My friend Nick gave this to me to read ages ago and I’ve finally gotten around to it. I wasn’t sure what to expect at first, but the further I read the more I enjoyed the story (Amazon Affiliate link). Coming in at under 200 pages, I was pleasantly surprised at how much Huxley fit into the novel without overwhelming the sense of lackadaisical whimsy of the people.
I am incredibly glad I read the foreword though, because I don’t think I would’ve understood this was a satirical novel of the British upper-class. I probably would’ve happily read it and thought, “wow these people are petty and ridiculous,” and then thought nothing more of it. It reminded me a lot of the various upper-class dioramas I’ve read from Jane Austen to Cécil David-Weill’s The Suitors, which is what Huxley was going for in his social criticism.
Even though it felt the story didn’t go anywhere, they really don’t move that far in this type of novel, and even though the characters aren’t exactly the most memorable, I don’t believe they’re supposed to be. They are all caricatures of stereotypes, from the young (seemingly effeminate) dandy and the sultry women to the know-it-all “worldly” author/artist and hopelessly naivë, yet headstrong younger woman, they’re all here. I was disappointed Jenny wasn’t developed more as she seemed almost to be a representation of the author with her red notebook, only briefly mentioned even though the forward talked a lot about this!
It was interesting to read this, his first novel, having only previously read A Brave New World. I could see quite a few of his later themes of solitude and distrust of the masses developing, but what I most enjoyed was how often he picked fun at his own story within the story. At one point the know-it-all author describes exactly what the young dilettante author is writing, which is ironically what Huxley is writing and for some reason it just makes me giggle thinking back about it. He even had great perspective on reading in general:
“How symbolical! One comes to the great masterpieces of the past, expecting some miraculous illumination, and one finds, on opening them, only darkness and dust and a faint smell of decay. After all, what is reading but a vice, like drink or venery or any other form of excessive self-indulgence? One reads to tickle and amuse one’s mind; one reads, above all, to prevent oneself thinking.” (82)
“No, give me the past. It doesn’t change; it’s all there in black and white, and you can get to know about it comfortably and decorously and, above all, privately—by reading. By reading, I know a great deal of Cæsar Borgia, of St. Francis, of Dr. Johnson; a few weeks have made me thoroughly acquainted with these interesting characters, and I have been spared the tedious and revolting process of getting to know them by personal contact, which I should have to do if they were living now. How gay and delightful life would be if one could get rid of all the human contacts! Perhaps in the future when machines have attained to a state of perfection—for I confess that I am, like Godwin and Shelley, a believer in perfectibility, the perfectibility of machinery—then, perhaps, it will be possible for those who, like myself, desire it, to live in a dignified seclusion, surrounded by the delicate attentions of silent and graceful machines, and entirely secure from any human intrusion. It is a beautiful thought.” (165-66)
Doesn’t it just make you swoon? Maybe it’s just me and my lack of desire to interact with people recently, but those lines just hit me as truth. Add in that he refers to the Havelock Ellis studies on multiple occasions and didn’t shy away from his characters discussing sex and I thought this was well worth the read.
Recommendation: I would definitely say check it out, especially if you enjoy reading novels about the British upper-class. Huxley’s humor is dry and slowly sneaks up on you.
Opening Line: “Along this particular stretch of line no express had ever passed.”
Closing Line: “He climbed into the hearse.” (Whited out.)
Additional Quotes from Crome Yellow
“Parallel straight lines, Denis reflected, meet only at infinity. He might talk forever of care-charmer sleep and she of meteorology till the end of time. Did one ever establish contact with anyone? We are all parallel straight lines. Jenny was only a little more parallel than most.” (18)
“‘The individual,’ he began in a soft and sadly philosophical tone, ‘ is not a self-supporting universe. There are times when he comes into contact with other individuals, when he is forced to take cognizance of the existence of other universes beside himself.’…’One is apt,’ Denis went on, ‘to be so spellbound by the spectacle of one’s own personality that one forgets that the spectacle presents itself to other people as well as to oneself.'” (143-44)