About Aldous Huxley’s "Those Barren Leaves"

Term Paper, 2001
16 Pages, Grade: 1,3


List of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Phenomenal Analysis
2.1 Modern Transport and Speed
2.2 Altered Modes of Perception

3 Functional Analysis
3.1 Broadening and Splitting
3.2 Plot Acceleration
3.3 Foreshadowing / Imaginary Acceleration

4 Conclusion

5 List of Works Cited

1 Introduction

“The ideal, the platonic Holiday of Holidays is surely a complete and absolute change” (Huxley, Crome Yellow 271)[1], says Mr. Scogan in Aldous Huxley’sCrome Yellow(1921).Already in Huxley’s first novel, traveling and its potential play a considerable role, and as the author himself lead a fairly nomadic life first in Europe, then in the United States, the journey motif marks a line of continuity throughout Huxley’s entire oeuvre. (Bienvenu 22f.)

Travel is multi-faceted, and yet, in the sense of changing the place, it seems to be one of the most basic actions. In many novels, incorporating travel provides the author with the valuable chance to confront the main character with very disparate figures, environments and cultures. In this case, traveling is an action that motivates action, it is auxiliary. It motivates action by making randomness legitimate – for traveling means to subordinate oneself to unknown future events. Journeys are necessarily open and can never be planned completely, as Englishmen’s accounts even of theGrand Tour, a very standardized form of travel, prove. Also other literary genres besides the travelogue, such the German Entwicklungsroman, can hardly be explained without reference to this aspect of traveling.[2]

Literary journeys often parallel outer and inner movement of the character. (Korte 10) One need not go as far as to Georg Büchner’sLenzto give proof of this; Calamy’s retreat to the mountains at the end of Aldous Huxley’s third novelThose Barren Leaves(1925), the central work of this paper, also tries to connect landscape and mind. Yet, traveling becomes thematic above all in the fourth of the novel’s five parts. Its title “The Journey” signals it.

What are the functions of the journey? That is the question I want to discuss in this paper. Since answering it is impossible without studying how the journey takes place, a phenomenal analysis (what happens and how does it happen?) will have to precede the functional examination (for which purpose does something happen?). Nevertheless, my aim will be to show that the journey fulfils the function of accelerating the plot or, in other words, of transforming the characters as well as the relationships between them at, in comparison with the rest of this novel’s habit, relatively high speed. Considering the mode of travel, I want to show that formerly unknown faces of travel, which in Huxley’s time were revealed by innovative means of transportation, are illustrated by the author with a clear eye – an enthusiastic motorist himself (Bienvenu 33), Huxley illuminates quite vividly what driving means in regard of journeying.

“The Journey” is a travel report, but unlike travelogues in which an I-narrator claims the authenticity of his speech, there is, with hardly any exception, a report on what several characters see through their eyes, and is told – typical of fiction – through the voice of a heterodiegetic and omniscient third person narrator. Still, “The Journey” can be regarded as a travel report, for all travel reports are fictional texts (Korte 14ff.), so there is no ontological difference between a common travel report and a travel report embedded in a literary text. Always keeping in mind how heterogeneous the genre of travel fiction with its many various forms is, it can be stated that, taken out the narrator, also the narrative strategies are quite the same. (Korte 13)

2 Phenomenal Analysis

InThose Barren Leaves, all of the major characters are on a “spiritual journey” (Baker 90) to salvation. Lilian Aldwinkle waits patiently for the one supremely important yet shapeless event to happen, and like Francis Chelifer, she hopes for a revelation. While Mary Thriplow searches for “emotional revelations” (Baker 79), Calamy is trying to escape from the prison cell of his body. In the end, everybody will fail.

With “The Journey”, Huxley presents an apt metaphor for his characters’ quest. By picturing their travel to Rome, which hardly resembles a pilgrimage, he illustrates the futility of their endeavors. How he does so is to be discussed in the following.

2.1 Modern Transport and Speed

“Lord Hovenden detached from his motor car was an entirely different being from Lord Hovenden who lounged with such a deceptive air of languor behind the steering wheel of a Vauxhall Velox.” (224) In fact, the timid Lord is transformed into a daring hero while driving. Whenever he succeeded in the past, it was in his car. (224) It is the sheer power of its speed that accomplishes a complete personality change in him. To Huxley, “the drug of speed” (Huxley, Music at Night 255) is “a pleasure analogous to opium-smoking”. (Huxley, Jesting Pilate 83) It is no wonder, then, that it leads Hovenden not only to do the most courageous[3], but also the most ridiculous things, as the author suggests when recounting the Lord’s earlier approach to the married and much older Mrs. Terebinth and his uncouth approaches to Irene Aldwinkle. (224, 230ff.)

Not only Hovenden enjoys speed. Also Irene, who sits by his side, finds speed “exhilarating” (226) and is made “happy” (229) by it. It is chiefly due to this experience that she finally echoes Hovenden’s violent outbursts of affection. (234f.) On the other hand, the experience of speed is able to transform her into a most fearful individual. At the far sight of two cars racing towards each other, she panics. (253f.) Grace Elver, who sits in Hovenden’s car after being exchanged with Mr. Falx (228), has a less ambivalent attitude towards velocity. She “had no objection to speed;” it is said, “ indeed, it excited her. The faster they went, the more piercing became her cries and greeting and farewell, the more wildly she waved her handkerchief at the passing dogs and children.” (228) Concluding, outbursts of happiness and spontaneous personality changes are the transformational effects of the party’s speedy travel. Obviously, “transport” applies in its double meaning here.

Since “all drives must come to an end” (224), the effects of transformation are temporal – having stopped, Hovenden is instantly retransformed into the “meek pedestrian” (228) he was introduced as at the beginning of the novel.

It is striking that during the fast drive, unlike in the rest of the novel, art and history are marginalized. This can even be shown on the syntactical level. Whereas cultural topics are discussed widely in the novel, they are banished to relative clauses during the voyage: “They drove past the house on the water, where Byron had bored himself through an eternity of months, out of town.” (227) That Byron’s boredom is mentioned gives culture’s insignificance even a negative connotation. The characters’ utterances are even franker. When Irene asks whether there was a battle “or something” (229) at the place they are driving through, Hovenden without secure knowledge nods, saying: “But it doesn’t make much difference, does it?” (229) It will have to be discussed in the functional examination whether ignorance towards art and history is a precondition for Hovenden’s and Irene’s finding to each other.

So far, the analysis has shown that the author ofThose Barren Leavesis a very attentive observer of modern travel. That he stylizes the automobile to a means of breaking the linearity of time and the dimensional system of space, however, shows him as someone who, amazingly, perceives almost metaphysical relevance in a machine made out of bolts and steel. Due to its centrality, the following passage from “The Journey” is cited in full length.

Time and space, matter and mind, subject, object – how inextricably they got mixed, next day, on the road to Rome! The simple-minded traveller who imagines himself to be driving quietly through Umbria and Latium finds himself at the same time dizzily switchbacking up and down the periods of history, rolling on top gear through systems of political economy, scaling heights of philosophy and religion, whizzing from aesthetic to aesthetic. Dimensions are bewilderingly multiplied, and the machine which seems to be rolling so smoothly over the roads is travelling, in reality, as fast as forty horses and the human minds on board can take it, down a score of other roads, simultaneously, in all directions. (235)


[1]When verifying quotations fromThose Barren Leaves, I will use plain numbers in brackets, such as (188). Excerpts from and references to secondary works will be substantiated in an extended form, e.g. (Korte 23ff.), as well as other citations from other works by Huxley.

[2]A rather canonical example: Goethe’sWilhelm Meisters Lehr- und Wanderjahre.

[3]Becoming more daring is a common behavior of tourists, Grand Tour accomplishers show in their reports.

Excerpt out of 16 pages


About Aldous Huxley’s "Those Barren Leaves"
Free University of Berlin
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Anonymous, 2001, About Aldous Huxley’s "Those Barren Leaves", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/76971


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