When I started reading this book, I had high expectations of Huxley, but was immediately disappointed at what I mistakenly supposed was a hackneyed situation. There was a bad poet hopelessly in love with an unresponsive-not to say cold-female; a sophisticated person, much older in both physical and mental terms, a true to type Woman of the World, and he a clichéd portrait of the kind of person rampant in literature, either as a caricature or as comic relief. Spare me an unrequited-love romance, even as an aside, I inwardly implored.
I was spared.
What I found instead was a delightfully good-natured literary satire on the various "types" found in literature, the kind that every reader recognizes instantly. Here, you find them all, congregated in a short and enchanting novel full of the most subtle and gentle humor-the least obvious and most entertaining joke is, of course, that none of these people can really be taken seriously.
In a parody of characterization in literature, Huxley comes up with: The Philosopher, The "Sensitive" Wannabe Poet, The Serious Pretentious Pseudo Intellectual, The Spiritual Author as the Protégé (Pet) of a Rich lady With Nothing To Do, The Rich Lady With Nothing To Do, The Rich Lady's Husband With Nothing To Do, The Charming Accomplished Amorous Aristocrat With Everything Going For Him, The Mediterranean Artist, The Religious Fanatic, and finally, the Ice Maiden.
Huxley takes this rich cast of familiar and even sometimes lovable characters that we have known from time immemorial in innumerable novels and puts them together, in the close proximity of a house in which they are the house guests of the rich lady and her husband, who in literature, have nothing to do but invite people over for the summer to endure excruciating contact with other people they have nothing in common with. And then, Huxley casually presents us with their performance.
The obvious purpose is to take these tools that many authors dupe their readers by calling "characters" and let them behave as tritely as they can, with this difference: all the trite behavior, all the clichéd dialogue, the whole overused situation, will not save them from where they should really end up, as opposed to where they do end in literature, i.e. the bad poet is rewarded in his literary efforts AND he gets the girl, the charming prince does find true love and settles down to a life of fidelity and healthy offspring, the artist does find solace in his art and gets rid of his neurosis, and so on. Here, the situation is rendered interesting by virtue of the author's freedom in taking these characters-who have populated so many books, they breathe with a life of their own-where they ought to go if we consider how many forces are at work in life, and how simplistically life is represented in many novels, that seem to exist in a egocentric universe where its own cast of characters are the sole remarkable occupants of a universe.
This very theme is touched upon when Denis, the poet, discovers what Jenny, the only original character in the whole book, does when she scribbles silently in her diary. His dishonesty leads him to the disquieting realization that there are people beside himself who possess the faculty of observation and interpretation. He had underestimated Jenny, just as the reader is led to do, as a deaf woman in her thirties, quite unnecessary in any tangible sense: her apparent distance from the action leads us to discount her importance as a character or a human being, the very thing many of us do in real life when we come across quiet, self effacing, retiring individuals.
What appealed to me personally about Crome Yellow was that Huxley, whether consciously or unconsciously, had used two characteristics from two of my favorite authors: he had taken Dickens' style of casting all his characters as types (though Dickens is, of course, more lucrative in his supply of types than Huxley is or should have been), and then using them to make a story; in Dickens case, the characters assist him in his chief aim, that of satire and social criticism, and are not themselves the focus, whereas here the characters are the point. The other characteristic is the distance of the author from his characters, which is best exhibited by Forster. Huxley is wonderfully omniscient and yet absent in this work, with no leaning towards any particular member of his cast. No favoritism, so to speak-there are no heroes and no villains.
Huxley has managed here to be true to form while keeping the whole composition charmingly original and fresh: the accomplished aristocrat comes but for a fleeting period of time and leaves a broken heart behind him. The philosopher is kept incessantly talking. The lady with her spiritual pet is properly in the background. The lady's husband is, not unexpectedly, obsessed with the record of the history of his family. The artist is tormented, handsome and original. The serious pseudo intellectual is critical, highly formulaic in her intellectualism (always afraid of not doing or saying the right thing intellectually) and intelligently interested in everything. The love interest of the poet is self-contained, distantly amused, and sphinx-like. The poet himself is shy and sensitive to a degree. However, all of these characters are made to exhibit some of their insides: the poet, for instance, is shown incapable of being spontaneous or natural, of giving full play to his emotions and what after all, is a poet to feel if he can't feel an emotion? They are all similarly exposed as flimsy pieces of work-the clear implication being, how untrue are the types portrayed in literature: they don't even have the decency to be representational.
I am charmed by this work. The writing is refined, the story original, there are some surprises always waiting for the experienced reader too ready to take things for granted. It's a fresh fresh composition. I'm glad it was short though as a protraction would have spoiled its essence.
I have but one complaint to make, which was enough to make me give it a star less than it otherwise would have deserved. There are a few characters that are perfect as types and are given appropriately lengthy introductions, but are subsequently, unceremoniously banished from the story. One such character is the priest. Some other characters were treated in the same manner, as for example, the spiritual author, but they were at least connected to the story in a more concrete way. In the case of the spiritualist, he was necessary to complete the character of the lady of the house. The lady herself was a necessary accessory, and looked okay in the background. But the priest does not have any real connection with the other characters and in the end, it remains unclear why he was introduced in the first place. He does not in any way help to give a clearer picture of the community, as later on, the community is not much of a factor anyway. If he had been further pulled into the story and given a place in the scheme of things, he would have been an interesting guy: not to mention, leaving him hanging in there with no beginning and no end is a bit of a disappointment as it doesn't leave things complete in an otherwise perfectly composed novel.
Huxley's talent, especially in his first novel, is to pour out ideas (the subjects and issues covered here are staggeringly diverse for such a short book) without losing the human spark or light touch that keeps you reading. Crome Yellow, the story (I use the word loosely) of fairly lazy aristocrats whiling the weeks away at a luxurious country estate, manages to be at once a dozen (or more) intelligent essays--on all different subjects and from many points of view, a romantic comedy, a character(s) study, a social satire, and a charming short story collection. Aldous Huxley was a young man and when he wrote Crome Yellow in the early twenties (not long out of college) he was more agnostic skeptic and social critic than the psychedelic mystic and dystopian prophet he would become. Yet the themes, and sometimes more, of his later work are all present here. There's a suggestion of mysticism and the "other world," albeit in a more comic manner than The Doors of Perception. Denis, with his anxieties around women and self-loathing, hand-wringing intelligence, is an early version of Bernard in Brave New World. And early in the book (at a pig pen of all places) a character hypothesizes about the future--and describes almost exactly the world Huxley would portray in Brave New World! It's fascinating to see, in this modernist society tale, the seeds of Huxley's future work. But better yet are all the ideas and separate stories Huxley crams into Crome Yellow: the historical tale of a dwarfish aristocrat and his gigantic son, a romantic escapade on the roof between a dashing visitor and the well-read yet thick Mary, the frequent and inept attempts of Denis to woo Anne, and cynical but comparatively content Mr. Scogan, who imagines stories to fill the mock books in the library, and cross-dresses as a fortune teller to scare the villagers at the annual fair. All in all, a great, quick read and a touchstone for all of Huxley's themes in a most unlikely vehicle.
Crome Yellow was Adolous Huxley's first novel. It describes the life of leisure of the Wimbushes, an aging aristocratic couple and the relatives and young intellectuals who are staying with them over the Summer in their estate at the village of Crome.
It has often been remarked that this novel is unserious.There was not really much hilarity contrary to my expectation; the bulk of such stuff as there is was in the first part of the novel. The one passage which made me roar with laughter is Mr. Wimbush solemnly reading to his family and guests a particular excerpt from the history he has just finished of their estate which was built back in the 16th century. The founder of the estate was his wife's ancestor, Ferdinando Lapith whom Mr. Wimbush explains devoted his time to figuring out and publishing his ideas on sanitation. He built privies (indoor outhouses) at the top of each tower for he thought that the act of depositing human waste was such a degrading act for noble creatures like humans that they should be far away from the sanitation disposal system in the ground and as close to heaven as possible. He advised that the privy have a big window on which to look out at nature; a bible, Greek and Roman philosophy and other reading material on hand to console oneself in the act. Sir Ferdinando called his book "Certaine Privy Counsels by One of Her Maiesties's Most Honourable Privy Counsels, F.L. Knight." Mr. Wimbush says Sir Ferdinando wrote on the subject "with great learning and elegance" and Mr. Scogan, one of the Wimbush's guests expresses enchantment of such great achievements of English aristocrats.
Other amusing incidents include the conversation between Denis Smith, the hero of the novel and Mr. Barbecue Smith, the spiritualist New Age author whom Mrs. Wimbush's patronizes. Barbecue-Smith claims to be able to produce an amazing amount of his wisdom on paper in a very short time, merely by finding his "inspiration." He claims he is able to find his inspiration to produce profound writing by hypnotizing himself by staring into a electric desk light. While he is thus entranced, his mind produces really profound stuff and he writes it down. Another amusing episode is the phamphlet produced by Mr. Bodiham, the village pastor, during WWI which tried to prove using biblical text that that war presaged Armegeddon. It was a war of righteousness between Protestant nations and Germany which was under the sinister influence of Catholicism according to Mr. Bodiham. Long after the war's end, Mr. Bodiham still is seeing portents that the second coming is at hand.
The novel suprisingly has a pretty serious side which comes to the fore in the second part of the novel. The author shows great skill in portraying the humanity and emotions of Denis and Mary as they confront their own emotional immaturities.The author uses some big words but his narration is very simple, intelligent and charming.. The rest of the characters have less depth to them but they are likeable and the story gets to be fairly interesting and even a little profound at the end.
Sure the lenghty conversations of the characters, particularly Mr. Scogan's discourses and the poetry, sometimes seem to divert the story from its path. However I was never really bored at any point in the book. Too bad Huxley succumbed rather early in life to spiritualism, quackish medical cures and the other world and devoted his writings to them; he could have built on the excellence of this book had he not been so diverted.
Damon G. Labarbera
This is early Huxley at his funniest. The romp takes place at the Wimbush home, Crome Manor, where Ms. Wimbush drains the estate finances with horse betting by horoscope and mild Henry Wimbush records the long history of the manor, particularly its plumbing. Diverse with ideas, as well as varied psychological types, the novel is a predecessor of Point Counterpoint and the darker, more humanistic novels. This is light and comic. Denis Stone, the protagonist, is a Huxleyen self-portrait, bright, sensitive, literary, self-absorbed, preoccupied with his sense of genius, and somewhat ineffectual in practical matters and in love. Old Scogan is a portrait of the "saurian" Bertrand Russel, with dry, humorless observations, while other characters embody known literati and artists of the day. Whiling away their time in the remote estate, they sample dalliance, leisurely conversation, and a treatment of the history of eccentrics that have lived in the manor over the centuries, amidst a pleasantly lazy and refined atmosphere. This is a nice portrait of a world that hardly exists anymore--the somewhat idle wealthy post world war one set in England, savoring the new intellectual trends, and revolting against the Victorian past in their cultured, mannerly way. This is perhaps the most humorous and kindly of Huxley's self-portraits, of the serious but shyly ineffectual artiste Denis Stone. A nice portrait of the fatuousness of the twentysomeething artist, who remarks while idling time away of his work a year or two ago, "I had such genius then." And for those interested in psychology, a nice depiction of what RD Laing the antipsychiatrist called, a generation later, "implosion," "objectification" and ontological insecurity. Damon LaBarbera, PC, FL
Madam, I'm Adam
This book, it should be said, will disappoint those who search for a plot to follow. Instead, Crome Yellow is a collection of incidents, largely trivial, and long-winded expositions by various characters on everything from happiness to art to methods of waste disposal. I am assuming this to be a satirical piece, and as such it succeeds marvelously. Consider the character Denis Stone, an aspiring poet and the main protagonist who, while biking to Crome early in the novel raises a hand from the handlebar to wave ephemerally while trying to divine a perfect adjective for the rolling hills of the countryside and nearly falls off his bike.
Each of the characters is caught up in trivialities and long-winded discussions on topics wherein nothing is solved but everything is reiterated incessantly, wrapped up in a more impressive bow. The interests range from Cubism ("the purest of art") to astrology/New Age Spirituality to meal journals of antiquated manor residents. They are each played to hilarious hyperbole and make for very humorous reading.
As I said, the plot is scant and outside of a couple hints at romance and forbidden love there is little to motivate these characters as they meander around Crome. This will be a deterrent for some, but I found that it worked for this largely character-driven story.
I got this for free for my Kindle, and the formatting was great. I am unsure of a few points; whenever a character breaks into verse, for instance, there are no line breaks. The poem runs as prose, though the beginning of a new line is marked by capitalization. Not a deal-breaker, but inconvenient. Navigation from chapter to chapter is not present here, so bookmark often if this will be a long read.
For a free book by someone who at this point was testing his ability to write satire, it is a fun read.
**Keep a lookout for one digressive monologue which foreshadows Huxley's later work Brave New World!