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The Genius and the Goddess (1955) is a novel by Aldous Huxley that was published by Chatto & Windus in the UK and by Harper & Row in the US. It is the fictional account of John Rivers, a student physicist in the 1920s who was hired out of college as a laboratory assistant to Henry Maartens.

Plot summary

The story begins in 1951, with John Rivers telling of his encounter with the Maartens family to a friend of his because he still feels guilty for finding inspiration from another man's wife. In a moment of subtle foreshadowing Rivers refers to his recollection of the past as "a little orgy of reminiscence to celebrate one of your rare visits."

In 1921 John Rivers, piously sheltered by his widowed mother, and a newly minted PhD, is employed as a lab assistant to Henry Maartens, a Nobel prize winning, but socially awkward physicist. He is invited to live in Henry's home until he finds a place of his own, but the Maartens family soon develop a fondness for Rivers, and eventually insist on him staying. Rivers himself develops respect and fondness for the family, regarding Henry as a genius and his wife Katy as a goddess. As his attraction towards Katy grows Rivers simulataneously finds himself the object of infatuation by the Maartens' 15 year old daughter, Ruth. Ruth, a dramatic poetess, only fantasizes that she is in love with Rivers as an attempt to find solace and a sluice for her emotions after being rejected by a talented 17 year old football player and scholarship winner.

River's experience with the Maartens family takes a hectic turn when Katy has to leave for a time to care for her dying mother. The unstable Henry increasingly becomes an emotional wreck in the absence of his much younger wife; the children, the household, and, most difficult, Henry himself are only cared for by the negro housekeeper, Beluah and Rivers. Ruth takes advantage of her mother's absence to entertain her cosmetic interests and acts out her "love" for Rivers, which he turns aside.

Katy returns because the stress of her absence has made (her husband) Henry deathly ill. She herself has lost her "vigor," to the point she cannot minister to Henry. Learning her mother has died because of her return, Katy turns to Rivers for solace, then sexual fulfillment. By losing his virginity, Rivers not only feels guilty for betraying his mother and pious background but for betraying his dying "master" as well: Henry Maartens. As Henry recovers, Katy and John inevitably continue their affair - agreeing that what Henry doesn't know won't hurt him.

The imaginitive Ruth suspects that Rivers is in love with her mother and in an act of jealousy presents Rivers with a poem that subtly describes his affair with her mother. Rivers laughs off the poem and says that it reminds him of one of his father's sermons but despite his optimistic reaction he feels dejected.

Katy and Rivers agree that the only way out of the mess is for Rivers to leave.As Rivers prepares to leave (alleging that his mother is ill) Katy and Ruth, in an argument, die in an automobile accident.

Rivers is devastated and only survives after meeting his Helen, whom he later marries, at a party. Henry lives on, quickly marrying Katy's sister (who succumbs to obesity) and after her death has a last and fourth consecutive marriage to a young red head named Alicia. Henry dies at 87. Rivers is left with Henry's biography and the memory of complex experiences that led to a beneficial change of direction in his life.


The short novel is packed with literary and socio-historical references and allusions. Huxley portrays various aspects of his ideology about subjects such as God, sex, history, literature, intellect and death. The following quotations are just several of such instances in the text.

"Wallowing in the past may be good literature. As wisdom it is hopeless."

"Dying's an art. And at our age we ought to be learning it... Helen knew how to die because she knew how to live -to live now and here and for the greater glory of God. And that necessarily entails dying too there and then and tomorrow and one's own miserable self. In the process of living as one ought to live, Helen had been dying by daily instalments."

"And where there's no possible operational answer, there's no conceivable sense in the question. That's why there can never be a science of history- because you can never test the truth of any of your hypotheses..."

"But Henry hadn't died. That's the whole point. He'd merely left the clockwork running and gone somewhere else.""Gone where?""God knows. Into some kind of infantile burrow in his subconscious, I suppose. Outside, for all to see and hear, was that stupendous clockwork monkey, that undiminished blaze of intellectual power. Inside there lurked the miserable little creature who still needed flattery and reassurance and sex and a womb-substitute--the creature who would have to face the music on Henry's death-bed."


  • John Rivers – a physics student, protagonist
  • Henry Maartens – physicist
  • Katy Maartens – Henry's wife
  • Ruth Maartens – Henry's daughter

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

  • Huxley and Betty Wendel wrote an ill-fated stage version of The Genius and the Goddess which opened on Broadwaymarker on 10 December 1957 and closed four days later. Courtney Burr was the producer and reportedly made changes to the play without Huxley and Wendel's permission.
  • This novel, using in part the above play version in a German translation, was filmed in 1959 as "Das Genie und die Göttin", for West Germanmarker television.

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