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Journal of Modern Literature 25.3-4 (2002) 75-89

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Oedipus in Dystopia:
Freud and Lawrence in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World

Brad Buchanan
Stanford University

Freud's role in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World has been much discussed, but little consensus has emerged, partly because of Huxley's apparent ambivalence about Freud's ideas and his growing reluctance, after he had written the novel, to admit that he had ever been in agreement with Freud's conception of human nature. In a 1960 interview, Huxley said, "I was never intoxicated by Freud as some people were, and I get less intoxicated as I go on." 1 Although some have taken this statement as an unequivocal denial of any affinity Huxley may have had for Freud, 2 it reads less as a repudiation of Freud than as a confession that Huxley was indeed "intoxicated" by Freud to a certain extent when he was younger, although he certainly never reached the stage of feverish zealotry achieved by some of his contemporaries. 3 Indeed, Huxley's half-hearted protestations against Freud have prompted insinuations about the motives behind them. For instance, Charles Holmes claims: "throughout his life Huxley rejected Freud, though the tone and intensity of his rejection varied. Given Freud's emphasis on sex and Huxley's near-obsession with it, the rejection implies unconscious resistance incompletely understood." 4 Philip Thody has undertaken to explain this "resistance" in biographical terms: [End Page 75]

Huxley's adoration of his mother implied feelings of intense jealousy for his father, and . . . these were translated into the subconscious notion that Leonard Huxley was at least partly guilty for his wife's death. . . . [T]he hostility which Huxley always shows for Freud's ideas. . . [is] an indication of the fear which he had that such a diagnosis might be true, and the fact that almost all the fathers in Huxley's fiction are caricatures would lend weight to this view. 5

My concern, however, is neither to confirm nor refute such descriptions of and speculations about Huxley's ambivalent attitude to Freud, but to show how this attitude manifests itself in Brave New World, in which Freudian ideas are plainly on display. I also suggest that any account of Huxley's reaction to Freud should take into account the probable influence on Huxley of D.H. Lawrence, who attacked Freud's views yet whose life and work present clear examples of many Freudian theories.

The most prominent of Freud's ideas, at least for my purposes, is his notion of the "Oedipus complex," which, according to Freud, describes a male child's feelings of incestuous desire for his mother and parricidal aggression towards his father. Oedipus' story is potentially every boy's, according to Freud, because all boys see their mothers as love-objects and their fathers as rivals. 6 This was perhaps Freud's most controversial and unpopular theory, and one that Huxley might have been particularly eager to debunk. Yet on 24 August 24 1931, shortly after finishing Brave New World, Huxley wrote a letter to his father in which he describes his new book as "a comic, or at least satirical, novel about the Future . . . and adumbrating the effects on thought and feeling of such quite possible biological inventions as the production of children in bottles (with [the] consequent abolition of the family and all the Freudian 'complexes' for which family relationships are responsible)." 7 This letter shows that Huxley was willing to discuss the "Freudian 'complexes' for which family relationships are responsible" very seriously indeed and with his own father, no less. If Huxley had any doubts at all about the truth of the most famous of these complexes, he would certainly have assured his father that he harbored no such "complex," with its attendant murderous and incestuous feelings, or at least would have palliated the unpleasant thought that his own family was to blame for imposing these emotions on him. The fact that he did not, I propose, says a good deal about...


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