Book #69: Crome Yellow

Crome Yellow is Aldous Huxley’s first novel. I don’t like to refer to writers like Huxley as “one hit wonders,” because all their stuff is generally pretty good. But when it comes to writers like Huxley who have one book that everyone’s heard of, it feels a little bit like that’s what they are. Huxley’s name is pretty synonymous with Brave New World, just like Orwell, who wrote many other great things, is pretty much only known for/associated with 1984. It’s different than, say, Austen or Dickens, who are known for pretty much every damn thing they ever wrote.

Anyway, I always like when I read a book by a “one hit wonder” author that isn’t that “one hit.” It’s almost like they hid a secret book from me that now I get to read. Like, imagine if J.K. Rowling had written an eighth Harry Potter book, published it quietly, and just waited. Just imagine.

Crome Yellow was a delightful read. It’s such a fun little book. Every character is a parody of some trope or stock character of the time. The main character is Denis, the pretentious would-be poet who can’t quite figure out just how to be a brilliant poet (or how to get the girl he likes to fall in love with him).

Denis visits the Wimbush home, a place known for its gatherings of brilliant young minds and artists. I read that it’s based off of the Garsington Manor, where Huxley, T.S. Eliot, Bertrand Russell, and other artistic minds used to hang out. Huxley playfully parodies the larger-than-life pretension and crazy characters that met there.

There’s Mr. Wimbush, the dull, brilliant-minded historian obsessed with ancestry and the history of the house. There’s Mrs Wimbush, the psychic-obsessed spiritualist who insists on holding seances. There are their daughters, one charming and flirtatious, the other reclusive and thoughtful. The Wimbushes’ guests include flamouyant libertines, literary “giants”, and many other “great minds.”

Denis, all the while, observes the visitors and the high-society, “literary” lifestyle and tries to blend in, adjust, and absorb the ridicule he receives from the others about his failures to write a romantic novel.

The parody and characters are what make the novel, but my favorite part of Crome Yellow was when Denis finds another character’s journal and reads it. At this point, the startled young man realizes that other people exist in the world, and that they have their own thoughts and opinions about everything – including him.

He is startled into a depression when he realizes he never thought that anybody besides him had intelligent thoughts of their own.

This is a funny thing that I think we all realize, forget, and realize again. It’s easy to forget that every other person you meet has his or her own thoughts, feelings, and opinions. They aren’t just the people you think they are. And you never know, they might think things about you, just like you think things about them.

Rating: ****
Up Next: The Island of Doctor Moreau

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