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After Many a Summer (1939) is a novel by Aldous Huxley which tells the story of a Hollywood millionaire fearing his impending death. The novel was retitled After Many a Summer Dies the Swan when published in the USA. This satire explores several philosophical and social issues, some of which would later take the forefront in his final novel Island. The title is taken from the Lord Tennyson poem Tithonus about a figure from Greek mythology to whom Aurora, the goddess of dawn, gave eternal life but not eternal youth. The book was awarded the 1939 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction.

Plot summary

Cover of the US mass-market paperback
The action revolves around a few main characters brought together by a Hollywood millionaire, Jo Stoyte. Each character represents a different philosophy of living life. Stoyte, in his sixties and fearing death, finds himself in deep contemplation of life. Enlightenment eludes him, however, as he is ruled by fear and craving. Stoyte hires Dr Obispo and his assistant Peter to research the secrets to long life in carp, crocodiles, and parrots.To set up Stoyte's wealth and work as a satiric foil, Jeremy, an English archivist and literature expert, is brought in to archive a rare collection of books. Jeremy's presence highlights Stoyte's shallow attitude toward the rare art only he can afford.The final characters are Virginia, Stoyle's young mistress, and Mr Propter, a professor who lives on a neighboring estate. Mr Propter believes:

For 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. 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 most akin to Huxley's personal beliefs which he cultivated and refined throughout his life and novels. 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 a saviour 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 wishes to kill Obispo but accidentally kills Peter (whose thoughts and morals had slowly started to expand under Propter's tutelage) instead.Obispo covers this up for money and continued research facilities. This takes him, along with Virginia and Stoyte, to Europe, where they find an immortal human, 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.

Characters

  • Jeremy
  • Mr. Propter
  • Peter
  • Dr. Obispo
  • Jo Stoyte
  • Virginia


Major themes

These characters expose questions and answers depicting their various life philosophies until the climax in a Socratic method.

An interesting aspect of the story is the way in which it blends scientific knowledge with a more traditional form of narrative. The evolutionary principle of neoteny (a phenomenon where adults retaining 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 Briton 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 Castlemarker -- 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.

References

Dawkins sheds an illuminating light upon the story in 'The Axolotl's Tale', by referring to Aldous Huxley's older brother, the biologist Julian Sorell Huxley. Julian Huxley made some name for himself in the English speaking world by a biological experiment involving an axolotl. The experiment had originally been done by Vilém Laufberger in Germany, which was unknown to Julian Huxley at the time. The experiment involves an axolotl, an amphibian expressing neoteny. By injecting hormones the axolotl grows into a fully adult salamander of an unknown species. Apparently, evolution of the creature had blocked growth beyond the tadpole stage, but further growth was activated by the injected hormone.

When Dr Obispo finally finds the Fifth Earl of Gonister again in Europe, still alive at 200, the Earl has fully matured from the juvenile ape that man really is. Apparently, Huxley is referring to man as an immature, not fully grown ape.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations



  • 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


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