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A. Huxley in Sanary 1


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The death of Aldous Huxley, a celebrated author during most of his lifetime, was eclipsed by the assassination of President Kennedy, which took place on the same day, November 22, 1963. If Huxley’s fame has waned over the years, his work has not been totally forgotten, his books are still published worldwide – Chinese translations are in the making – and Brave New World, a classic that invariably ranks even today among one of the 30 novels favoured by French readers, is still studied in colleges and universities.
If most readers can name the author of Brave New World (BNW), how many of them know exactly where Aldous Huxley wrote his masterpiece? Local librarians, French and foreign scholars or simple book buffs questioned on the matter rapidly declare themselves ignorant of the fact that Huxley had lived in the South of France between 1930 and 1937, and wrote BNW in the four months between May and August 1931, in Sanary-Sur-Mer.

So, if he lived in this house named ‘Villa Huxley’, how did he end-up in this remote neighbourhood called La Gorguette? What kind of life did he have while living there? What else did he write? Did he get along with the locals? These were some of the questions I asked myself, because having been touched by some of his major works I had a feeling for the author, but I didn’t know much about the man’s personality. The fact that I grew up in this very place once so familiar to him, and that today I found myself living in Sanary, after many years of travelling in Huxley’s path; USA, Mexico, Guatemala, Indonesia, to name but a few, turned out to be a strong incentive to have a closer look at that pivotal period.

Having just enrolled myself in an English Study program6 that incidentally required me to choose between linguistics, civilisation and literature as the subject of a research paper – three topics which fit well with Huxley’s profile – I naturally chose the writer himself as the subject, mid-way between literature and civilisation. If my original aim was to analyse the reasons why Huxley wrote BNW in Sanary, I progressively changed my mind when I discovered that if there were many studies already made on his books, there were very few facts surrounding the writing, which took place more than seventy years ago. There was not much to be read on the subject, at least not in French, and there were far too many errors circulating in English. I then decided to conduct my own investigation. While working on Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams, I chose to devote my research paper to the 1930-1937 period Aldous Huxley spent in Sanary. Maria Nys Huxley’s unpublished letters and photographs which in the meantime I had accessed, and the first rate witnesses whom it was still possible to contact had me reconsider my original plan, encouraging me to think of a more ambitious project.

On the one hand I was not to write another essay on Aldous Huxley’s career, nor find the specific reasons why the biographies found on the Net seldom gave correct information. Due to the extent of Huxley’s work, and considering the time and space available for this paper, that task would prove too daunting. On the other hand I could not possibly limit myself to unveiling exclusively the contents of the original material I had gathered in this paper. I had enough material to show in terms of unpublished photographs and correspondences, and sufficient commentaries in store to be in measure to add another shade to the story of the famous couple during those years. That is the reason why I decided to pursue my research in the perspective of a more complete study and an eventual bilingual publication. In the meantime I chose to detail the genesis of the project with all the difficulties and rewards attached to it.
Université Nancy II © Gilles Iltis 2005


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