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Group Reads Archive > August 2016 Antic Hay by Aldous Huxley

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message 1: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W | 1002 comments Mod
Welcome to August's group read of Antic Hay! Enjoy!


message 2: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W | 1002 comments Mod
I'm going to try to start this today. Has anyone else gotten into it?


message 3: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb Jennifer W wrote: "I'm going to try to start this today. Has anyone else gotten into it?"

Yes. I've managed to finish it.

My Vintage Classics edition of Antic Hay describes it as “wickedly funny” and perhaps, to those reading it around 1923, when it was first published, this social satire seemed the height of hilarity. Then again, perhaps not...

The plot, such as it is, is merely a device for Aldous Huxley to convey different viewpoints. The lack of any real story is, for a work of fiction, a serious limitation, and one I struggled with. Additionally, a classical education, and some familiarity with French and Latin, is advantageous when reading this book. As a reader lacking these skills I had to regularly pause to make online searches to clarify various references that would otherwise have gone over my head.

So, with no story, what are we left with? A clever, well written social satire very much of its time. The characters only exist to represent various archetypes (an artist, a poet, a promiscuous flapper, an innocent etc.) whose primary role is to exchange clever dialogue.

Throughout the novel Gumbril, the central character, struggles to reconcile the two sides of his personality: 'the Mild and Melancholy one', who exalts in nature, apprehends divinity in Mozart’s G minor Quintet, and believes in romantic love; versus 'the Complete Man', who subscribes to the death of God, scoffs at romantic ideals, and pursues dangerous liaisons. In post-WW1 London, Huxley only identifies one winner in that particular conflict.

It is a quick, easy read, and whilst I really enjoyed a few scenes, overall it was too incoherent, only sporadically entertaining, and sometimes downright annoying. I never got any clear sense of what Aldous Huxley wanted to say with this book. Perhaps he just wanted to hold up a mirror to the widespread disenchantment, post-WW1, that was all pervasive in the early 1920s? The book does capture effectively that widespread disillusionment, with London portrayed as a city devoid of any real values or meaning.

After I’d finished the book, I read an article called “Aldous Huxley’s Antic Hay: London in the Aftermath of World War I” by Jake Poller, which summarises the key plot points and explains what is going on. This is a helpful shortcut to understanding the book, and much faster than reading the book.

As Charles Bukowski reminds us, “An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way.” In Antic Hay, Huxley was more intellectual than artist.

That said, having read a short summary of Aldous Huxley’s career in the introduction of this book, I am still keen to read more of his work, with “Point Counter Point” seemingly the most appropriate next book.

I look forward to discovering what you think of it Jennifer - and everyone else who reads and discusses it,

Here's to another great BYT discussion.


message 4: by Peter (new)

Peter I have also just finished Antic Hay and probably enjoyed it more than Nigeyb - partly because I like Huxley's prose and partly because he's a writer who takes some risks and doesn't always do what you would expect. I could lose the Latin tags, however...

My review at https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 5: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W | 1002 comments Mod
I've read chapters 1 and 2, and the first thing that comes to mind is that Gumbril Jr sounds like a millennial! "I'll just quit my job on a whim, so I can 'live'." Yeah, let me know how that works for you...


message 6: by Greg (new)

Greg | 330 comments This discussion is interesting straight out of the blocks.
First, great review Peter.

A couple of things to say about Antic Hay, (which I read a long time ago). The earlier novels like Antic Hay and Those Barren leaves are an impressive start, and I think one will evaluate them differently in context after reading the later middle period novels like Point Counter Point which are much richer, and where one can see Huxley moving toward mysticism and a deeper philosophy.  I started a hot-read thread for Point Counter Point a while ago.

I learned from the Sybille Bedford biography that in the earlier novels, Huxley's first wife Maria was invaluable to Aldous as she mixed with the London prominent social set and would get the goss and report back to Aldous who would then put it in the novels, thinly disguised. The book should a hold deeper appreciation after you research who the people in real life are that the characters are based on.
I don't remember Antic Hay as being that funny, but can vouch for Point Counter Point as being very funny, hilarious in parts. I actually burst out laughing in one part, where two of the characters are trying to dispose of the body of another of the main characters in the book.


message 7: by Nigeyb (last edited Jul 31, 2016 11:46PM) (new)

Nigeyb One of my GR chums over at the Patrick Hamilton App Soc offered the following advice about his recommended next Huxley step (based, I think, on a similar feeling of slight disappointment about Antic Hay)...

Forget "Point Counterpoint" and "Eyeless in Gaza", and go straight to "After Many a Summer Dies the Swan" which is both readable and entertaining!

He and I tend to share similar opinions on the wonderful world of literature so my next stop will indeed be "After Many a Summer Dies the Swan" - any views?


message 8: by Lynaia (new)

Lynaia | 153 comments Nigeyb wrote: "Jennifer W wrote: "I'm going to try to start this today. Has anyone else gotten into it?"

Yes. I've managed to finish it.

My Vintage Classics edition of Antic Hay describes it as “..."


I was quite excited for this read as I thoroughly enjoyed Crome Yellow. I am currently on chapter 6 and I am definitely underwhelmed. I have been unable to connect with any character and I feel like they are all arrogant, self satisfied, judgmental and spoiled. Maybe this is partially because I am more of an artist and less of an intellectual. I'm not into the droning on trying to sound enlightened.

I also agree with Jennifer's point about quitting your job on a whim "so I can live". I don't have a lot of patience with that attitude.


message 9: by Peter (new)

Peter Jennifer W wrote: "Gumbril Jr sounds like a millennial! "I'll just quit my job on a whim, so I can 'live'." Yeah, let me know how that works for you...

Back in 1922, I daresay that would work perfectly well. Given that Gumbril has the right education, the right accent, and the right background, he would be able to find employment easily enough - probably through family or other connexions. That's if he needs to, of course, since private incomes and allowances were pretty much the norm for the upper middle classes. Ah, the wonders of untaxed inherited wealth. Very different for the working classes...as Antic Hay illustrates in the encounter with the carter and his wife.

And wouldn't anyone wish to quit a boring job so they could 'live'? I would - if I weren't frightened of the financial consequences.


message 10: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W | 1002 comments Mod
Oh, certainly! I have an interesting job, and I would quit to "live", too. It feels very juvenile, the expectation that life will take care of you. It's not one I've been able to have in my life. (Makes me want to smack people, though! )


message 11: by Lynaia (new)

Lynaia | 153 comments Well, who wouldn't WANT to just quit their job to live. But, that's impossible for most people. I do appreciate those who save up to take a year (or more) sabbatical but just can't relate to someone who just decides one day, I'm bored. I think I'll quit my job and go "play". It didn't seem like he even told his employer about his decision. He just left an left them in the lurch. Very irresponsible and upsetting for the employer. Of course my perspective here comes from my husband being a business owner and employer.


message 12: by Peter (new)

Peter Jennifer W wrote: "It feels very juvenile, the expectation that life will take care of you. It's not one I've been able to have in my life."

But you're not living in the 1920s with an assured private income. Not so juvenile then, I think...though Gumbril certainly has that element in his character. That's what I like about him - a mix of good and bad traits. More realistic a self-portrait than one might expect in what is essentially a satirical novel.


message 13: by Val (new)

Val I haven't started this yet, although I will get to it eventually, but since Gumbril is a self-portrait, isn't he actually giving up working to become a writer? At the time a writer would have needed a private income to sustain them until the book was finished and published, no Arts Council grants back then.


message 14: by Peter (new)

Peter Val wrote: "since Gumbril is a self-portrait, isn't he actually giving up working to become a writer?

A writer, yes. But not so much literature, as advertising. For inflatable trousers. Very comfy...


message 15: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W | 1002 comments Mod
I read another chapter last night. I don't think the writing is "wickedly funny", but just thinking about these conversations about inflatable pants are cracking me up!


message 16: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb I'd buy the trousers


Val wrote: "...Gumbril is a self-portrait..."

I hadn't realised. My respect for Aldous has increased given that Gumbril is such a flawed character.


message 17: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb ^ Peter wrote: "More realistic a self-portrait than one might expect in what is essentially a satirical novel."

Just noticed that Peter made the same point too.

How are those that still reading Antic Hay getting on with it?


And, just to mention again, one of my GR chums over at the Patrick Hamilton App Soc offered the following advice about his recommended next Huxley step (based, I think, on a similar feeling of slight disappointment about Antic Hay)...

Forget "Point Counterpoint" and "Eyeless in Gaza", and go straight to "After Many a Summer Dies the Swan" which is both readable and entertaining!

He and I tend to share similar opinions on the wonderful world of literature so my next stop will indeed be "After Many a Summer Dies the Swan" - any views?


message 18: by Lynaia (new)

Lynaia | 153 comments Unfortunately, I have stopped reading this. I didn't like any of the characters and could not relate to them on any level. I was finding it a very unenjoyable read and life's too short with too many good books for that. I was really disappointed as I had really been looking forward to reading this. It's rare that I don't finish a book I start, (apart from ones I just read a chapter to decide if I'm in the mood for it at the time), but this one is a no go for me. Hopefully there will still be discussion by those still reading it. Maybe it would inspire me to try again sometime but I kind of doubt it. This one just doesn't seem to be for me.


message 19: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb That doesn't surprise me Lynaia. I struggled with it too. Seems to me that readers either love it, or feel a bit underwhelmed. Hopefully my next foray into his oeuvre will be more satisfying.


message 20: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W | 1002 comments Mod
I haven't picked it up in a few days, but I do want to get back to it soon.


message 21: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1526 comments I finished chapter 1 and loved how it ended - fed up with your life, pack a bag and hit the bricks. Reminds me of the '60s.


message 22: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W | 1002 comments Mod
I just finished chapter 4 and I have no idea what just happened.

A poet, an inventor and a doctor walk into a bar....


message 23: by Nicole (new)

Nicole | 22 comments Nigeyb wrote: "...overall it was too incoherent, only sporadically entertaining, and sometimes downright annoying. I never got any clear sense of what Aldous Huxley wanted to say with this book.."

This pretty much sums it up for me. I had to really push to finish, though it was short, and I kept thinking that I didn't really see the point of it. Not that every book needs to have a point, but I think maybe satire does. If not a point, it at least needs an object, and this just roamed around at random.

The idea of some of it was funny -- my husband laughed when I told him about the inflatable pants -- but actually reading about the inflatable pants somehow wasn't funny at all. It seems like a serious problem if the thing is less funny in the telling and not more.


message 24: by Peter (new)

Peter Nicole wrote: "Not...every book needs to have a point, but I think maybe satire does. If not a point, it at least needs an object, and this just roamed around at random."

I think many if not most satires target 'the way we live now' and I would suggest that the object of Antic Hay is society at large - or at least the beau monde that Huxley was familiar with - and its point is the nihilism that characterizes it. The Great War pretty much destroyed all the old values and certainties. Cynicism, hedonism, or escapism seem to be all the options left open for Huxley's generation. Probably more of a shock to readers in 1923 than to readers of today...

Nicole wrote: "my husband laughed when I told him about the inflatable pants -- but actually reading about the inflatable pants somehow wasn't funny at all."

I don't think they are meant to be funny (or "hilarious", as blurb writers would doubtless put it) as much as absurd. The idea comes to Gumbril in the sanctity of church and he leaves a career as a teacher to pursue it. The revolutionary tailor has a take on the pneumatic trews and so too does the agent and his advertising USPs. And Gumbril makes a tidy sum out of his daft idea. Cynical, absurd, and a sign of the times, I'd suggest, rather than a comic anecdote.

But I can see I'm in a minority in liking Antic Hay - so far, at least!


message 25: by Lynaia (new)

Lynaia | 153 comments I'm glad you're enjoying it Peter. I actually had thoughts that the inflatable pants would have come in handy during the years of watching our kids play basketball. Spending hours sitting on hard bleachers got very uncomfortable.


message 26: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W | 1002 comments Mod
The only other Huxley I've read was Crome Yellow, and that took me a bit to warm up to, so I have hope.


message 27: by Lynaia (new)

Lynaia | 153 comments I actually really enjoyed Crome Yellow which is why I was so excited to read this one but as stated previously, I finally gave up on this one. The more I read, the less I liked. ☹️


message 28: by Nicole (new)

Nicole | 22 comments It's funny because the book I read just after this one, an early Iris Murdoch novel, has people running around saying how Huxley is the new writer to emulate and admire. I kept thinking, but, really?

My only other experience of him is Brave New World, which I read so young and in such an overdetermined context that it almost doesn't seem like a novel at all. This one seems sort of meandering and tiresome; I'm not sure I could bring myself to read another of his titles, though Lynaia has me thinking perhaps Crome Yellow is better than this one.

The title also has me thinking about satire, which I go back and forth about. Sometimes, I think it has inherent problems (one of which is a short shelf life), but then I will read something great and think just the opposite. I think at a minimum it's harder to pull off than many of those writing it think it is. I think it's easy for it to slide into a sort of personal rant for the author, or, like this book, to wander about somewhat aimlessly, taking aim at everything and coming out tiresome and meandering, like that guy you know who just never likes anything. The whole package is not helped by reviewers who will label a book satirically funny without specifying an object or point, like we're meant to admire the author for being critical or cynical, regardless of content.

In any case, this is another data point on my personal satire graph: for me it plots less successful than the less successful Waugh.


message 29: by Peter (new)

Peter Nigeyb wrote: "He and I tend to share similar opinions on the wonderful world of literature so my next stop will indeed be "After Many a Summer Dies the Swan" - any views?"

I read (some) Aldous Huxley once upon a time...but so long ago that I can't even remember which of his works I did read. Since I vaguely remembered liking his writing, I thought I'd blow the dust off my old Penguin paperbacks and go through them chronologically. I dimly recognized at least one bit of Crome Yellow so I must have read that before, but Antic Hay didn't ring any bells at all. Maybe I did, maybe I didn't. The next one is Those Barren Leaves, but that's not on my shelf. So it looks like Point Counter Point, which is. I'm pretty sure I read After Many a Summer and I probably enjoyed it...but the mists of time have obscured it so completely that it's hardly a useful recommendation. Sorry!


message 30: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb Thanks Peter


message 31: by Alicatte (new)

Alicatte I just started reading it today, but after reading these comments, I'm approaching it with a skeptical mind. I hope I can crank through and finish before The Good Solider Svejk starts!


message 32: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb Don't miss The Good Soldier Svejk. That's all I'm saying.


message 33: by Lynaia (new)

Lynaia | 153 comments Got my copy. Just have a few library books to finish first. Sounds like it should be a fun book to read.


message 34: by Peter (new)

Peter I was just reading about Nancy Cunard, said to be (in part) the model for Myra Viveash in Antic Hay - but also the model for Iris Storm in The Green Hat by Michael Arlen. I notice the latter was a group choice some years ago. Is Arlen worth reading? He sounds an interesting character.


message 35: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1526 comments Val wrote: "I enjoyed this one once I got into it. I will review it and comment when I have stopped trying to stay awake all night to watch the Olympics."

They have played havoc with my reading time.


message 36: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W | 1002 comments Mod
Peter wrote: "I was just reading about Nancy Cunard, said to be (in part) the model for Myra Viveash in Antic Hay - but also the model for Iris Storm in The Green Hat by [author:Mi..."

Hmm, I might enjoy reading about the real woman more. I thoroughly enjoyed The Green Hat, but it took 50 or more pages before it turned into something interesting. I also read a nonfiction book by Arlen's son about tryingto understand who his father was. I enjoyed that, too, though the name escapes me right now.


message 37: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W | 1002 comments Mod
I read chapter 6 last night and I think Huxley himself has identified why I'm having a hard time getting into this book.

"That was precisely why his paintings were so bad- she saw now; there was no life in them. Plenty of noise there was, and gesticulation and a violent galvanized twitching; but no life, only the theatrical show of it."


message 38: by Dawn (new)

Dawn (goodreadscomdawn_irena) Nigyeb ~ I I am really looking forward to The Good Soldier too ! It sounds really good . I hope it comes in soon . I have already read A Room With A View coming up soon but it is one of my favorites and I used to read it as a comfort book when I was young ! I will be reading that again too!

Dawn


message 39: by Alicatte (new)

Alicatte I am about halfway through. If I had not read these comments, I probably would have given up on the book. But the comments prepared me, so I'm actually enjoying reading the book. Feels more like the author is experimenting and testing out techniques in novel-writing -- which I'm game for.


message 40: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb Thanks Alicatte - expectation can be so important in determining our response to art


message 41: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W | 1002 comments Mod
I'm about halfway through, and I just had my first enjoyable moment in this book! After watching Gumbril stalk some poor woman on the streets (I have to remind myself that these were different times), I was pleasantly surprised (view spoiler).


message 42: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W | 1002 comments Mod
Well, I've managed to finish it. I didn't care for it and am glad to be done with it.


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