After Many a Summer
First UK edition
|Publisher||Chatto & Windus (UK)
Harper & Row (USA)
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||314 p (1962 hardback edition)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-06-091063-1 (recent hardback edition)|
|LC Class||PR6015.U9 A77 1983|
After Many a Summer (1939) is a novel by Aldous Huxley that tells the story of a Hollywood millionaire who fears his impending death; it was published in the United States as After Many a Summer Dies the Swan. Written soon after Huxley left England and settled in California, the novel is Huxley's examination of American culture, particularly what he saw as its narcissism, superficiality, and obsession with youth. This satire also raises philosophical and social issues, some of which would later take the forefront in Huxley's final novel Island. The novel's title is taken from Tennyson's poem Tithonus, about a figure in Greek mythology to whom Aurora gave eternal life but not eternal youth. The book was awarded the 1939 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction.
The action revolves around a few characters brought together by a Hollywood millionaire, Jo Stoyte. Each character represents a different attitude toward life. Stoyte, in his sixties and conscious of his mortality, finds himself in deep contemplation of life. Enlightenment eludes him, though, as he is ruled by his fears and cravings. Stoyte hires Dr Obispo and his assistant Peter to research the secrets to long life in carp, crocodiles, and parrots. Jeremy Pordage, an English archivist and literature expert, is brought in to archive a rare collection of books. Pordage's presence highlights Stoyte's shallow attitude toward the precious works of art that he affords himself. Other characters are Virginia, Stoyte's young mistress; and Mr Propter, a professor who lives on a neighbouring estate. Mr Propter believes:
... every individual is called on to display not only unsleeping good will but also unsleeping intelligence. And this is not all. For, if individuality is not absolute, if personalities are illusory figments of a self-will disastrously blind to the reality of a more-than-personal consciousness, of which it is the limitation and denial, then all of every human being's efforts must be directed, in the last resort, to the actualisation of that more-than-personal consciousness. So that even intelligence is not sufficient as an adjunct to good will; there must also be the recollection which seeks to transform and transcend intelligence.
This is essentially Huxley's own position. Though other characters achieve conventional success, even happiness, only Mr Propter does so without upsetting anyone or creating evil.
Dr Obispo places great faith in science and medicine as saviours of humankind. He sees everyone as a stepping stone to science, the greater good, and thus only derives happiness at others' expense. According to Propter's philosophy, he is trapped in ego-based "human" behaviour that prevents him from reaching enlightenment. Obispo seduces Virginia in a characteristically egotistical way. She is unable to resist him despite her loyalty to Stoyte. When she is found out by Stoyte, he wants to kill Obispo but accidentally kills Peter (whose thoughts and morals had slowly started to expand under Propter's tutelage) instead. Obispo covers up the act for money and continued research support. This takes him, along with Virginia and Stoyte, to Europe, where they find an immortal human, the Fifth Earl of Gonister, still alive at 200, who now resembles an ape. Stoyte cannot grasp that transcendence or goodness should be one's ultimate goal, rather than prevention of death, and expresses his wish to undergo treatment so that he too will live forever.
- Mr. Propter
- Dr. Obispo
- Jo Stoyte
These characters expose questions and answers depicting their various life philosophies until the climax in a Socratic method, while explorations of mortality, eroticism, class struggle, mysticism, and greed are all presented dispassionately throughout.
The story works scientific knowledge into a more traditional form of narrative. The evolutionary principle of neoteny (a phenomenon of adult retention of juvenile-like morphology or behaviour) has been invoked to explain the origin of human characteristics from ape ancestors. The storyline suggests that if we lived longer, we would continue to develop along the path of an ape and eventually become ape-like.
Huxley came from a well-known family of biologists, and his grasp of the principle of neoteny seems to reflect this influence. The story has been interpreted as the British Huxley's contemptuous nod to the Hearstian reality of the United States in the early part of the twentieth century: Jo Stoyte is an allegory for William Randolph Hearst by his acquisitions of art, etc., and living in an opulent estate—similar to Hearst Castle—with Virginia, who can be taken as a parody of Marion Davies. Orson Welles may have been inspired by this novel—after RKO Radio Pictures rejected Welles's two earlier ideas for scripts—to write the screenplay for Citizen Kane with Herman Mankiewicz, although their screenplay is very different from the novel.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
- NBC University Theater radio adaptation 12 December 1948, starring Paul Henreid and Alan Hale, Sr., with intermission commentary by Norman Cousins
- After Many a Summer (UK, 1967, TV)
- In early 2000 the Baryshnikov Dance Foundation commissioned a 35-minute dance for the White Oak Dance Project called After Many a Summer Dies the Swan after Huxley's novel.
- The book is mentioned in the novella and film A Single Man, when George Falconer (Colin Firth) also takes an empty pistol and some notes alongside in his briefcase.
- UK, Chatto and Windus, 1939, hardback (first edition)
- USA, Harper and Row, 1939, hardback, originally as After Many a Summer Dies the Swan