Aldous Huxley (1894–1963)
BERNARD had to shout through the locked door; the Savage would not open.
“But everybody’s there, waiting for you.”
“Let them wait,” came back the muffled voice through the door.
“But you know quite well, John” (how difficult it is to sound persuasive at the top of one’s voice!) “I asked them on purpose to meet you.”
“You ought to have asked me first whether I wanted to meet them.”
“But you always came before, John.”
“That’s precisely why I don’t want to come again.”
“Just to please me,” Bernard bellowingly wheedled. “Won’t you come to please me?”
“Do you seriously mean it?”
Despairingly, “But what shall I do?” Bernard wailed.
“Go to hell!” bawled the exasperated voice from within.
“But the Arch-Community-Songster of Canterbury is there to-night.” Bernard was almost in tears.
“Ai yaa tákwa!” It was only in Zuñi that the Savage could adequately express what he felt about the Arch-Community-Songster. “Háni!” he added as an afterthought; and then (with what derisive ferocity!): “Sons éso tse-ná.” And he spat on the ground, as Popé might have done.
In the end Bernard had to slink back, diminished, to his rooms and inform the impatient assembly that the Savage would not be appearing that evening. The news was received with indignation. The men were furious at having been tricked into behaving politely to this insignificant fellow with the unsavoury reputation and the heretical opinions. The higher their position in the hierarchy, the deeper their resentment.
“To play such a joke on me,” the Arch-Songster kept repeating, “on me!”
As for the women, they indignantly felt that they had been had on false pretences-had by a wretched little man who had had alcohol poured into his bottle by mistake—by a creature with a Gamma-Minus physique. It was an outrage, and they said so, more and more loudly. The Head Mistress of Eton was particularly scathing.
Lenina alone said nothing. Pale, her blue eyes clouded with an unwonted melancholy, she sat in a corner, cut off from those who surrounded her by an emotion which they did not share. She had come to the party filled with a strange feeling of anxious exultation. “In a few minutes,” she had said to herself, as she entered the room, “I shall be seeing him, talking to him, telling him” (for she had come with her mind made up) “that I like him—more than anybody I’ve ever known. And then perhaps he’ll say …”
What would he say? The blood had rushed to her cheeks.
“Why was he so strange the other night, after the feelies? So queer. And yet I’m absolutely sure he really does rather like me. I’m sure …”
It was at this moment that Bernard had made his announcement; the Savage wasn’t coming to the party.
Lenina suddenly felt all the sensations normally experienced at the beginning of a Violent Passion Surrogate treatment—a sense of dreadful emptiness, a breathless apprehension, a nausea. Her heart seemed to stop beating.
“Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t like me,” she said to herself. And at once this possibility became an established certainty: John had refused to come because he didn’t like her. He didn’t like her. …
“It really is a bit too thick,” the Head Mistress of Eton was saying to the Director of Crematoria and Phosphorus Reclamation. “When I think that I actually …”
“Yes,” came the voice of Fanny Crowne, “it’s absolutely true about the alcohol. Some one I know knew some one who was working in the Embryo Store at the time. She said to my friend, and my friend said to me …”
“Too bad, too bad,” said Henry Foster, sympathizing with the Arch-Community-Songster. “It may interest you to know that our ex-Director was on the point of transferring him to Iceland.”
Pierced by every word that was spoken, the tight balloon of Bernard’s happy self-confidence was leaking from a thousand wounds. Pale, distraught, abject and agitated, he moved among his guests, stammering incoherent apologies, assuring them that next time the Savage would certainly be there, begging them to sit down and take a carotene sandwich, a slice of vitamin A pâté, a glass of champagne-surrogate. They duly ate, but ignored him; drank and were either rude to his face or talked to one another about him, loudly and offensively, as though he had not been there.
“And now, my friends,” said the Arch-Community-Songster of Canterbury, in that beautiful ringing voice with which he led the proceedings at Ford’s Day Celebrations, “Now, my friends, I think perhaps the time has come …” He rose, put down his glass, brushed from his purple viscose waistcoat the crumbs of a considerable collation, and walked towards the door.
Bernard darted forward to intercept him.
“Must you really, Arch-Songster? … It’s very early still. I’d hoped you would …”
Yes, what hadn’t he hoped, when Lenina confidentially told him that the Arch-Community-Songster would accept an invitation if it were sent. “He’s really rather sweet, you know.” And she had shown Bernard the little golden zipper-fastening in the form of a T which the Arch-Songster had given her as a memento of the week-end she had spent at Lambeth. To meet the Arch-Community-Songster of Canterbury and Mr. Savage. Bernard had proclaimed his triumph on every invitation card. But the Savage had chosen this evening of all evenings to lock himself up in his room, to shout “Háni!” and even (it was lucky that Bernard didn’t understand Zuñi) “Sons éso tse-ná!” What should have been the crowning moment of Bernard’s whole career had turned out to be the moment of his greatest humiliation.
“I’d so much hoped …” he stammeringly repeated, looking up at the great dignitary with pleading and distracted eyes.
“My young friend,” said the Arch-Community-Songster in a tone of loud and solemn severity; there was a general silence. “Let me give you a word of advice.” He wagged his finger at Bernard. “Before it’s too late. A word of good advice.” (His voice became sepulchral.) “Mend your ways, my young friend, mend your ways.” He made the sign of the T over him and turned away. “Lenina, my dear,” he called in another tone. “Come with me.”
Obediently, but unsmiling and (wholly insensible of the honour done to her) without elation, Lenina walked after him, out of the room. The other guests followed at a respectful interval. The last of them slammed the door. Bernard was all alone.
Punctured, utterly deflated, he dropped into a chair and, covering his face with his hands, began to weep. A few minutes later, however, he thought better of it and took four tablets of soma.
Upstairs in his room the Savage was reading Romeo and Juliet.
Lenina and the Arch-Community-Songster stepped out on to the roof of Lambeth Palace. “Hurry up, my young friend—I mean, Lenina,” called the Arch-Songster impatiently from the lift gates. Lenina, who had lingered for a moment to look at the moon, dropped her eyes and came hurrying across the roof to rejoin him.
“A New Theory of Biology” was the title of the paper which Mustapha Mond had just finished reading. He sat for some time, meditatively frowning, then picked up his pen and wrote across the title-page: “The author’s mathematical treatment of the conception of purpose is novel and highly ingenious, but heretical and, so far as the present social order is concerned, dangerous and potentially subversive. Not to be published.” He underlined the words. “The author will be kept under supervision. His transference to the Marine Biological Station of St. Helena may become necessary.” A pity, he thought, as he signed his name. It was a masterly piece of work. But once you began admitting explanations in terms of purpose—well, you didn’t know what the result might be. It was the sort of idea that might easily decondition the more unsettled minds among the higher castes—make them lose their faith in happiness as the Sovereign Good and take to believing, instead, that the goal was somewhere beyond, somewhere outside the present human sphere, that the purpose of life was not the maintenance of well-being, but some intensification and refining of consciousness, some enlargement of knowledge. Which was, the Controller reflected, quite possibly true. But not, in the present circumstance, admissible. He picked up his pen again, and under the words “Not to be published” drew a second line, thicker and blacker than the first; then sighed, “What fun it would be,” he thought, “if one didn’t have to think about happiness!”
With closed eyes, his face shining with rapture, John was softly declaiming to vacancy:
“Oh! she doth teach the torches to burn bright.
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night,
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear;
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear…”
The golden T lay shining on Lenina’s bosom. Sportively, the Arch-Community-Songster caught hold of it, sportively he pulled, pulled. “I think,” said Lenina suddenly, breaking a long silence, “I’d better take a couple of grammes of soma.”
Bernard, by this time, was fast asleep and smiling at the private paradise of his dreams. Smiling, smiling. But inexorably, every thirty seconds, the minute hand of the electric clock above his bed jumped forward with an almost imperceptible click. Click, click, click, click … And it was morning. Bernard was back among the miseries of space and time. It was in the lowest spirits that he taxied across to his work at the Conditioning Centre. The intoxication of success had evaporated; he was soberly his old self; and by contrast with the temporary balloon of these last weeks, the old self seemed unprecedentedly heavier than the surrounding atmosphere.
To this deflated Bernard the Savage showed himself unexpectedly sympathetic.
“You’re more like what you were at Malpais,” he said, when Bernard had told him his plaintive story. “Do you remember when we first talked together? Outside the little house. You’re like what you were then.”
“Because I’m unhappy again; that’s why.”
“Well, I’d rather be unhappy than have the sort of false, lying happiness you were having here.”
“I like that,” said Bernard bitterly. “When it’s you who were the cause of it all. Refusing to come to my party and so turning them all against me!” He knew that what he was saying was absurd in its injustice; he admitted inwardly, and at last even aloud, the truth of all that the Savage now said about the worthlessness of friends who could be turned upon so slight a provocation into persecuting enemies. But in spite of this knowledge and these admissions, in spite of the fact that his friend’s support and sympathy were now his only comfort, Bernard continued perversely to nourish, along with his quite genuine affection, a secret grievance against the Savage, to mediate a campaign of small revenges to be wreaked upon him. Nourishing a grievance against the Arch-Community-Songster was useless; there was no possibility of being revenged on the Chief Bottler or the Assistant Predestinator. As a victim, the Savage possessed, for Bernard, this enormous superiority over the others: that he was accessible. One of the principal functions of a friend is to suffer (in a milder and symbolic form) the punishments that we should like, but are unable, to inflict upon our enemies. Bernard’s other victim-friend was Helmholtz. When, discomfited, he came and asked once more for the friendship which, in his prosperity, he had not thought it worth his while to preserve. Helmholtz gave it; and gave it without a reproach, without a comment, as though he had forgotten that there had ever been a quarrel. Touched, Bernard felt himself at the same time humiliated by this magnanimity—a magnanimity the more extraordinary and therefore the more humiliating in that it owed nothing to soma and everything to Helmholtz’s character. It was the Helmholtz of daily life who forgot and forgave, not the Helmholtz of a half-gramme holiday. Bernard was duly grateful (it was an enormous comfort to have his friend again) and also duly resentful (it would be pleasure to take some revenge on Helmholtz for his generosity).
At their first meeting after the estrangement, Bernard poured out the tale of his miseries and accepted consolation. It was not till some days later that he learned, to his surprise and with a twinge of shame, that he was not the only one who had been in trouble. Helmholtz had also come into conflict with Authority.
“It was over some rhymes,” he explained. “I was giving my usual course of Advanced Emotional Engineering for Third Year Students. Twelve lectures, of which the seventh is about rhymes. ‘On the Use of Rhymes in Moral Propaganda and Advertisement,’ to be precise. I always illustrate my lecture with a lot of technical examples. This time I thought I’d give them one I’d just written myself. Pure madness, of course; but I couldn’t resist it.” He laughed. “I was curious to see what their reactions would be. Besides,” he added more gravely, “I wanted to do a bit of propaganda; I was trying to engineer them into feeling as I’d felt when I wrote the rhymes. Ford!” He laughed again. “What an outcry there was! The Principal had me up and threatened to hand me the immediate sack. I’m a marked man.” “But what were your rhymes?” Bernard asked. “They were about being alone.” Bernard’s eyebrows went up.
“I’ll recite them to you, if you like.” And Helmholtz began:
Sticks, but a broken drum,
Midnight in the City,
Flutes in a vacuum,
Shut lips, sleeping faces,
Every stopped machine,
The dumb and littered places
Where crowds have been—
All silences rejoice,
Weep (loudly or low),
Speak—but with the voice
Of whom, I do not know.
Absence, say, of Susan’s,
Absence of Egeria ‘s
Arms and respective bosoms,
Lips and, ah, posteriors,
Slowly form a presence;
Whose? and, I ask, of what
So absurd an essence,
That something, which is not,
Nevertheless should populate
Empty night more solidly
Than that with which we copulate,
Why should it seem so squalidly?
Well, I gave them that as an example, and they reported me to the Principal.”
“I’m not surprised,” said Bernard. “It’s flatly against all their sleep-teaching. Remember, they’ve had at least a quarter of a million warnings against solitude.”
“I know. But I thought I’d like to see what the effect would be.” “Well, you’ve seen now.”
Helmholtz only laughed. “I feel,” he said, after a silence, as though I were just beginning to have something to write about. As though I were beginning to be able to use that power I feel I’ve got inside me—that extra, latent power. Something seems to be coming to me.” In spite of all his troubles, he seemed, Bernard thought, profoundly happy.
Helmholtz and the Savage took to one another at once. So cordially indeed that Bernard felt a sharp pang of jealousy. In all these weeks he had never come to so close an intimacy with the Savage as Helmholtz immediately achieved. Watching them, listening to their talk, he found himself sometimes resentfully wishing that he had never brought them together. He was ashamed of his jealousy and alternately made efforts of will and took soma to keep himself from feeling it. But the efforts were not very successful; and between the soma-holidays there were, of necessity, intervals. The odious sentiment kept on returning.
At his third meeting with the Savage, Helmholtz recited his rhymes on Solitude. “What do you think of them?” he asked when he had done.
The Savage shook his head. “Listen to this,” was his answer; and unlocking the drawer in which he kept his mouse-eaten book, he opened and read:
“Let the bird of loudest lay
On the sole Arabian tree,
Herald sad and trumpet be …”
Helmholtz listened with a growing excitement. At “sole Arabian tree” he started; at “thou shrieking harbinger” he smiled with sudden pleasure; at “every fowl of tyrant wing” the blood rushed up into his cheeks; but at “defunctive music” he turned pale and trembled with an unprecedented emotion. The Savage read on:
“Property was thus appall’d,
That the self was not the same;
Single nature’s double name
Neither two nor one was call’d.
Reason in itself confounded
Saw division grow together…”
“Orgy-porgy!” said Bernard, interrupting the reading with a loud, unpleasant laugh. “It’s just a Solidarity Service hymn.” He was revenging himself on his two friends for liking one another more than they liked him.
In the course of their next two or three meetings he frequently repeated this little act of vengeance. It was simple and, since both Helmholtz and the Savage were dreadfully pained by the shattering and defilement of a favourite poetic crystal, extremely effective. In the end, Helmholtz threatened to kick him out of the room if he dared to interrupt again. And yet, strangely enough, the next interruption, the most disgraceful of all, came from Helmholtz himself. The Savage was reading Romeo and Juliet aloud—reading (for all the time he was seeing himself as Romeo and Lenina as Juliet) with an intense and quivering passion. Helmholtz had listened to the scene of the lovers’ first meeting with a puzzled interest. The scene in the orchard had delighted him with its poetry; but the sentiments expressed had made him smile. Getting into such a state about having a girl—it seemed rather ridiculous. But, taken detail by verbal detail, what a superb piece of emotional engineering! “That old fellow,” he said, “he makes our best propaganda technicians look absolutely silly.” The Savage smiled triumphantly and resumed his reading. All went tolerably well until, in the last scene of the third act, Capulet and Lady Capulet began to bully Juliet to marry Paris. Helmholtz had been restless throughout the entire scene; but when, pathetically mimed by the Savage, Juliet cried out:
“Is there no pity sitting in the clouds,
That sees into the bottom of my grief?
O sweet my mother, cast me not away:
Delay this marriage for a month, a week;
Or, if you do not, make the bridal bed
In that dim monument where Tybalt lies …”
when Juliet said this, Helmholtz broke out in an explosion of uncontrollable guffawing.
The mother and father (grotesque obscenity) forcing the daughter to have some one she didn’t want! And the idiotic girl not saying that she was having some one else whom (for the moment, at any rate) she preferred! In its smutty absurdity the situation was irresistibly comical. He had managed, with a heroic effort, to hold down the mounting pressure of his hilarity; but “sweet mother” (in the Savage’s tremulous tone of anguish) and the reference to Tybalt lying dead, but evidently uncremated and wasting his phosphorus on a dim monument, were too much for him. He laughed and laughed till the tears streamed down his face—quenchlessly laughed while, pale with a sense of outrage, the Savage looked at him over the top of his book and then, as the laughter still continued, closed it indignantly, got up and, with the gesture of one who removes his pearl from before swine, locked it away in its drawer.
“And yet,” said Helmholtz when, having recovered breath enough to apologize, he had mollified the Savage into listening to his explanations, “I know quite well that one needs ridiculous, mad situations like that; one can’t write really well about anything else. Why was that old fellow such a marvellous propaganda technician? Because he had so many insane, excruciating things to get excited about. You’ve got to be hurt and upset; otherwise you can’t think of the really good, penetrating, X-rayish phrases. But fathers and mothers!” He shook his head. “You can’t expect me to keep a straight face about fathers and mothers. And who’s going to get excited about a boy having a girl or not having her?” (The Savage winced; but Helmholtz, who was staring pensively at the floor, saw nothing.) “No.” he concluded, with a sigh, “it won’t do. We need some other kind of madness and violence. But what? What? Where can one find it?” He was silent; then, shaking his head, “I don’t know,” he said at last, “I don’t know.”
- The official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. ↵
- A tropical island in the South Atlantic. In 1815, the British government selected St. Helena as the place of detention for Napoleon Bonaparte. ↵
- Romeo’s words upon first laying eyes on Juliet. R&J 1.5.41 ff. ↵
- The opening lines of Shakespeare’s “The Phoenix and the Turtle.” ↵
- Romeo and Juliet 3.5.196 ff. ↵