Posts Tagged ‘Aldous Huxley’

‘The Farcical History of Richard Greenow’ by Aldous Huxley – School Days


‘The Farcical History of Richard Greenow’ by Aldous Huxley (1920) – 54 pages         #1920Club

In the twentieth century there was a grand tradition of male English novelists writing fiction satirizing academic life. These novels include ‘Lucky Jim’ by Kingsley Amis, both ‘Decline and Fall’ and ‘Brideshead Revisited’ by Evelyn Waugh, the Campus Trilogy (‘Changing Places’, ‘Small World’, and ‘Nice Work’) by David Lodge, ‘The History Man’ by Malcolm Bradbury, ‘Anglo-Saxon Attitudes’ by Angus Wilson, and others. Usually these novels were written early in the authors’ writing careers while their school experiences were still fresh in their minds. ‘The Farcical History of Richard Greenow’ is Aldous Huxley’s academic satire about his years at Eton and Oxford which he wrote when he was 26. It was part of his first published work, ‘Limbo’.

This short novella is a parody of Huxley himself and his friends and instructors. The stand-in for Huxley here is of course Richard Greenow who even while still in school is struggling to be a writer. One night a feminine spirit takes over Richard and he completes a story overnight which he is able to sell to a woman’s magazine. Soon this spirit takes over Richard every night, and he is serializing an entire novel for the woman’s magazine for a nice sum of money. He gives this woman writer inside himself the pen name of Pearl Bellairs.

Thus Richard is leading a double life, a politically engaged male student during the day, and a writer of women’s stories by night.

It was there that he solved the problem, perceived the strange truth about himself. He was a hermaphrodite.”

Later World War I breaks out, and Richard becomes a conscientious objector for pacifist reasons. However his alter-ego Pearl convinces him to become a land girl instead of going to prison.

One requirement that these academic satires must have is malicious irony. Here is an example of this malicious irony concerning one of his instructors:

His knowledge was enormous; but he possessed the secret of a strange inverted alchemy – he knew how to turn the richest gold to lead, could make the most interesting topic so intolerably tedious that it was impossible, when he talked, not to loathe it.”

I found the language and the attitude in this short novella quite delightful throughout. Here is one particularly delectable example concerning the headmaster’s wife at Eton:

Mrs. Cravister received her guests – they were all of them boys – with stately courtesy. They found it pleasant to be taken so seriously, to be treated as perfectly grown men; but at the same time they always had with Mrs. Cravister a faint uncomfortable suspicion that all her politeness was an irony so exquisite as to be practically undistinguishable from ingenuousness.”

I should finally also mention that two of the very best academic parodies were written by United States writers: ‘The Groves of Academe’ by Mary McCarthy and ‘Pictures from an Institution’ by Randall Jarrell.


Grade:   A-



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