Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"Young Archimedes" by Aldous Huxley

"Young Archimedes" by Aldous Huxley (1924, 25 pages)

Please consider participating in  Irish Short Story Week-3/14 to 3/20

Aldous Huxley's by far most famous and still very widely read novel is Brave New World (1931).    Huxley (1894 to 1963-UK) was from a famous literary family.    He was a member for a time of the Bloomsbury Group and a social associate of Elizabeth Bowen though not a close friend.     His work was also influential in the counter culture of the 1960s through works like The Doors of Perception and through his interest in the teachings of Swami Prabhavananda which lead to a revival of interest in the teachings of Indian gurus.   

I read Brave New World many years ago.     I still recall parts of it quite well.    After reading the short story, "Young Archimedes",  one of Huxley's most famous short stories (he published five collections of short stories and regarded the form very highly) I did a book blog Google  search on Huxley, lots of posts on Brave New World but nothing on anything else.      

I recently received a gift from my cousin Bonnie, a 64 year old 850 page anthology of short stories selected by Bernadine Kielty.     Kielty was an editor for the Book of the Month Club.    "Young Archimedes" is one of the selections.    As far as I can see, Huxley's work is not yet in the public domain so I was glad to see this story was included though I feel bad that interested readers cannot read it online.   

The story centers around a group of English travelers on an extended stay in Italy (very much like "The Story of a Panic" by E. M. Forster and also can be said to  show Italians in a  not very  favorable light).    As the story opens Huxley gives us a very wonderful account of the beauty of the Italian countryside.  As the plot action opens a couple is seeking a six months lease on a house in Tuscany  from a very tough older Italian woman and her mild mannered husband.    The couple has one child age three, Robin.    

There are some amusing parts of the story where the couple have to deal with their landlords over the lack of water in their bathroom.     The landlords have a some agricultural land which they rent out to peasant families on a share crop basis.    The husband tries to be decent with the tenants but his wife is in charge and she is very harsh and totally self serving.   One of the farmers has a son  about five.    The couple invites him over as a playmate for their son.    They discover the boy is a musical genius able to already make astute comments about the works of Bach, for example.   Soon he is able to read musical notation and begins to play the piano at the level of master.    Clearly he is a musical genius.    The couple give him a book on Euclidean geometry and they discover his real talent and even great genius is for geometry and mathematics.  The English couple want to adopt him so he can get the education he needs to truly develop his genius.     In the meantime the Italian woman has heard of his musical talents and begins to try to force his parents to let her adopt him so she can make money from his musical talents.    His parents do not want to give the boy up as they truly love him though they understand they cannot give him what he needs.    I will leave the rest of the plot untold.

Along the way Huxley talks about the nature of genius and the role of culture in determining the development of genius.    He also gives us a  "great men" look at world culture which suggests only the great geniuses are fully human.    (All of which are men.)

The story has a tragic ending.   I liked this story a lot.    There are "droll" jokes about women in it that seem very dated and the view of human history he advocates  (the movement of history is dominated by great men and guru figures)  is a  very much a product of the times.     It is a straight forward story well told.   It is not a  "must read" short story but I am glad I read it and found it worth my time.  

Mel u

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