oxford. He sees a Chaucer who only recognises the material world, in which he takes inexhaustible delight; a lover also of astronomy, who has deep insight into human character; and a man who is totally sceptical. The ending of ‘Troilus’ is thus inevitably regarded as ‘boggled’. That Chaucer finds what is perfect of its kind to be admirable is a shrewd point: no mention is made of Chaucer’s religious works. The essay was first printed in ‘The London Mercury’, II (1920), here reprinted from ‘On the Margin’, Chatto & Windus, 1923, pp. 203-27, by permission of the publisher and Mrs Laura Huxley, and Harper & Row, Inc.

There are few things more melancholy than the spectacle of literary fossilization. A great writer comes into being, lives, labours and dies. Time passes; year by year the sediment of muddy comment and criticism thickens round the great man’s bones. The sediment sets firm; what was once a living organism becomes a thing of marble. On the attainment of total fossilization the great man has become a classic. It becomes increasingly difficult for the members of each succeeding generation to remember

-354-

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