Brave New World: Utopian and Dystopian Literature
( Resources for Fall 2006)
News from Nowhere and Brave New World (J. Sexton)
Characteristics of Utopias
• Hostility to the past and to history
• Centralized government or administration
• Abolition of the family
• Socialistic, property held in common
• Eugenics or dysgenics
• Birth control
• Education as socializing force
• Temperance, simplification
• Reverence for science and technology, reason
• Taxi-cab syndrome (a guided tour or overview of utopia de rigeur)
• Aesthetically, problem depicting good society, because conflict is central to fiction, for as Swift says, "The materials of Panegyrick being very few in number, have been long since exhausted. For as Health is but one Thing, and has always been the same, whereas Diseases are by thousands, besides new and daily Additions; so all the Virtues that have been ever in Mankind, are to be counted upon a few Fingers, but his Follies and Vices are innumerable, and Time adds hourly to the Heap (Tale of the Tub), or as Huxley put it in 1934, Benevolence is tepid; hatred and its complement, vanity, are stinging hot and high-flavored" "Do We Require Orgies?"
• Protagonist usually an outsider
• Set in different place and/or time from present society (uchronia if time, utopia if place)
Brave New World and News from Nowhere by James Sexton
In the third chapter of Aldous Huxley's utopian satire Brave New World, the philosopher-king, Mustapha Mond, gives his Alpha Plus students a very rare treat: a history lesson. Like all good utopian writers, Huxley employs the taxi-cab syndrome; that is, in order to demonstrate concretely to the reader as many salient features of the utopia, the stock visitor (John Savage in Brave New World, a kind of Voltairean ingénu, and like the ingénu, a visitor from a North American Indian Reservation,) is given a guided tour of utopia by a knowledgeable native. Why history should be anathema to the utopian mind is not perhaps immediately clear, but after all, since a utopian state, once established, is by definition perfect, or nearly so, then change must be avoided at all cost. Therefore, history and the past are negative. Utopia is a steady-state. As Stephen Arata puts it in his new edition of NN, Old Hammond's two-part narrative, chapters 17-18 ("How the Change Came", followed by "The Beginning of the New Life…unfolds across the mid-point of Morris' novel. When the narrative is done, we have reached the end of history. The success of the revolution is the end of historical change. That is utopia. Having reached utopia or nowhere, we need go nowhere else" (Arata, 43).
Like News from Nowhere, Brave New World is set mainly in the London of the future (the present in BNW being 2540 or 632 A.F. (Anno Fordi): 1908+632 or (the new dispensation dating from the year Ford introduced his model-T Ford). Morris is silent as to the exact year in which NN takes place, but it is roughly 2150 according to Clive Wilmer.
Referring for this once only to the past (something of a swear word, as are the words mother and father), Mond tells of the events which led to the eventual founding of the nowhere or ou topos over which he presides and so this time at least, he resembles Old Hammond, who in chapter 17 of News from Nowhere tells us "How the Change Came". In what could be taken as one of Huxley's many allusions to Morris, Mond states that just prior to the change, "Eight hundred simple Lifers were mowed down at Golders Green", (BNW 44) Golders Green being a district of London. For if Morris's nowhere can be summed up in a phrase, that phrase might be, "simple life", the utopian vision linked to the arts and crafts movement in late 19th century England. "which had evolved from the moral aesthetics and social ideals established earlier in the nineteenth century by the architect Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, the art critic and Oxford University professor John Ruskin (1819-1900), and William Morris. It was also informed by the philosophy of the American transcendentalists, particularly Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) and Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), and the socialism of the poet, sandal maker, and champion of manual labor Edward Carpenter (1844-1929). Pugin and Ruskin in particular were standard-bearers for the Gothic revival, which was considered Britain's native style and, by the 1880s, had inspired a passion for any vernacular expression. Utopian cooperatives such as Ruskin's Guild of Saint George shaped the turn of the century ideal of forming self-sufficient rural communities in which to lead the simple life. It was thought that the evils of cities, industrialization, and capitalism would be reversed by a reintegration with nature and the creation of a more egalitarian society. The objective was the unity of manual labor and spiritual enlightenment, of work and leisure, of farming and making beautiful crafts from the bounty of the land using time-honored methods.
While the idyll of the simple life was seldom realized, its aspirations permeated the entire movement. If you could not abandon the city and return to the land, you could at least live in a self-consciously understated house evoking regional traditions and peasant arts and filled with handcrafted objects made of natural, local materials. As the architect Philip Webb (1831-1915) declared: "I shall never begin to be satisfied until my work looks commonplace."(2)
Morris had the most far-reaching influence of the English arts and crafts leaders. While studying theology at Oxford he encountered the ideas of Ruskin and embraced them as his new religion. His books, like Ruskin's, were reprinted many times on both sides of the Atlantic, inspiring clubs, reading groups, and countless acolytes. Most important was the example he set as the consummate designer-craftsman.
The Pre-Raphaelite painters Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1868) and Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) were among the founding members of the firm Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Company, which was formed in 1861 (and was reorganized as Morris and Company in 1875). They applied their artistic talents to ornamenting furniture and designing textiles, stained glass, and tries with motifs from medieval legends. Morris's own genius was for flat patterns drawn from nature. His best designs were for wallpapers, textiles, and books. His Roots of the Mountains demonstrates the arts and crafts passion for unification on many levels. In addition to integrating art and life, the sacred and the secular, the goal was to integrate all mediums as well as all components of a single work of art. Morris not only wrote the book but also selected the paper and typeface, designed the layout, and chose one of his company's printed textiles for the binding. The tale of a Germanic premedieval tribe threatened by the Huns, which is the subject of the book, reflects the idealization of the ancient past, a time when Morris believed communities worked together for a shared purpose.
While all arts and crafts practitioners advocated handwork, Ruskin was unique in his total rejection of the machine. The others opposed only those industrial processes that diminished or replaced human creativity. Morris himself grew disenchanted with the crafts as an effective response to an inhumane society, and in 1883 he formally allied himself to socialism. For several years he dismissed handcrafts, proclaiming that his aim was "to obtain for the whole people, duly organized, the possession and control of all means of production."(3) Among the arts and crafts leaders who shared Morris's political convictions was Walter Crane, who joined the Socialist League with Morris and produced much graphic art in support of the cause. In the 1880s the first guilds were formed, inspired by the medieval ideal of craft associations that maintained standards of workmanship. The Century Guild was founded in 1882 by the architect Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo and the designer-illustrator Selwyn Image. Following the model established by Morris and Company, it aimed "to restore building, decoration, glass painting, pottery, wood-carving and metal to their rightful places beside painting and sculpture."(4) Mackmurdo was also greatly influenced by Ruskin, with whom he traveled to Italy. During its six years of existence the guild was remarkable both for the range and quality of its furnishings, textiles, metalwork, and books.
In 1931, Huxley was typically dismissive of Morris as a "temperamental romantic who found the new industrialism squalid and pined for passion and picturesqueness." "Future of the Past") Linking Morris to the primitive utopias of D.H. Lawrence, he continues:
When industrialism and the policy of laissez-faire had had time to produce their most dreadful results, the Middle Ages began to connote something different. The wish-fulfilling world to which William Morris and his friends looked back was picturesque, but not particularly catholic or feudal; it was a world above all of sound economic organization, a pre-mechanical world, peopled by not too highly specialized artist craftsmen.
In 1956 he said:
To William Morris power driven contraptions were odious, even in fancy dress, even when disguised as wyverns or basilisks. He objected to them on aesthetic grounds, and, as a sociologist, he loathed them. In the process of creating ugliness and multiplying monotony, machines had destroyed the old order and were turning the men and women who tended them into brutes and automata. Morris's ideal was the Middle Ages, but an improved Victorian version of Merrie England—clean, kindly and sensible, free from bad smells and religious dogmas, from bubonic plague and papal indulgences. A snug little world of healthy, virtuous craftsmen, craftswomen and craftschildren, producing not for somebody else's profit, but for their own use…and having a wonderful time in the process" ("Liberty, Quality, Machinery").
Little wonder then, that the rulers of Brave New World slaughtered a group of Simple Lifers, agitating against the new dispensation. In fact, this tossed-off remark from Mustapha Mond recalls one of the turning points in Morris' radicalization: the Bloody Sunday uprising of 1887, an event that becomes fictionalized in chapter 17 of NN.
For Morris's utopian values were largely inimical to the rulers of BNW. Here are some of the oppositions:
Nowhere is pastoral and agrarian, whereas BNW is largely urban. Whereas the citizens of NN bond with nature, citizens of BNW are condition to have a fear of nature. Indeed, chapter 2 describes in gruesomely ironic terms a group of future working class babies being conditioned a la Pavlov to flee from nature, especially flowers as they are subjected to a series of shocks when they touch flowers and pictures of them. And when Bernard Marx suggests to Lenina that they go for a walk in the Lake District, she is incredulous, and later is postively alarmed when Bernard suggests that they spend part of their evening together watching a stormy sea from the safety of their flying machine.
One of the bases of Morris's arts and crafts/simple life movement was that work could be either debasing or ennobling. In Brave New World, the person exists for the job and the productivity he or she can do; whereas for Morris, work is an end in itself, not a mere means of sustenance for homo oeconomicus, but rather work allows for the fullest possible development of the human being, and to that end, the work is varied and pleasureable, never, as in BNW, mindlessly repetitive. In Huxley's reductio ad absurdum of man at work, John Savage (the William Guest figure) sees with a vengeance just how reified the human worker has become in Huxley's hyper-materialist utopia, one whose regimentation makes Bellamy's Boston look like a carnival. John is being shown around a typical factory, one devoted to the manufacture of electric lights for helicopters, and is incidentally based on Huxley' visit in 1931 to the Lucas electrical-lighting factory:
It was a small factory of lighting-sets for helicopters, a branch of the Electrical Equipment Corporation. They were met on the roof itself (for that circular letter of recommendation from the Controller was magical in its effects) by the Chief Technician and the Human Element Manager. They walked downstairs into the factory.
"Each process," explained the Human Element Manager, "is carried out, so far as possible, by a single Bokanovsky Group."
And, in effect, eighty-three almost noseless black brachycephalic Deltas were cold-pressing. The fifty-six four-spindle chucking and turning machines were being manipulated by fifty-six aquiline and ginger Gammas. One hundred and seven heat-conditioned Epsilon Senegalese were working in the foundry. Thirty-three Delta females, long-headed, sandy, with narrow pelvises, and all within 20 millimetres of 1 metre 69 centimetres tall, were cutting screws. In the assembling room, the dynamos were being put together by two sets of Gamma-Plus dwarfs. The two low work-tables faced one another; between them crawled the conveyor with its load of separate parts; forty-seven blonde heads were confronted by forty-seven brown ones. Forty-seven snubs by forty-seven hooks; forty-seven receding by forty-seven prognathous chins. The completed mechanisms were inspected by eighteen identical curly auburn girls in Gamma green, packed in crates by thirty-four short-legged, left-handed male Delta-Minuses, and loaded into the waiting trucks and lorries by sixty-three blue-eyed, flaxen and freckled Epsilon Semi-Morons.
"O brave new world …" By some malice of his memory the Savage found himself repeating Miranda's words. "O brave new world that has such people in it."
"And I assure you," the Human Element Manager concluded, as they left the factory, "we hardly ever have any trouble with our workers. We always find …"
But the Savage had suddenly broken away from his companions and was violently retching, behind a clump of laurels, as though the solid earth had been a helicopter in an air pocket. (BNW 143-44)
Huxley's ironic allusion in the title should now be now clear. The people inhabiting Shakespeare's utopia in the Island of the Tempest were noble. The people John has just witnessed at their factory work stations have been reduced to mere human tools, whose sole function is to ensure the permanent balance between production and consumption. Perhaps Huxley is alluding to Morris' mentor, John Ruskin here:
You can teach a man to draw a straight line…to carve it…but if you ask him to think about any of those forms…ten to one he thinks wrong…ten to one he makes a mistake in the first touch he gives to his work as a thinking being. But you have made a man of him for all that. He was only a machine before, an animated tool. And observe….You must either make a tool of the creature, or a man of him. You cannot make both. ("Nature of Gothic", 1480). Clearly Morris' attempts in his utopia to make a society worthy of a man; whereas Huxley's satire focuses on a society bound to make a tool of man, an animated tool.
Incidentally, Morris' hatred of the reifying possibilities of Bellamy's Looking Backward sparked him to write a reply in the form of his pastoral utopia, News from Nowhere. But Huxley was not the first to see what Morris and Ruskin feared in the mind of the machine-lovers and their industrial utopias. Perhaps the first to do so was Charles Dickens, whose dystopian novel, Hard Times, dedicated to and written in part under the influence of Thomas Carlyle, first develops the image of man as human tool. Indeed, as Lewis Mumford says, Coketown is the quintessential dystopia with its perpetual smoke, din and Babel-like towers reaching skyward. It is here that the utilitarian theorist Gradgrind teams with the industrialist Bounderby to employ workers who lose their identities as expendible machine minders. Dickens first uses the metonymy device of worker as "hand", a device which other dystopians, including Wells and Huxley later employ in their own dystopian visions: Coketown is no more Manchester of 1853-4 than Brave New World is London of 1932. By exaggeration and projection, dystopian writers write about societies that belong to a future in which alarming present trends have gone unchecked. Huxley--and Morris too for that matter in News from Nowhere-- borrows from Dickens. But since the utopian-dystopian genre is double-edged or Janus-faced, they can either focus on the positive (in which case they are utopias, or on the negative--in which case they become dystopias). As Zamyatin puts it: Utopia has a plus sign. Hard Times (and to some extent, his last novel, Our Mutual Friend, was a dystopia in which he expressed his fear that the Industrial Revolution was having adverse efffects on the national character and on human nature generally. The conceit that he develops, Wells and Huxley take even farther. Dickens introduces the prematurely-old working class character Stephen Blackpool (40, but referred to as "Old Stephen", just as Guest seems older than his years in Nowhere):
The multitude of Coketown, generically called 'the Hands',—a race who would have found more favour with some people, if Providence had seen fit to make them only hands, or, like the lower creatures of the seashore, only hands and stomachs…(HT, 52),
Eventually Blackpool is destroyed by the conditions which surround him, and we have just seen how Huxley developed the metonymy. But the most thoroughgoing use of the device can be found in HG Wells' First Men in the Moon (1901), in which Cavour visits a lunar society populated by ant-like Selenites. It is an intricate anthill run by The Grand Lunar, who is nearly all brain, the equivalent of Huxley's World controllers. The Selenite labour force becomes the ultimate extension of Dickens's conception of workers reduced to the tasks they perform, [as it is in Plato's Republic, where justice as Plato defines it: "doing one's own work, that for which one is best fitted", gets taken to a cruelly logical conclusion] for in the moon, Cavour notes, "every citizen knows his place. He is born to that place, and the elaborate discipline of training and education and surgery he undergoes fits him at last so completely to it that he has neither ideas nor organs for any purpose beyond it" ( FMM ch.23). Cavour observes one group "confined in jars from which only the fore limbs protruded, who were being compressed to become machine minders of a special sort" The extended "hand" in this highly developed system of technical education is stimulated by irritants and nourished by injection while the rest of the body is starved" (ch 23, p. 160). Here Dickens conceit of workers reduced to actual hands becomes an actual case. Morris, I submit, could easily have been the author of the last half of the next sentence by Wells; in fact, it expresses much the same sentiment as Ruskins's at the beginning of this lecture:
"That wretched looking hand sticking out of its jar seemed to appeal for lost possibilities; it haunts me still, although, of course, it is really in the end a far more humane process than our earthly method of leaving children to grow into human beings, and then making machines of them" (ch 23).
Another key difference between Morris's utopia and Huxley's dystopia is the palpable sense of rest in Nowhere as opposed to the constant frenetic awareness of clock time in BNW. As early as 1840, Edgar Allan Poe in "Devil in the Belfry" satirized industrial utopians' zeal for time- saving, in his comic account of the time-obsessed Dutch borough of Vondervotteimittiss (Wonder what time it is). Like the citizens of Vonderwotteimittis, Henry Foster betrays an obsessive interest in time, especially time saved or wasted. Foster, the figure Huxley based upon Dickens's character Bitzer in the dystopian novel Hard Times (another ingrained apologist for industrialism and assembly-line statistics), is scandalized that a flight from New York to London is seven minutes late (55). Whereas in NN, does anyone own a timepiece? Are there any references to machine calculations of time? A careful search through each chapter reveals no use of the word time in the sense Foster uses it; viz. as a unit of economic value. It is only used as a synonym for "period" (as in the "old times" or the "bad times" or "instance". Only three times is it used to denote a specific time of day: once in chapter 24: "breakfast time"; once in chapter 31: "dinner-time", and most tellingly, as a broadly seasonal, unrushed referent: "hay-time" (chapter 28).
In terms of government, Huxley's dystopia is a fascist corporate state, not unlike Bellamy's Looking Backward, highly authoritarian (Mond and 9 other World-controllers are responsible for 1/10th of the world's zones), although it is true that there are no elections in either BNW or NN. BNW still has banks and money, unlike NN.
Interestingly Morris' vision of work and of leisure emphasizes individual development or pleasure, whereas Huxley's mindless amusements are designed exclusively to further consumerism in that participants in state-sanctioned games such as escalator squash or obstacle golf must purchase increasingly complex paraphernalia. The result is that the people of BNW are contributing to the economy in all but their hours of sleep, and even during sleep, as infants and children they receive hypnopedic suggestions which condition them to the state's received consumerist attitudes.
And even though Nowhereians are less sexually repressed than their Victorian counterparts, Nowhere is anything but libertine as is BNW. For example, long-term relationships are the norm in Nowhere, unlike BNW, although admittedly legal marriage does not exist in Nowhere, nor do churches. Oddly, this absence of religion is yet another difference. In BNW Ford is worshiped in fortnightly Solidarity Services, and attendance, at least for the higher castes, is mandatory.
Some Utopia/Dystopia Links
Hard Times and Brave New World
The Utopian Tradition and Aldous Huxley
Soma Web with Brave New World links, etc.
Study Guides to Selected Utopias
Technoculture--excellent site on dystopias
A+=95+; A=90-94; A-=85-89; B+=80-85; B=75-79; B-=70-74; C+=65-69; C=60-64; D=50-59