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Friday, July 12, 2013

Class and Conflict in Huxley's Crome Yellow


Crome Yellow is the first novel by British author Aldous Huxley and was published in 1921, eleven years before Huxley’s more famous book, Brave New World. Crome Yellow is a social satire about a group of people gathered for a house party at an English country estate. Each character is a parody of the literary types that were popular at the time. Each chapter is like an individual short story concentrating on the various characters and their interests which range from favorite styles of art to romantic longings to ancient modes of sanitation.

Gen recommended Crome Yellow to me. I was a little dubious at first. While I love to read, and my interests have ranged across the genres, I’ve tended to concentrate on action, adventure, and fantasy in the last few years. This did not seem like my kind of book. Where were the car chases, explosions, rampaging monsters? Sure, one of the characters almost falls off his bicycle and another sprains her ankle running down a hill in the dark, but I just wasn’t sure I would enjoy this book.

I was pleasantly surprised by Crome Yellow. No, it’s definitely not my usual style but it was interesting and engaging. Each of the characters is meant to be an exaggerated version of the types of characters that were very popular in author Huxley’s era. There is Denis, the tortured aspiring author and poet who is desperately in love, and Anne, the cool, aloof, lady love. Mr. Wimbush, the wealthy land owner who is consumed with the history of his house and family, and Mr. Bodiham, the ambitious but so far ignored cleric. Other characters include an idle rich woman, a long winded philosopher, an overly charming and accomplished aristocrat, a wallflower longing for love, and a mostly silent enigma.

Each of the characters take turns shining in the various chapters. So each chapter is like a short story about different people and interests. I never knew what the next chapter would reveal. In some chapters there is Denis pining for his art or his love, in other chapters there are amusing or tragic historical anecdotes, and in yet other chapters you have essays about various religious and social views. One chapter even gives you a glimpse of the ideas that would take center stage in Huxley’s later book, Brave New World.

Aldous Huxley suffered from near blindness and was disqualified for active service during World War I. He spent most of that time period working as a laborer at a real life country estate called Garsington Manor owned by a wealthy lady. Huxley based many of the literary characters and places found in Crome Yellow on the real life society figures who visited Garsington and nearby areas.

I found Crome Yellow to be a pretty quick read. The chapters are short and so varied that the book never lagged for me. But it also was not a completely easy book to read. Aldous Huxley and his characters speak in the style of a bygone era. While you might recognize the type of character (lovelorn sad sack, ice maiden, love ‘em and leave ‘em player, etc.), the inhabitants of Crome Yellow definitely do not sound like people you would run into at a party today. Huxley uses lots of description and lots of long sentences. He also uses many large words and there were times I had no idea what a certain word meant. I even had to resort to looking up two words to make sure I was getting it right. Crome Yellow also has a range of emotion. There is a sense of gentle humor in some of the early chapters. But the mood gradually darkens as the book goes on. It’s never entirely doom and gloom but the story definitely ends on a more unhappier note.

Overall, I found Crome Yellow to be an interesting read. It’s an intriguing look at the various fads and fashions of the past. It can be somewhat challenging to read - I don’t want to scare anyone off, it’s not hard to read but the rhythm and language is vastly different from the newest Shades of Grey potboiler. I have to give Gen credit for recommending a very good book.

Interested readers can download Crome Yellow free at Feedbooks or Project Gutenberg. You can also download a free audio book at Gutenberg or listen to streaming audio at Librivox.

7 comments:

  1. Huxley... didn't he write Brave New World? People often have the same problem with Shakespeare (language); however, we are fortunate that language has changed very little in the past two hundred years. Vernacular can throw, but I'm game for the linguistics challenges.

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    1. "Huxley... didn't he write Brave New World? "
      Yep. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brave_New_World

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  2. Anonymous12 July, 2013

    So it's 3 1/2 stars? Good review!
    Clare :)

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    1. Yes, I think 3 1/2 stars. There were some chapters and stories I really liked. My favorite is chapter 13. Mr. Wimbush shares the triumphs and tragedies of his ancestor Hercules, 4th Baronet Lapith, in his struggle to survive as a dwarf in the mid eighteenth century. I found it very haunting. But other chapters and stories were just "meh" for me. Some of the philosophical meanderings I felt were more meandering than philosophical.

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    2. Oops, sorry, I meant 3 1/2 stars out of 5 possible stars.

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  3. Now I'm going to have to schedule time for all the books you're making me want to read...

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    1. Tell me about it. [-( I have 2 e-books and at least 3 DTbooks (all fun reads) started, 2 books (both in UF series) I agreed to review but I need to read the previous book in each series before I can read and review the current book, a brand new LARGE book on Ancient Egypt that just arrived on Thursday that I haven't even dared to look at yet, just remembered that a SP UF book I was anticipating came out on Tuesday, and two of my favorite UF authors have books out later this month (including my current all time favorite: Ilona Andrews). Of course I would much rather suffer having too many books to read than go through the hell of not having anything at all.

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