Jenn Reads: Brave New World

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley was our April pick for the Cheshire Cats Classics Book Club.

Before there was The Hunger Games series, Maze Runner series, Legend series there was Brave New World. Huxley was one of the first authors to write a dystopian novel and all others that follow are using him as an example. He did it first and did it best. I marketed this book as the original dystopian novel, because of how popular that genre is right now. And if you want to know where these authors have likely gotten their inspiration, you need to read this book.

A few fast facts about Huxley: he taught French at Eton and George Orwell was one of his students. When Orwell published 1984, he sent a copy to his former teacher, who

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

basically called the book garbage. Huxley died on the same day as C. S. Lewis and JFK, and both of their deaths were overshadowed by the death of the president. And he was a friend to Igor Stravinsky.

Brave New World is a book that is so similar to our own, it is scary how real this book is.

Published in 1932, Brave New World takes place almost 600 years in the future. This is a world where your future is determined at the moment of your conception. Every single child born in this world is born of the test tube and is “raised” to be one of five classes- Alpha, being the best and highest class, or Epsilon, the lowest class. You have no mother, father, and are engineered for specific tasks. You will never grow old, you will never rise above your class, and you will have no apparent free will. Life will be full of pleasurable things however- sex, drugs, mass consumption, and more.

So what makes a dystopian novel different from an utopian novel? Dystopian novels are characterized by a horrible society headed towards oblivion, while utopian novels have an ideal society. Brave New World is a utopian novel on the surface, and to those living in that society, but it’s really dystopian. There is a huge reliance on technology, instant gratification, and lots of propaganda.

Huxley was disturbed at the path the world was taking: the world had been plunged into a great economic depression, fascism and communism were taking hold across Europe, and the Industrial Revolution was continuing to change the landscape of the world. What would happen to us as a people if all of this continued? Huxley feared that we would become a people slaved to technology, conditioned for pleasure and nothing else, and drugged to reality. If you’re thinking this sounds a lot like today’s society, you would not be that far off. However, lurking on the fringes were Savage Worlds with people who had lived a much different life.

If you read Brave New World today, there are many scenes that will likely make you think twice. One for me was the scene at what I’ll call the children’s center, where children are being conditioned for certain things. This particular set of children is taught to be afraid of loud noises. What is eerie is the level of manipulation that is going on- these children have no free will. Just like our own, the world of Brave New World is a throw-away society. Something breaks, is old, is damaged, is no longer wanted- throw it away!

Huxley had supposed it would take hundreds of years for the things he wrote about to come true, but if you look hard at the world we live in today, it is a lot like the one he envisioned. Hospice, cloning/DNA/biological engineering, helicopters, and e-books were just a few of the things he prophecized for the future.

Brave New World is easy reading, but do not be fooled by the simplicity of the language or writing. Huxley has a lot to say about how we live our lives with each other, with technology, and for the future.

Rating: 3 bookmarks out of 5

See you in the stacks,

Jenn

 

Jenn Reads: A Tale of Two Cities

In general, I have a rule when it comes to selecting items for our Cheshire Cats Classics Club to read: it has to be something I have never read before.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, I like to read something fresh and new along with my clubbers. If I selected something that I’ve read in the past, I likely would not take the time to reread it. Second, the classics I have read are likely those my clubbers have already read, and one of my goals is to introduce

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

them to titles and authors they may have never read before. It’s a formula that has worked for 3 1/2 years.

For our March pick, I broke that rule.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is a book I was *supposed* to have read as a senior in high school. Let’s rewind 10 years: It’s April, senior year. I’m in my AP English class and we’ve already read at least 10 books this year. The end of this high school experience is near, and simply say to Charles Dickens: “Nah.” Totally not in my nature as a student to do this, but alas, I had had enough (sorry Mr. M.). So I Sparknoted it.

When I put together the set for the first quarter in 2014 for the Classics Club, I looked back at Tale and thought I should give it another shot. At least this time, I could truly say that I read it and if I didn’t like it, well, then I didn’t like it.

A Tale of Two Cities, written in 1859, was serialized from April to November of that year. Dickens was a master at serialization and was one of the few authors of his time to make money off his books in his lifetime. In general, the story deals with the French Revolution through the eyes of both British and French citizens. Just about everyone, even though who have never read the book before, can quote you the opening line, “It was the worst of times, it was the best of times…” Dickens’ friend and biographer, John Forster, wrote that Tale had the least humor and least remarkable characters of all his novels. Well, at least he was honest.

Writing about the French Revolution during Victorian England was a topic writers used often, and readers were likely sick of it by the time Dickens wrote Tale. Dickens specifically chose the French Revolution for the background of his story becauseĀ  it fit with the overall message he was trying to convey about social justice in England. His initial inspiration came from (or was stolen from, however you see it) his acting experience in friend and fellow author Wilkie Collin’s play The Frozen Deep, which is about two men, one of whom sacrifices his life so the other can be with the woman they both love. Sound familiar?

There are many parallels to Dickens’ own personal life throughout Tale, including the inspiration for Lucie Manet/Darnay. At the time of writing Tale Dickens had begun an affair with actress Nelly Tiernan, who has a strong resemblance to Lucie. As well, it has been hinted that Charles Darnay and Sidney Carton, who are almost the physically the same person, are Dickens himself.

So what did I think about A Tale of Two Cities? I’m glad I finally slogged through it. In typically Victorian fashion, there is too much time spent on the minutiae, with loooonnnnggg descriptions. In the first half there is little movement or action, and dare I say, no character development. When Lucie and Charles get married, the storyline starts to pick up. However, at that point, we’re almost halfway through the novel.

There was a lot I liked about the book: the end (no spoilers here), the villains (loved to hate them), and the setting. This is a book that takes lots of time to get where it’s going, so it’s something that a reader needs to stay with. Dickens writes with purpose, meaning he is one of those authors who inserts definite themes- he wants you to pick them out.

If you get a chance, check out the new movie which highlights this time in Dickens’ life and his affair with Tiernan called The Invisible Woman.

Rating: 3 stars out of 5 (it’s a hearty 3)

See you in the stacks,
Jenn