The Provocations of Lenina in Huxley's Brave New World

The Provocations of Lenina in Huxley's Brave New World

David Leon Higdon, Texas Tech University

As befits a Juvenalian satirist, indignantly, bitterly, misanthropically chastising his culture, Aldous Huxley often expresses outright disgust with the entire human species. In Antic Hay (1923), his second novel, an anonymous old man tells Theodore Gumbril, the protagonist, as they look at London's suburban houses, "What disgusts me is the people inside the architecture. The numbers of them, sir. And the way they breed. Like maggots, sir, like maggots. Millions of them, creeping about the face of the country, spreading blight and dirt wherever they go; ruining everything." [1] He then forecasts that the world will soon become "a pretty sort of bear garden ... a monkey house ... a warthoggery" (264). Five years later, in Point Counter Point (1928), this vision has deepened into the "modern Bestiary" of parasitical animals, who are "damned, destroyed, irrevocably corrupted." [2] Here Spandrell complains to Mark Rampion that the beings around them are "ambitious of being angels; but all they succeed in being is either cuckoos and geese on the one hand or else disgusting vultures and carrion crows on the other," [3] excellent metaphors for a satirist become fabulist.

It is equally obvious, however, that Huxley reserved especial bile for the female of the species, whose presence provokes even more heated rhetoric. In Antic Hay, for example, Mercaptan tells Myra Viveash, "ces femmes! They're all Pasiphaes and Ledas. They all in their hearts prefer beasts to men, savages to civilised beings," and the anonymous gentleman, watching Myra as she walks down London's King Street, acidly thinks: "Vicious young women. Lesbians, drug-fiends, nymphomaniacs, dipsos-thoroughly vicious nowadays, thoroughly vicious." [4] Indeed, he is correct so far as the women in the world of Antic Hay go, because they are depicted as dangerous predators, ranging from the serpent-like Rosie Shearwater to the "sullen and ferocious" Zoe, to the Sphinx-like, "bored" Myra who announces that "'to-morrow ... will be as awful as to-day'." [5] These women pale, though, when compared to Lucy Tantamount of Point Counter Point. Lucy, "the consummate flower of this charming civilization," bluntly warns that she needs victims, and Philip Quarles describes her as a "man-eater." [6] She wants "to be herself ... ruthlessly having her fun." [7] These characterizations, misogynist as they are, do not get in the way of Huxley's Juvenalian vision, but they do hint at a potential imbalance in this vision.

The misogyny, everywhere evident in Huxley's novels written before 1931, does become a serious narrative issue and a thematic problem in Brave New World (1932). A careful consideration of Lenina's attitudes, decisions, and actions shows that the overlay of misogyny careened Huxley into contradicting his ideas, into failing to see that Lenina is more heroic in her resistance to the Fordian world than are the men his narrative praises, and into taking an unearned and mean-spirited revenge on Lenina. In brief, Lenina's resistance goes unnoticed in the novel because of the novel's misogyny, but it can go unnoticed no longer, given feminism's attention to such marginalized characters. This misogyny has, of course, not gone completely unnoticed in Huxley criticism. In one of the more inclusive discussions, Milton Birnbaum notes that women in Huxley's world "are seen chiefly in relationship to the males" and only "occupy a satellite position." And in an enlightening general discussion of misogyny in dystopias, Deanna Madden concludes that the men in Brave New World "have a spiritual dimension that the women lack ... mired in the physical, the women interfere with or prevent the men from achieving spiritually" and that "Huxley's misogyny has its obvious roots in a more general inability to accept the body." [8]

At least once in his career, then, misogyny disastrously impeded characterization, theme, and intention and virtually deconstructed his book before the eyes of his readers. In Huxley's best-known, most frequently taught work, Brave New World, inconsistencies of discourse threaten to destabilize the text and to provide generic signals contrary to Huxley's condemnation of the World State. The reader is emphatically encouraged to read against the grain of the book.

Brave New World is most usually interpreted through the actions and thoughts of its four male rebels: Bernard Marx, Helmholtz Watson, John the Savage, and Mustapha Mond-each of whom has been driven in one way or another to question and to rebel against the not-to-be-questioned values of the Fordian/Freudian world of 632 A.F. Each of these men has wandered dangerously far into unorthodoxies that threaten the community, identity, and stability of the World State. At one point, the Director reminds Henry Foster that "no offence is so heinous as unorthodoxy of behaviour ... it strikes at Society itself." [9] Only one of them, Mustapha Mond, has the status and power with which to protect himself. Huxley thus depicts one male failure after another. Helmholtz Watson's excursion into modernist poetry brings exile to the Falkland Islands; Bernard Marx's drive for affirmation of his Alpha status brings exile, possibly to Iceland; and John's attempt to restore a sense of worth to the individual brings death at the end of a rope, turning a deserted air-lighthouse into a grim compass signaling the absolute lack of direction Huxley sensed in his world. Huxley offers a remarkably sexist vision which suggests-if it does not outright say-that only Alpha men are capable of being unhappy, of being unorthodox, of being rebels. Only once, in a remark by Mustapha Mond, does the work suggest that women can become as troublesome to the State as men and suffer exile for their unorthodoxy (233).

Discontent with these readings that so privilege the male world and the patriarchal state may begin with a simple question: why does Lenina Crowne frequently wear green? The rigid caste system of Brave New World emphatically signals status, intelligence, and worth through the colors prescribed for males and females of the five castes: for Alphas, gray, Betas mulberry or maroon, Gammas green, Deltas khaki, and Epsilons black. Individuality is extinguished through these colors. Within these five castes there are plus and minus subcategories, but nothing indicates that colors differ or even shade into various tones. While Henry Foster and Lenina "copter" to play Obstacle Golf, Lenina voices her dislike for the "hideous colour khaki" (62) and, a few moments later, tells Henry "my word ... I'm glad I'm not a Gamma" (63), as they watch "the leaf-green Gamma girls" changing shifts at the Television Corporation's factory. Interestingly, Lenina is wearing a "bottle green jacket" (60) at the time. Even earlier, the narrative voice had marked Lenina's jacket "made of bottle green acetate cloth with green vicose fur at the cuffs and collar," her "green corduroy shorts," her "green-and-white jockey cap," her "bright green" shoes, all topped off by "a silver-mounted green morocco-surrogate cartridge belt, bulging ... with the regulation supply of contraceptives" (50).

Two things are basically wrong with these details if orthodoxy and consistency are to be features of the World State and of Huxley's chosen satiric direction. First, green clearly places Lenina outside the color codes of the caste system, the only character, other than the outsider John, who is allowed this violation. Second, and more revealing, Lenina is not construed by Huxley as a rebel for wearing green even though her green wardrobe clearly marks her as being unorthodox. Lenina is, after all, either an Alpha (most likely) or a Beta and should be wearing gray or maroon. [10] In the twenty-first century, we may be more aware of such inconsistent details than was Huxley's 1932 audience, because we have lived almost a half century in cultures where dress is an intensely coded discourse of its own, and Establishment or Anti-Establishment signals are emphatically encoded in hair styles, colors, shoes, etc. Lenina's wardrobe of green, white (other than her at-work uniform), and pink directly interrogates the text in which it appears. Huxley's text backs its reader into an uncomfortable corner in a number of ways. Either Lenina is as self-consciously a rebel against her benevolently totalitarian world as are the men, but left undeveloped because Huxley could not conceive of a woman rebel, or Huxley allowed gross inconsistencies onto his pages that threaten the integrity of his closed system and the themes of his work. [11] One may assume that Huxley was so involved in the 1930s search for a "good place" that his text escaped his control, possibly because he wrote it so quickly in the four months between April and August 1931.

Lenina is also at odds with her world in other crucial areas, equally significant but not as easily noticeable to all those around her. She is warned, though, by friends that she is straying into dangerous unorthodoxies in her sexual habits. Lenina suffers from the desire to experience love for another and to be sexually monogamous with this being for some time-two tendencies that strike at the heart of prescribed sexual behavior in a society mandating promiscuity as a civic duty. After confiding to her friend Fanny that she "hadn't been feeling very keen on promiscuity lately" (43), Lenina is cautioned by Fanny, who tells her, "You're hopeless" (48), and adds "with dismal emphasis": "One of these days ... you'll get into trouble" (49). After all, Lenina has been dating Henry Foster for four months and blushes in defiance when telling Fanny, "No, there hasn't been any one else.... And I jolly well don't see why there should have been" (40; emphasis added). Lenina knows, and knows well, that she has consciously broken the regulation that "every one belongs to every one else" (43). Lenina's sexual rebellion poses as large a challenge to the text's motifs as does her wardrobe; it is just a bit less visible to those around her. Just as she questions the codes of colors, she questions the code of sexuality, and, in both instances, she escapes punishment. She even ventures into heresies that strike at the basis of the caste system when she observes to Henry Foster, as they pass over the crematoria smokestacks, "queer that Alphas and Betas won't make any more plants grow than those nasty little Gammas and Deltas and Epsilons down there" (74). Indeed, she either escapes the notice of her superiors or eludes censure because she is so desirably and "wonderfully pneumatic" (44).

Rather than confronting, developing, and enabling her rebellion-so less shrill and programmatic than those of Bernard and John and also so much more successful at times-Huxley's text takes revenge on her and virtually humiliates her back into the confines of its systems. It is a mean-spirited revenge, one that callously violates her characterization in the early chapters. Suddenly in chapter VI, part I, Lenina becomes nothing more than a mouthpiece to play the most conventional platitudes off against Bernard's adolescent attempts to shock her. Indeed, Theodor Adorno asserts that "each of her gestures ... is socially preformed, part of a conventional ritual." [12] After John the Savage enters the text, Lenina becomes but one more Huxleyian sexual predator. Like Myra Viveash and Lucy Tantamount, Lenina becomes obsessed with achieving sexual victory. At Malpais, Lenina so brazenly apprises John's "really beautiful body" that he blushes and "drop[s] his eyes" (118), and when her "zippicamiknicks" (197) drop to the floor in a later scene, John "retreat[s] in terror, flapping his hands at her as though he were trying to scare away some intruding and dangerous animal" (197-98). Near the end of the novel, the revenge becomes complete. A young woman-without question Lenina "in green velveteen shorts, white shirt, and jockey cap" (264)-disembarks from a helicopter and approaches the abandoned lighthouse John has made his home. John begins to whip her, and we are to assume, I believe, that in the ensuing frenzy of the orgy he either whips her to death or embraces her sexually and then kills her in disgust over his own actions. Lenina deserved better than this from Henry Foster, from Bernard Marx, from John, and especially from Aldous Huxley.

At least twice in his lifetime, Huxley had occasion to reconsider Brave New World and to contemplate what he called "the artistic sins committed and bequeathed by that different person who was oneself in youth," his judgment in the foreword written for a postwar edition (vii), but neither time brought forth any observations about Lenina or women. In 1946, reeling from the atomic bomb, the Iron Curtain, and the opening salvos of the Cold War, Huxley's foreword concentrated on thematic materials and the unfairness of offering John "only two alternatives ... insanity on the one hand and lunacy on the other" (viii), arguing that a third option, namely the "possibility of sanity ... in a community of exiles and refugees" (ix), should have been considered. About the women in the novel, he said nothing. Twelve years later, in Brave New World Revisited, Huxley weighed more thoughtfully the "enormous ... subject of freedom and its enemies," [13] fearing that "the prophecies made in 1931 are coming true much sooner than I thought they would." [14] Again, he remained silent on the issue of women and their roles in Brave New World and in contemporary society, which so troubled him, other than pointing out that the "ideal wife" for the "ideal man" must be "highly gregarious, infinitely adaptable and not merely resigned to the fact that her husband's first loyalty is to the Corporation, but actively loyal on her own account." [15] Of course, Huxley steeps this sentence in considerable irony, because he then goes on to observe that the ideal wife is much worse off than was Eve, but the rest of his discussion maintains a studied silence about women.

To some extent, as Madden points out, Lenina is also a generic problem, one posed as such from the moment H. G. Wells introduced Weena into The Time Machine (1895), and the problem surfaces continually in futuristic fiction down to George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), in which Julia is largely dropped from the last sixty pages of the novel. Orwell, though, at least recognized that sexual expression and activity could be acts of rebellion. After having sex with Julia in the "Golden Country," Winston Smith is elated, thinking "their embrace had been a battle, the climax a victory. It was a blow struck against the Party. It was a political act." [16] Not so with Huxley. I believe he was so blinded by his misogyny that, as he wrote Brave New World, he created a character at odds with the text who resisted fitting comfortably into the fable of the text and being shaped by the ideas of the text, so much so that an attentive reader realizes that the urgencies of satire ask us to brush by the paradoxes through which Lenina so threatens the text. Lenina's bottle-green jacket may not shake the World State, but it certainly does threaten Huxley's text.

Notes

[1] Antic Hay (New York: Carroll and Graf, 1923) 262. All subsequent references are to this edition and are cited in the text in parentheses.
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[2] Point Counter Point (New York: Harper and Row, 1965) 298 and 57.
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[3] Huxley, Point Counter Point 409.
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[4] Huxley, Antic Hay 121, 217.
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[5] Huxley, Antic Hay 72, 350.
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[6] Huxley, Point Counter Point 57, 56, 196.
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[7] Huxley, Point Counter Point 206.
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[8] Milton Birnbaum, Aldous Huxley's Quest for Values (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1971) 61, and Deanna Madden, "Women in Dystopia: Misogyny in Brave New World, 1984, and A Clockwork Orange," Misogyny in Literature: An Essay Collection, ed. Katherine Anne Ackley (New York: Garland, 1992) 292, 296. It should be noted, in relation to the Madden essay, that the misogyny in the Anthony Burgess novel is entirely the protagonist's, not the novelist's.
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[9] Brave New World (New York: Harper and Row, 1989) 150. All subsequent references are to this edition and are cited in the text in parentheses.
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[10] Madden asserts, without evidence, that Lenina is a Beta (291) and implies that women cannot be Alphas. The caste of virtually every named female in the text remains highly indeterminate. There is a faint hint that the Solidarity Service (chapter V, part 2) involves only members of the same caste, but again the crucial evidence is absent from the pages. One can infer, given the World State's emphasis on sexual gratification, that the Cyprus experiment, described by Mustpha Mond to John, involving some twenty-two thousand Alphas (229), involved both male and female Alphas.
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[11] Huxley's text is riddled with many inconsistencies and indeterminancies. For instance, it is perfectly clear that a number of women donate their ovaries to the general good of society (3, 11-12, for instance), but do a certain number of men donate their testicles to the State? Do they make themselves "eunuchs for Ford"? Answering these questions depends on how one construes the sex-hormone gum the men frequently chew (60) and how one explains the origins of "the male gametes" (3) in the Hatchery. With no regular donation of sperm for the Hatchery's fertilization process (148), it would seem necessary that the Hatcheries maintain a supply of both ovaries and testicles.
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[12] Theodor W. Adorno, "Aldous Huxley and Utopia," Prisms, trans. Samuel and Shierry Weber (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981) 105. Adorno mistakes many other things about Lenina, writing, for instance, that she is "a well-groomed and polished American career woman" (105).
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[13] Huxley, Brave New World Revisited (New York: Harper and Row, 1965) viii.
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[14] Huxley, Brave New World Revisited 4.
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[15] Huxley, Brave New World Revisited 25.
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[16] George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (New York: New American Library, 1981) 105.
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