Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley

Crome Yellow cover

Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley was first published in 1921 but it has been reprinted regularly since then, the copy I read was from Fife Libraries’ reserve stock. This is the first book by Huxley that I’ve read and the reason I read it was because it was mentioned in another book that I read, one of the characters was reading the book for the third time. I don’t think I will be doing that but I did enjoy it. It’s a gentle parody of English country house novels.

It begins with a railway journey, always a good thing for me especially when I realise it will be a steam train. Denis is a young man on his way to spend some time at Crome a country house he has been invited to as part of a house party. He’s a more or less penniless poet and he’s planning to write a novel. Other guests are a well known portrait painter and a couple of bright young things in the shape of young women, one of whom Denis is enamoured of. The changing times due to World War 1 are in evidence with the young women determined to get rid of their repressions and live a more free life.

This is one of those books that you can’t help thinking that you must be missing many of the allusions in it. When it was read by contemporary readers they would have been able to recognise many of the characters I’m sure. One of them – Mr Callamay – is apparently meant to be modelled on the then prime minister Herbert Asquith who must have been in the habit of chasing after pretty young women.

There are some interesting comments during conversations about people who upset the world such as Luther and Napoleon.

“We can’t leave the world any longer to the direction of chance. We can’t allow dangerous maniacs like Luther, mad about dogma, like Napoleon, mad about himself, to go on casually appearing and turning everything upside-down. In the past it didn’t so much matter; but our modern machine is too delicate. A few more knocks like the Great War, another Luther or two, and the whole concern will go to pieces. In future, the men of reason must see that the madness of the world’s maniacs is canalized into proper channels, is made to do useful work, like a mountain torrent driving a dynamo.”

I wonder what on earth Aldous Huxley would have made of the maniacs that we’re having to put up with nowadays!