Modernist Aphasia: A Scientific Basis for Neologism in Huxley’s Early Fiction
University of St. Thomas
“Modernist Aphasia” examines the early and critically neglected work of Aldous Huxley in order to demonstrate that he foregrounds speech disorders in the service of lexical invention. In seeking out innovative sources for word-making, he attends to the pitfalls and pathologies of stuttering and aphasia in his short story “Half-holiday” (1925) and novel Point Counter Point (1928). In the course of disordering words, Huxley uncovers an aesthetic of novelty that is in fact critical to his agenda as a satirist. Through neologism, he works to restore an era of hackneyed intellectualism and sociocultural ennui. To reorder and rebuild words, he also turns to the scientific and taxonomic lexicon, imitating its models for formulating new words. Throughout these early writings, Huxley emphasizes production over product, suggesting that scientific discourse—whether aphasic language or taxonomic vocabulary—is a critical site for satirizing but also rebuilding modernity.
Keywords: Huxley, aphasia, speech, neologism, scientific discourse
I. A Mandate for Invention
In his essay Literature and Science (1963), Aldous Huxley issues the modern writer a challenging task: “To speak about the ineffable, to communicate in words what words were never intended to convey.” Because the existing lexicon is “wholly inadequate,” he urges the writer to look elsewhere: “Every literary artist must therefore invent or borrow some kind of uncommon language capable of expressing, at least partially, those experiences which the vocabulary and syntax of ordinary speech so manifestly fail to convey” (10–11, emphasis mine). Although this direct mandate for invention did not emerge until 1963, the last year of his life, it is evident that Huxley was experimenting with these precepts as early as the 1920s.
As T. S. Eliot would quip in 1920, “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal” (153). A primary target for Huxley’s many thefts was scientific discourse. One might well say the impulse was inherited. His grandfather, Thomas Henry Huxley (1825–1895), made significant contributions to nineteenth-century evolutionary theory; his older brother Julian Huxley (1887–1975) would extend this legacy in the twentieth century. Aldous Huxley became a writer, in part, because his scientific and medical training was abbreviated by his failing eyesight, but his interest in scientific inquiry persisted, especially in his clinical regard for words. Throughout his early fiction, he disassembles words with artful precision, tracing their halting and fragile resonance through the clinical guise of speech pathologies. Specifically, he introduces to his short story “Half-holiday” (1925) and novel Point Counter Point (1928) stuttering and aphasia as surprising sources of invention. He engages aphasia, in particular, to experiment with the novelty and sonority of unfamiliar words. To a certain extent, such lexical vulnerabilities as stuttering and aphasia portend cultural decline, an effect that Huxley explored at greater length in the following decade. Though he would become known for scientific dystopia in Brave New World (1932), we see him laying a lexical groundwork for this satire throughout the 1920s. As we will see, though, even as he inflected words with dystopic disorder, he also reimagined them in novel formulations.
Disorder gives rise to reorder: words disassembled become, in Huxley’s imagination, a pantry of ingredients for augmenting modernity’s lexicon. In seeking to rebuild, he turns to scientific discourse. Specifically, taxonomic vocabulary (itself a manifold hodgepodge of roots, prefixes, and suffixes) comprises a generative vehicle for neologism that cultivates proliferating and all-encompassing nuance. Taxonomic growth—and, indeed, the progress of scientific inquiry itself—hinges on the invention of new words. Playfully but also pragmatically, Huxley mimics and scavenges from these structures to enliven and broaden the reach of modern words. In this light, aphasia and taxonomy can be yoked together as the source material for neologism. These seemingly incongruous processes in fact recur in tandem across his early fiction, suggesting that Huxley understood word-making in terms of a continual cycle of mutuality: words must be unmade and remade in the service of novelty.
This essay explores Huxley’s work in light of the oft-examined affinity between aphasia and the writings of his modernist peers. David Lodge, for example, argues that clinical accounts of aphasia (most notably, instances of “dislocation or distortion”) comprise a telling lens with which to examine the difficulty of modern literature. Building on Roman Jakobson’s work with linguistic models of selection and combination, Lodge proposes that certain modern writing, such as that of Gertrude Stein and Samuel Beckett, “aspires to the condition of aphasia” (77–79).1 Although some have grappled with speech disorder as modern metaphor, what concerns me are the formal ripples left in the wake of such disorders—how aphasic language comes to inflect the text in novel ways, and how the very concept of aphasic language models new methods for word-making.2 In returning to Huxley’s work, we can see how aphasia is not only an aesthetic effect, but also a method. Crucially, aphasia inflects product and process. Disorder highlights Huxley’s fascination with the methods by which we rebuild words from scratch. Whether relishing aloud the sounds of scientific jargon or mimicking a stutterer’s protracted speech patterns, he emphasizes the process of speaking aloud new terms in order to take pleasure in their aesthetic properties. Speech thus transforms ordinary words into neologism and allows the speaker to savor what is simply unfamiliar.
Such experiments, I argue, allow Huxley to examine his lexicon anew, studying and marveling at its inelegant but nonetheless resonant and expressive production. His fascination with word-making was informed by a literary history of neologism spanning from Shakespeare to Lear and Carroll. In fact, the word-making of earlier eras, once transported to the twentieth century, becomes a telling critique of modernity. No longer the provenance of Shakespeare’s stage or children’s verses, Huxley’s word-making is inflected with symptoms of cultural decline. In reinventing neologism for the twentieth century, he makes it modern—but, importantly, in a vein different from the avant-garde experiments of his peers. A deft satirist and comedian, Huxley knowingly caricatures, and thereby distances himself from, avant-garde conventions. His early contributions to twentieth-century literature are not exactly modernist, then. In keeping with Eliot’s quip, this essay considers what it means for this writer to poach source material in the service of formal innovation, and how these thefts position him at odds with his fellow modernists. By disassembling words with the cerebral detachment of satirist and scientist, he not only uncovers an aesthetic of novelty but also imagines new sources—in his own words, “some kind of uncommon language”—for rebuilding amidst a worrying modernity.
II. Huxley and the Modernists
In order to understand Huxley’s unusual formal agenda, we must first examine his vexed and sometimes antipodal relationship to his modernist contemporaries, one recurrently defined by satire. In a sense, his relationship to modernism is particularly complicated because he was so prolific and popular. In 1969, Jerome Meckier argued that Huxley “was the prose satirist of the century” but conceded that his early work “no longer seemed relevant” in the decades that followed (1–7). Even Huxley’s contemporaries matter-of-factly predicted his obsolescence. “Our children,” wrote one critic in 1928, “if they read Point Counter Point at all, will probably read it for data on a lost generation” (Critical Heritage 163). Today, critical work on Huxley’s early fiction is surprisingly scant. Sean Latham speculates that Huxley’s early work in the roman à clef tradition, such as Crome Yellow (1921), remains “obscure” because “some of its comedy depends upon a reader’s ability to recognize it as an exposé of real people and their petty squabbles” (134). Jonathan Greenberg similarly attributes this critical lapse to the uneasy relationship between satire and modernism, noting that Huxley “enjoyed in the 1920s and 1930s critical prestige nearly equal to Joyce’s” (36). Greenberg is right to consider Huxley alongside Joyce: both writers attend to the cyclical, and mutually constitutive, disassembling and reassembling of words. One, however, has been shelved as a middlebrow satirist and the other celebrated as a paragon of high modernism. Rather than attempting to secure for Huxley a place in the modernist canon, however, we ought instead to appreciate his calculated critical distance and understand his satires of that very canon as rare, inventive, and formally nuanced in their own right.
Huxley’s fascination with the formal mechanics of word-making is in fact crucially connected to his satire. Working within a twentieth-century lexicon eroded by trauma and emptied of semantic import, he narrows the target of his satirical arsenal from social and cultural customs to the word itself. His early novels—particularly his first four, Crome Yellow (1921), Antic Hay (1923), Those Barren Leaves (1925), and Point Counter Point (1928)—document the trials and trivialities of London’s intellectual and artistic elite: failing relationships, half-hearted artistic endeavors, and above all, endless, empty words. The novels comprise a nuanced case study of the era’s speech habits. Unsurprisingly, a central feature of his satire is dialogue, sharply rendered with characteristic acerbity and wit. Formally, then, his novels offer a compendium of modern speech—an encyclopedic account of the era’s chatter, gossip, and blather. The little critical work on Huxley and speech tends to understand the term as synonymous with talk, dialogue, or repartee. Peter Firchow, for instance, compares the writer’s “uncanny gift for brilliant and witty dialogue” to that of Oscar Wilde (43). Charles M. Holmes notes that “amusing speech is a favorite Huxley device for poking fun” (53). Missing from this critical consensus, though, is an examination of a corresponding trend in the period, one that highlights the disassemblage of speech in order to interrogate word histories and proffer strategies for assembling new words.
Certainly Huxley was not the only twentieth-century writer to exploit speech for formal effects. We have already seen how Lodge has noted modernism’s rapport with aphasic words, one example of a critical pattern this essay later explores. Such experiments tend to fall under the familiar aegis of modern trauma, in which modernism is thwarted by its own voice. Iconic modern characters—Charles Marlow, Iris Storm, Septimus Smith—struggle to speak, with their failures ranging from aphasia to silence. T. S. Eliot, for example, created in J. Alfred Prufrock a typical voice of the modernist era, famously complaining, “It is impossible to say just what I mean!” (104). Prufrock is not simply concerned with expression, but with the production of speech itself—as if he knows what to say but not how.3 Even as the reasons for such speechlessness are varied, they can mostly be categorized under the broad rubric of modernity: war, mass culture, industrialism, and the inadequacy of the cultural lexicon to describe these new experiences. Some specifically attribute this speechlessness to twentieth-century accelerations in urban stimuli. Georg Simmel, for instance, explains how the stressors of metropolitan life can result in sensory overload, a condition he terms the “blasé attitude” (325). Modern citizens, it would seem, are struck dumb by modernity.
As we might expect, a common trigger for disordered speech is wartime trauma. Chris Eagle pinpoints World War I as a “watershed moment for speech pathology,” explaining how the war heightened awareness of issues ranging from aphasia to mutism (47). Like Woolf and Eliot, Huxley speaks from an era of war survivors and martyrs, even as he was spared from service himself owing to poor eyesight. Robert S. Baker argues that Point Counter Point (1928) is “haunted by the memory of the Great War” and beset by a mood of “decay and dissolution” (126). Although we might be tempted to read Huxley’s fascination with disassemblage as one such instance of the dissolution identified by Baker—shell-shocked words, say—this essay instead examines such formal patterns as examples of scientific experimentation, the writer disassembling words with clinical precision in order to create a literary style that more precisely captures and evokes modernity.4
The distinction I am making here between Huxley’s work and modernism per se pivots on his loyal ascription to the roman à clef. As he worked within and around its generic conventions, his apathy (and eventual antipathy) for his avant-garde peers grew into a formal agenda, one embroidered by new words, that came to define modern satire. In order to ascribe to this genre, though, he would first need to gather material. Early in his career, he moved easily between participation in and sharp mockery of London’s intellectual scene. In late 1916 and 1917, Huxley began to frequent Lady Ottoline Morrell’s salons at Garsington Manor, which offered the pretense of farm labor to World War One’s conscientious objectors. Once a target of mockery by Huxley and others, Morrell’s gatherings have since been recognized as an important institution of modernism; those “drawn into her orbit arguably exceeded the luminosity even of Bloomsbury” (Latham 129). There, Huxley mingled with, among others, John Middleton Murry, Katherine Mansfield, Lytton Strachey, and Bertrand Russell. Even as he participated actively in the Garsington coterie culture, he would soon distance himself from this crowd by way of scathing satirical caricatures of his acquaintances in Crome Yellow (1921) and Antic Hay (1923). As Huxley increasingly circulated amid the literary scene in the late 1910s, he realized that his style was at odds with London’s various avant-garde movements. In an August 1917 letter to his brother Julian, Huxley describes his recent work: “I have given one or two of the little prosicles to be printed by Eliot in the horrid little paper which he has recently joined as a sub-editor, The Egoist, which is filled by Aldington and his fellow whatyoumay-callem-ists…I cannot think of their tribal name at the moment. I hope Eliot will contrive to improve it” (Letters 132).5 Here, Huxley’s repeated use of diminutives—“little prosicles,” “little paper,” “whatyoumay-callem-ists”—signals his lack of interest in the avant-garde despite his tepid complicity in this culture. Moreover, his easy disregard suggests an emerging sense of confidence as he sharpens his caricatures of intellectual pretension, noting as he does here the avant-garde’s “tribal” exclusivity.
To understand the mutuality at play between Huxley’s satire and his fascination with word-making, we turn briefly to an example of disassembled speech that illustrates his uneasy relationship to modernism’s key players. In a telling instance, two different novels highlight the labored production of the word “civilised,” in effect confirming the word’s modern emptiness. Crome Yellow’s Mary Bracegirdle pronounces the word “meticulously, in the very front of her mouth, hissing delicately on the opening sibilant. So few people were civilised, and they, like the first-rate works of art, were mostly French” (33). Huxley repeats the trope two years later, this time with dandified and certainly modernist writer, Mr. Mercaptan of Antic Hay.6 A contributor to “the literary weeklies,” and a writer of “prose poems, vignettes and paradoxes,” he declares “an end to any civilised conversation.” The narrative again charts the production of these words as they emerge from the writer’s mouth, with the character “hissing on the c, labiating lingeringly on the v of ‘civilised’ and giving the first two i’s their fullest value. The word, in his mouth, seemed to take on a special and a richer significance” (39, 44). Here, the narrator makes vividly ironic Mercaptan’s declaration, disassembling his “civilized conversation” into mere phonemes. Like Mary, he “hiss[es]” with a kind of animalistic menace. Further, the writer calls attention to the mechanics of his own narrative sentence, insisting that the reader notice the alliteration and internal rhyme at work in the seductive (to the brink of titillating) phrase “labiating lingeringly.”7
Importantly, each example concerns cutting social distinctions, with both Mary and Mercaptan identifying a cultural gulf between their insular coterie and mass culture. But in dismantling the very word “civilized,” the narrative undercuts the basis of the distinction. Characteristic of his satire, Huxley here reproves his seemingly cosmopolitan characters for what amounts to empty drivel, at the same time effectively denouncing his own milieu for its hackneyed words. Though the target of the latter passage seems particularly self-reflexive—the modern writer suggestively dismantling the mechanics that underwrite his own craft—its formal qualities are key to this argument. Together, these parallel examples illustrate Huxley’s fascination with disassemblage, and the extent to which making and unmaking are entangled in a cycle of mutuality: in order to belabor and dramatize the making of a word (here emerging from a character’s mouth) the novel must disassemble the word into its parts, thereby exposing the word in novel novel formulations.
What Huxley considered amusing, though, plainly bewildered his contemporaries. Critical reviews alternately register awe and distaste for the unusual prose style of his early novels. On the one hand, some admire his “brilliant,” “sparkling,” “fantastic,” and “dexterous” prose (Critical Heritage 121, 71, 127). Reviewing Those Barren Leaves, for instance, Conrad Aiken marvels at its “technical virtuosity” and “macaronic mélange of the classical and the up-to-date” (125, 128). Behind the melancholic ennui satirized by his novels, writes one critic, is “the engaging religion of words,” which, for Huxley are “almost miraculous,” occasions for “hyperdulia,” or nearly worshipful veneration (67). On the other hand, important modernists were troubled by his irreverent satire. In 1927, T. S. Eliot criticizes the “adolescent self-analysis” of Those Barren Leaves, conceding that Huxley “is perhaps one of those people who have to perpetrate thirty bad novels before producing a good one” (145). In 1930, Desmond MacCarthy praises Huxley as a “craftsman” for his “detached, exacting” approach to human behavior but notes that “we find ourselves perpetually looking down on human nature; we never have the exhilaration of looking up” (182). We see here a pattern of critical unease with the impulse driving Huxley’s satire—as if critics struggle to reconcile his formal antics with their satirical impetus.
Some speculate that Huxley’s writings might contribute to what they feared was the inevitable degeneration of the English language and, by extension, English culture. In some cases, critics plainly misread his satire as realism, confusing his satires of degeneracy with degeneracy itself. In a particularly hostile review of Antic Hay, James Douglas of the Sunday Express denounces the writer’s “expert juggl[ing] with words” (81–2).8 First, he accuses Huxley of “blasphemy and impropriety” and points to the author “knead[ing] words into cunning and crafty hints of the unutterable and the unspeakable. And there is a brainless school ready to cackle and chuckle over his fescennine acrobatics” (81). Even as Douglas tacitly acknowledges Huxley’s creativity, he mimics arguments for hygienic regulation, urging his fellow readers to sterilize and sanitize their national literature. “We shall have herds of literary rats exploring every sewer,” he warns, and the “novel will creep and crawl with the vermin of diseased imaginations” (82). The sanitary metaphors escalate predictably: “[t]he craft of letters will be debased and degraded until literature becomes a synonym for bad smells and bad drains” (82). Here, his choice of words betrays an essential divide that pivots on the word “craft”; whereas Douglas sees literature as a “craft of letters,” he describes Huxley’s seemingly effortless play with words as “wordcraft.” This compound term paradoxically resembles the word-making that so offends Douglas. In line with his earlier use of “cunning,” “crafty,” and “cackle,” the term suggests witchcraft, suggesting the menace—as well as magic—of Huxley’s style. In either case, the writer’s experiments prove threatening to the boundaries of the English language. Even as Douglas uses “wordcraft” pejoratively, I understand this term as a telling evaluation of Huxley’s early work—an acknowledgment (inadvertent though it may be) of the formal care with which he crafted his novels.
Unsurprisingly, criticism of Huxley’s work, and especially of his satirical style, is rife with scientific allusions. Edmund Gosse bluntly cites the writer’s familial link to the sciences: “I shudder what [T. H. Huxley] would have thought if he had lived to read Antic Hay” (133). Henry Seidel Canby claims that Point Counter Point is “miscalled a novel, since it is as much of a social document as Mr. Huxley’s grandfather’s deductions from the fossil horse” (166–67). According to Canby, moreover, the novel is populated by “degenerates,” “subtle, sensation-weary Londoners” who are “retrogressive as a human species for all their fineness, brittle and neurotic” (166–69). Concluding, he terms the writer less a novelist than a “scientist-philosopher, an essayist like his grandfather, with more wit and less concentration, with a broader background, and perhaps less industry, yet with the same kind of questing, analytic imagination” (171). Canby’s words are apt, considering the scientific precision with which Huxley attends to the word. In the section that follows, we see how Huxley, now more clearly understood as a “scientist-philosopher,” increasingly sought out new models for his wordcraft.
III. Modern Recipes for New Words
In a 1931 essay, Huxley would contend that “[s]queaking and gibbering are, in the circumstances, artistically inevitable” (“Squeak and Gibber” 144). He borrows these lines from Hamlet, using them as an epigraph at the start of the essay: “In the most high and palmy state of Rome, / A little ere the mightiest Julius fell, / The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead / Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets” (5). In foregrounding these lines, Huxley channels Horatio’s reflections on the rise and inexorable fall of civilization; as Horatio compares Denmark to Rome, Huxley extends the analogy to encompass the habits of speech of his present-day London and the still-pertinent refrains of Shakespeare’s English. Although these “sheeted dead” are disembodied specters, Huxley borrows their “squeak and gibber” here, and throughout his earlier 1920s narratives, to consider speech pathology as a symptom of a declining civilization. We should recall, of course, that Hamlet himself is concerned with the mechanics of speech, instructing his troupe of actors at the beginning of Act III, Scene II: “Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue” (54). On a different scale, Hamlet’s last request, petitioning Horatio to live on and tell the story, suggests a rich parallel between the name Horatio and the Latin orator. In each example, the production of words—specifically, their performance—weighs as heavily as the words themselves.
At the same time, Shakespeare becomes, for Huxley, an icon of lexical invention. Shakespeare’s name appears alongside scenes of word-making, as if synonymous with neologism.9 Before words can be built, however, they must be disassembled. Huxley’s prose is ornamented by instances of broken speech, a pattern which allows him to return language to the site of its production, to the place where words take shape and sounds merge into expressive units of communication.10 We see this manifestation of Shakespearean “squeak[ing] and gibber[ing]” in “Half-holiday,” a short story first published in Harper’s Magazine in September 1925 that documents Huxley’s early fascination with speech production and its surprising spoils. The story captures a single Saturday afternoon in the life of Peter Brett, a poor but moderately educated young man whose impulsive social ambitions result in utter humiliation.11 As he walks through London’s Hyde Park, Brett follows two young women, whom he nicknames “Coo” and “Husky” because of their distinctive voices. Wanting desperately to engage the ladies in conversation, he engineers a dogfight between their French bulldog and a neighboring yellow terrier. Brett, unsurprisingly, endeavors to separate the squabbling dogs as an act of heroism. He is badly bitten, and then mortified when the ladies decline his chivalric efforts, politely handing him a £1 note for his troubles and strolling off. Brett’s low social station has been reaffirmed and he wanders away depressed.
The critical twist in the story hinges on Brett’s chronic stutter. He is unable to refuse the £1 note, as a gentleman would, because he cannot muster the necessary words: he literally cannot bring himself to say no. In the middle of the proceedings, as if mirroring the character’s predicament, the narrative stops in its tracks, or rather moves sideways, to describe Brett’s painful history with speech. As it turns out, Brett is afraid to say the word “dog” because it begins with his arch-nemesis, the letter “d.” In fact, he has constructed an elaborate system for avoiding certain letters:
For all common words beginning with a difficult letter Peter had a number of easier synonyms in readiness. Thus, he always called cats “pussies,” not out of any affectation of childishness, but because p was more pronounceable than the impossible c. Coal he had to render in the vaguer form of “fuel.” Dirt, with him, was always “muck.” (263)
Brett’s speech disorder has forced him to develop an inner thesaurus, always ready to supply a synonym with a more manageable first consonant.12 His disability results in circuitous problem-solving that thickens his vocabulary.
The narrative wryly attributes Brett’s innovation to his literary ancestors, those “Anglo-Saxon poets who, using alliteration instead of rhyme, were compelled, in their efforts to make (shall we say) the sea begin with the same letter as its waves or its billows, to call it the ‘whale-road’ or the ‘bath of the swans’” (263–64). In each of these examples, we see an assemblage of terms knitted together for expressivity, a pattern suggesting that Brett is heir to a word-making tradition whereby words are built in discernible steps. As in the clumsy compound word “whale-road,” evidence of production lingers in the product itself. Brett, however, lacks the “poetic licence” of these ancestors and must sometimes spell out the most difficult of words. For instance, “he was never quite sure whether he should call a cup a mug or a c, u, p. And since ‘ovum’ seemed to be the only synonym for egg, he was always reduced to talking of e, g, g’s” (264).
At the climax of the story, Brett tries to hand the dog to its startled owner, but in his panic, cannot even muster his usual substitutes for the word:
At the present moment, it was the miserable little word “dog” that was holding up. Peter had several synonyms for dog. P being a slightly easier letter than d, he could, when not too nervous, say “pup.” Or if the p’s weren’t coming easily, he could call the animal, rather facetiously and mock-heroically, a “hound.” But the presence of the two goddesses was so unnerving, that Peter found it as hopelessly impossible to pronounce a p or an h as a d. He hesitated painfully, trying to bring out in turn, first dog, then pup, then hound. His face became very red. He was in an agony. “Here’s your whelp,” he managed to say at last. The word, he was conscious, was a little too Shakespearean for ordinary conversation. But it was the only one which came. (264)
The story’s satirical target is complex: on the surface, we can see how elevated language is at stake (“hound” or “whelp” in place of dog, as if aping Shakespearean diction for pretension). On the one hand, Brett’s recourse to such high-flown words is expressly physiological, and his speech painfully visceral. However, the narrator’s attribution to Shakespeare, even if sarcastic, calls up associations with invention, suggesting that Brett’s social gaff is analogous to the stuff of literary greatness. By incorporating both Anglo-Saxon poetry and Shakespeare into this speech catastrophe, the narrative reinforces and broadens the story’s mock-heroism, to borrow Brett’s own phrase.
Huxley’s experiments in word-making would increasingly become couched in scientific and medical contexts. As if elaborating on the tragicomedy of Peter Brett, Huxley turned to scientific discussions of aphasia, what Stephen Pinker defines as “an impairment of language following an injury to the brain” (247). As early as 1912, Huxley makes reference to aphasia in a letter to his brother Julian:
I have been creating and illustrating, on my walks in the neighbourhood, a series of Limericks on Explorers [and] also one or two ‘Limericks of Affliction’, including that of the curate who works in this diocese afflicted by elephantiasis, etc.The Martyr and Saint Anastasia,Tho’ in Heav’n, suffers still from aphasia.She consistently talksOf St. Paul as Guy Faukes [sic],And gives her own name as Aspasia. (45)
In this short poem, we see Huxley’s fluency with language and cultural idiom, as he imaginatively surveys Athenian politics, Catholic martyrology, and English history.13 Though the satirical target is somewhat diluted by the poem’s many allusions, of relevance to this argument is the intersection of aphasia with Guy Fawkes—a convergence that perhaps gestures to the explosive or percussive effect of aphasic language. At the same time, aphasia facilitates his nimbly allusive play with history and language.
If Huxley was playfully alluding to aphasia in 1912, by the 1920s he was actively mining it for formal material, and he was certainly not alone in exploring the pathology’s curiosities. In the early twentieth century, aphasia was a relatively recent but popular development in scientific research. Of the scientists who contributed to aphasiology during this period, perhaps most notable is Sigmund Freud, who produced On Aphasia in 1891, one of his early ventures in the world of neurology.14 However, aphasiological research had begun as early as the mid-1800s. Stephen Kern has emphasized how scientists in this era were concerned with cerebral localization, or the “efforts to localize mental function,” an interest that encompassed nineteenth-century trends like phrenology and craniology (227). By the mid-1800s, Chris Eagle explains, “an educated patient in his position would now grasp his language difficulties as an impairment of the brain.” Citing Charles Baudelaire’s disordered speech as a breakthrough moment in aphasiology, Eagle explains that, in the 1860s, “the neurological view of both language and language loss begin to permeate the literary imagination” (11). The year 1861 was especially critical in the career of Paul Broca, who demonstrated that the nonsensical speech of a patient now known as “Tan” could be traced to a lesion in a region of the brain now termed “Broca’s area.” In effectively unsettling Cartesian notions of mind-body dualism, Broca’s findings constitute “the first fully materialist model of language production to be accepted as scientific orthodoxy,” and suggested that language could be “understood as a properly psychosomatic entity” (Salisbury and Code 110–111). L. S. Jacyna best summarizes the reverberations of such research, explaining that aphasiology “established an intimacy and dependence between what had been regarded as a uniquely spiritual faculty and man’s corporeal part. Aphasia showed that language possessed a bodily organ—or, perhaps more to the point, that a material organ possessed it” (10).15
Unsurprisingly, these neurological findings had radical effects on nineteenth-century theories of subjectivity. According to Eagle, “If speech is our most immediate instrument for giving account of ourselves to others, then disorderly speech in all of these texts conveys a sense of disjuncture between an individual’s interiority and their public self that is endemic to modern life” (15). This “disjuncture” can also be understood in terms of perceptual fractures. Nineteenth-century research on nervous disorders, according to Jonathan Crary, suggests an emergent fascination with the “weakenings and failures of the integrity of perception and its collapse into dissociated fragments” (94). Such disorders lead to a reconsideration of the subject; rather than “a passive receiver of stimuli from exterior objects,” the subject “actively constructed the world around it through a layered complex of sensory and cognitive processes, of higher and lower cerebral centers.” As a result, Crary explains, the nineteenth century witnessed new “holistic and integrating” models of neural processing that emphasized the subject as a “dynamic psychophysical organism” (95).
Even as Broca played a critical part in aphasiological research, particularly in charting new junctures between the brain and language, it was in fact Carl Wernicke whose findings most resonated in literary form. Wernicke’s aphasia is sometimes described as “fluent” aphasia, meaning that the patient produces a steady stream of language that may lack coherence or intelligibility. George Steiner, for instance, proposes an affinity between Wernicke’s aphasia and the kind of wordplay we might expect from James Joyce:
The patient substitutes meaningless words and phrases for those he would normally articulate. Incorrect sounds slip into otherwise correct words. The fascinating corollary to the aphasia described by Carl Wernicke, some ten years after Broca, is its suggestive proximity to the generation of neologisms and metaphor. In many known cases the results of verbal or phonemic aphasia (ungoverned substitution) are almost inspired. There is a sense in which a great poet or punster is a human being able to induce and select from a Wernicke aphasia. (Steiner 282, emphasis mine)
Huxley was most influenced by the work of English neurologist Henry Charlton Bastian (1837–1915), who pioneered research on speech disorders, and especially Wernicke’s aphasia. In 1898 he published A Treatise on Aphasia and Other Speech Defects. Based on the nearly direct correlation between passages from this text and Huxley’s fiction, it is indisputable that Huxley read this text closely. Specifically, in Huxley’s 1928 novel Point Counter Point, the novelist Philip Quarles reads On the Brain by Bastian and becomes particularly fascinated by a case study about an “Irish gentleman” diagnosed with “paraphasia.”16 This patient is literate but incomprehensible (and unaware of his incomprehensibility); he automatically translates what he reads into an aphasic record that Huxley transcribed almost verbatim from Bastian.17 When asked to read aloud from “the statutes of Trinity College, Dublin,” the character produces the following: “An the bee-what in the tee-mother of the trothodoodoo, to majoram or that emidrate, eni eni krastrei, mestreit to ketra totombreidei, to ra from treido as that kekritest” (391). According to medical histories of the period, such expressive fluency was not considered unusual for aphasic patients. Jacyna describes how aphasics contributed to their own narratives with “eager efforts,” using whatever limited speech, facial expressions, and body language they could muster. Thus, aphasic patients can take an “active [and dynamic] role in the generation of the case history” (91).
In the case of Quarles, it is precisely this “generation” of words that attracts his attention. In this sample of aphasic speech, recognizable words like “the” and “that” are fluently mingled with unintelligible words and phrases, thereby retaining traces of comprehensibility. The compound terms “bee-what” and “tee-mother” retain marks of their construction; the hyphen constitutes a visible seam between two lexical components. The patient’s words are ornamented with evidence of their generation. It is this layering of product and production that attracts Quarles’ attention. The quotation seduces Quarles not only with its visual manifestation on the page, but also with its “richness and sonority.” In repeating one of these phrases aloud, he effectively performs aphasia; he participates mimetically in the production of aphasic speech, suggesting that he appreciates aesthetic novelty in both the visual appearance of the words and their aural resonance. Most curious is Quarles’ references to Shakespeare, who, he claims, “only talked about tales told by an idiot. But here was the idiot actually speaking—Shakespeareanly, what was more. ‘The final word about life,’ he added in pencil” (391). The narrative suggests that aphasia offers a defamiliarizing filter through which Quarles might experience words anew. As in the case of Peter Brett, Quarles’ reference to Shakespeare suggests that he engages aphasic speech for aesthetic potential as well as novelty.
Huxley further investigates these phenomena through allusions to developmental linguistics. Philip Quarles’ son, Phil, reverses compound words, creating a functional but technically incorrect grammar. Phil’s governess, Miss Fulkes, notices this speech pattern of her young charge when he describes his drawing as “Mr. Stokes and Albert pulling the mow-lawner.” Miss Fulkes responds, “You never get your compound words right […] Mow-lawner, hopgrasser, cracknutter—it’s a sort of mental defect, like mirror-writing, I suppose” (185). In transforming the word “lawn-mower” into “mow-lawner” Phil foregrounds the verb, and the adapted word thus emphasizes movement over object. In a very real sense, a lawn only becomes one when mown. This example illustrates Huxley’s motivations for disassembling language. Words, when properly disordered, allow Phil’s lexicon to mirror his lived experience more accurately. This example, particularly when placed alongside Brett’s “whale-road” or Bastian’s “bee-what” and “tee-mother,” illustrates the unglamorous stages of word-making that fascinated Huxley throughout the 1920s. They dramatize the invention of words, staging a belabored process of assembling words from parts.
IV. Traditions of Coinage
In Huxley’s quest to “invent or borrow” new words to chronicle a changing modernity, he sought out lexical recipes from not only aphasics and scientists, but also a range of specialists: sailor, butcher, magician, even poet. Even as the avant-garde was engaged in reinvention, Huxley returned to earlier eras for literary novelty. We have seen, for instance, how Shakespeare recurs in scenes of word-making. Huxley also styled himself as an intellectual heir to the playful verses of Lear and Carroll, a comparison he would sharpen and elaborate upon in his later work. In the 1923 essay “Edward Lear,” Huxley concludes that the poetry’s unusual impact is a matter of literal resonance: “Lear had the true poet’s feeling for words—words in themselves, precious and melodious, like phrases of music; personal as human beings” (112). Conversely, Carroll, in Huxley’s estimation, “wrote nonsense by exaggerating sense—a too logical logic. His coinages of words are intellectual. Lear, more characteristically a poet, wrote nonsense that is an excess of imagination, coined words for the sake of their color and sound alone. His is the purer nonsense, because more poetical” (112). Carroll approaches words with studied and nearly mathematical precision whereas Lear’s words are intuitive, “melodious,” and akin to “phrases of music.” This attention to sound becomes central to Huxley’s satire as well as his investment in the aesthetics of speech. Moreover, his distinction here between Carroll’s studied “coinages” and Lear’s intuitive word-making foreshadows what he would later classify as fabricated versus natural neologism.
For Huxley, the literary past is key to its future. Though he first turned to a literary history of wordplay, echoing Shakespeare and experimenting in the style of Lear and Carroll, we see how he employs their recipes for neologism in the service of modern satire. Published in the same year as “Edward Lear,” Antic Hay is rich with illustrations of novel coinages, with the writer Mercaptan particularly fond of scientific thievery. He recalls, for instance, how a friend “had suggested, casually one day at luncheon, that the human race ought to be classified into two main species—the Pachyderms and those whose skin, like her own, like Mr. Mercaptan’s and a few others’, was fine and ‘responsive,’ as Mr. Mercaptan had himself put it, ‘to all caresses, including those of pure reason’” (197). The writer extends this taxonomy with relish, dividing the “barbarous Pachyderms” into subspecies that include “steatocephali,” “acephali,” and the anti-Semitic “Judaeorhynci—busy, compact and hard as dung beetles” (197). Mercaptan adopts taxonomic methods for versatility but also transparency. His satire, as if mimicking the conventions of Huxley’s roman à clef, invites disassemblage. His “steatocephali,” for example, literally translates as “fat heads.” In classifying his friends so playfully, Mercaptan implicitly echoes Lear’s Nonsense Botany (1871), with its illustrations of “Manypeeplia Upsidownia” and “Phattfacia Stupenda.” Like Lear, Huxley understands that taxonomy begets invention.
Huxley would rethink his procedures for word-making, later proffering a sharpened definition of neologism that circumvents taxonomic assemblage. In his 1932 essay “Words, Words, Words,” Huxley describes a new avenue to neologism—that is, another source for theft—confessing an admiration for that highly specialized jargon of particular vocations and trades:
The professional language of the newer and purely scientific professions is apt to be dry and repellent in its polysyllabic foreignness. Nobody but a practicing chemist would want to read an article whose title is ‘Layer-chain Structures of Thallium Di-Alkyl Halides.’ But when a professional sailor writes of mizzen-top-bowlines and cross-jack-braces, of the peak halliards and the spanker boom, we feel impelled to read further. We may be wholly ignorant of the difference between a flying-jib-martingale and a bull-rope; but in spite of our ignorance we are attracted by these mysterious objects; whereas Thallium Di-Alkyl Halides repel us. (93)
This hypothetical sailor’s language relies on compound constructions, not unlike Peter Brett’s “whale-road” or Phil’s “mow-lawner.” Each of these neologisms, like “mizzen-top-bowlines” or “flying-jib-martingale,” is simply a hyphenated list of core terms tacked together for expressive specificity.
Huxley here distinguishes between two types of professional neologism, the fabricated and the natural, a distinction that parallels his 1923 comments about Carroll’s invented words being “intellectual” and Lear’s poetic and intuitive. “The scientist specialist,” he explains, constructs neologisms that are “artificially fabricated from Greek roots and [have] no relation to the living language of real men.” The apprenticed “sailor’s technical terms have grown up with the language and seem to palpitate with its strong and ancient life” (93). The sailor’s language, in other words, has history; its neologism is an organic, “palpitat[ing]” combination and recombination of terms. The words have accrued meaning over time, their nuances evolving in tandem with what he describes as “the living language of real men.” The scientist’s words, however, are inherently “artificial” because they have simply been coined on the spot. Huxley in essence provides us with a primal scene of neologism. The result is that any rigid distinction between neologism on the one hand and technical vocabularies or jargons on the other, dissolves, and neologism comes to encompass its ostensible opposite.
For Huxley, the most alluring specialized language is not necessarily culled from the world of the erudite. As he proceeds through increasingly specialized terminology, he eventually offers this confession: “The technicalities of even the least romantic professions often have a quality of magical life that endears them to us. Thus I recently came across a list of the technical terms of English butchery […] Like spells and incantations, they affected the imagination with their odd, poetical force” (93). Disappointed that no such poem exists, Huxley does the honors himself, declaring, “I was so enchanted by them that I sat down and there and then wrote, in imitation of Alexander Pope, ten lines of an Essay on Meat:
See the gay butcher who with magic steelTransbeefs the ox and turns the calf to veal;Unspheres the heartspoon, cleaves the fatted chucks,Carves tabs and ponies, gonister and plucks;Divides the griskin from the slift and flaps,Spits the brack tortoise, triturates the knaps;Lays wink by skink and with unfeeling bladeDivorces hankin from her clinging splade;While ronds, rann, haslets sing in chorus sweet:‘The proper diet of mankind is meat.’” (94)
Huxley describes himself “roll[ing these words] round the tongue, savoring their rich Shakespearean flavor.” In a sense, his allusion to Pope’s aphorism—“the proper study of mankind is man” (2)—lays bare the cannibalism at stake. Neologism, it would seem, allows Huxley to eat his words. With his emphasis on the production of the carnal, he reminds us once again that words, even under the aegis of professionalism, are best enjoyed in the mouth.
As if portending Huxley’s fascination with the “spells and incantations” of butchery jargon, poet Denis Stone in Crome Yellow (another of Huxley’s satirical self-portraits) shares this soliloquy about the illusive magic of word-making:
The technical, verbal part of literature is simply a development of magic. Words are man’s first and most grandiose invention. With language he created a whole new universe; what wonder if he loved words and attributed power to them! With fitted, harmonious words the magicians summoned rabbits out of empty hats and spirits from the elements. Their descendants, the literary men, still go on with the process, morticing their verbal formulas together and, before the power of the finished spell, trembling with delight and awe. Rabbits out of empty hats? No, their spells are more subtly powerful, for they evoke emotions out of empty minds. Formulated by their art the most insipid statements become enormously significant. For example, I proffer the constatation, ‘Black ladders lack bladders,’ a self-evident truth, one on which it would not have been worth while to insist, had I chosen to formulate it in such words as ‘Black fire-escapes have no bladders,’ or, ‘Les échelles noires manquent de vessie.’ But since I put it as I do, ‘Black ladders lack bladders,’ it becomes, for all its self-evidence, significant, unforgettable, moving. The creation by word-power of something out of nothing—what is that but magic? And, I may add, what is that but literature? (106–7)
In spite of its satirical smirk, the soliloquy seriously reaffirms Huxley’s belief that words and invention are inseparable. Even as Stone here submits to the romance of word-making and betrays his “delight and awe” in the face of “word-power,” the narrator reminds us that word-making is magical but also highly material—cast, for instance, in terms of the carpenter’s interlocking mortice and tenon.
This essay began with Huxley’s late-career meditation about the demand for new words, and the modern writer’s pressing need to “invent or borrow” words that capture the “ineffable”—and, in fact, Huxley did exactly that as early as 1921. In plumbing new sources for word-making and thereby reexamining what constitutes the new, Huxley reshapes neologism and insists on an alternate aesthetic of novelty, concurrent with but distinct from that advanced by modernism. To some degree, his clinical regard for form is what binds him to his fellow modernists. Crucially, though, he shelters his experiments in satire: his popularity and productivity belie the smartness with which he dismantles avant-garde pretensions. His success as a satirist should neither preclude recognition of his formal experiments nor prohibit critical evaluation of his work. In overlooking this work, critics (then and now) have neglected a trove replete with formal innovation as well as incisive evaluations of modernity—from aphasic disorder to the nonsense of jargon, from words fractured by trauma to those hollowed out and stripped bare from overuse. In estranging sound from sense, his early novels expose the limitations of words, at the same time furnishing literature with new words.
In a sense, these local experiments dramatize Huxley’s larger social aims. Even as both disorder and reorder are necessary to neologism, so too is satire a necessary precursor to rebuilding amidst a dystopic modernity. It is through playful but calculated word-making, then, that he plots modernity’s redemptive turn. Amidst rising cultural anxieties about modernity’s vox nihili, he ushered the novel into decidedly scientific territory, merging his scientific and medical training with his love of words. In so doing, he brings to life a kind of neologism that is paradoxically novel yet aesthetically reminiscent of writers ranging from Shakespeare to Carroll. In this way, scientific discourse allows Huxley to innovate in a formal vein distinct from his modernist peers, and thus make his circuitous and often contrary contributions to twentieth-century literature. While modernist writers were making it new, per Ezra Pound’s quip, Huxley made neologism new.
1 For a more capacious account of aphasiology and modern literature, see Chris Eagle’s Dysfluencies. Citing Lennard Davis’ watershed work on disability, Eagle has elsewhere proposed a corollary “field of Dysfluency Studies,” one which explores “works that portray or perform clinically disordered speech as well as aesthetically defamiliarized works that force us to reassess the boundaries of normal language.” Such a field, he imagines, would “seek to destabilize rigid or facile notions of fluency. It would understand mastery over language as always already tenuous, fragile, and partial” (Talking Normal 4-6). Joshua St. Pierre similarly interrogates what he terms “stuttering discourse,” in which he finds that the speech disorder is “consistently framed as an individual, biological defect to be coped with, managed or cured.” Instead, he poses, we ought to consider “resisting the urge to ‘fix’ stuttering and instead reflecting upon what it can reveal about the ways we are accustomed to understanding speech, communication and disability” (9).
2 Relevant to this argument is Jacques Derrida’s work on articulation and his contention that “language is born out of the process of its own degeneration” (242). In the course of parsing Rousseau’s writings on the subject, Derrida posits a “natural voice” that exists between “the prelinguistic and the linguistic, between cry and speech, animal and man, nature and society.” One site of such a voice, he suggests, is childhood: “To speak before knowing how to speak” (247). This phenomenon is connected to what Derrida terms the pneuma or neume: “pure vocalization, form of an inarticulate song without speech, whose name means breath” (249).
3 Prufrock’s discomfort—that of the tongue-tied, beklemmt speaker—is perhaps similar to what Michel de Certeau describes as “the threshold between muteness and speaking,” which can be “organized” or even “reconstituted like a ‘no man’s land,’ a space of vocal manipulations and jubilations, already free from silence but not yet subject to a particular language” (38). For critical context on the role of speech in modernist poetry, see Mark Morrisson’s account of the verse recitation movement in prewar London.
4 The Great War’s novel effects on the body and mind had much to do with noise; as Eagle explains, the war was “as much phonosagoria as phantasmagoria, an endless cacophony of new sounds that tested every soldier’s nerves” (58). In surveying the repercussions of wartime aphasia on the poetry of Wilfred Owen, Eagle explores the poet’s turn to sound devices such as onomatopoeia. The device alternates between comic effect (“moans, hums, buzzes, bumps and thumps, shrieks and sighs”) and grave imitation of the wartime soundscape, such as “troping the cannon’s firing as a kind of speech act” (67-71).
5 Editor Grover Smith’s note indicates that Huxley contributed a single prose piece entitled “Miss Zoe” to The Egoist’s August 1917 issue.
6 Mercaptan’s name is synonymous with methanethiol, a gas reeking of rotten cabbage or human waste. In terms of Huxley’s roman à clef, Mercaptan may well be a self-portrait, his writings described in terms suggestive of satire: “his favorite theme,” we learn, is “the pettiness, the simian limitations, the insignificance and the absurd pretentiousness of Homo soi-disant sapiens” (39). The description twice alludes to the evolutionary theory so important to Huxley’s familial lineage, as if he knowingly comments on his predilection to disassemble words in scientific guises.
7 The adjective “labiating” implies two branches of the Latin noun labium—lips of both mouth and genitalia. Conflating the physiological sites of language and sexuality, and thus linking the ordinary with the obscene, this move is of a piece with Huxley’s scatologically-inspired wordplay seen elsewhere in this piece.
8 James Douglas likewise condemned Radclyffe Hall’s 1928 The Well of Loneliness with what Huxley called “one of those high-moral denunciations which, along with divorce case reports, photographs of bathing beauties, and murder stories, are the staple attraction of Sabbath-day journalism” (“In Praise” 93).
9 In the case of Shakespeare, we see early signs of Huxley’s investment in irreverence and comedy: although he deems Elizabethan drama “tedious,” he praises a production of “McBeth,” which he describes as “a roaring farce, frightfully exciting but not quite, perhaps, as old Shakebake meant it” (Letters 57). Later seeking models for neologism for his novels, Huxley would return to Shakespeare.
10 For wider accounts of stuttering, including its literary and cultural histories, see Marc Shell’s Stutter and Benson Bobrick’s Knotted Tongues: Stuttering in History and the Quest for a Cure.
11 Huxley likely saw in Brett a likeness to his brother Noel Trevenen Huxley, who committed suicide in 1914. “Trev,” as he was called by family, had a distinct stutter, to which Aldous Huxley makes reference with the character Brian Foxe in Eyeless in Gaza (1936). Foxe’s stutter, however, is a departure from the examples I cite in this essay: the character’s speech is less a site of wordplay than a source of pathos.
12 With regard to what he calls “stutter-avoidance techniques,” Shell identifies three principal varieties of “verbal substitution”: translational or interlinguistic synonymy, intralinguistic synonymy, and personal substitution (20-24). According to this model, Peter Brett’s inventive mechanisms would constitute the second of these strategies, because Brett relies exclusively on English substitutions for English words. Shell notes that Somerset Maugham employed a similar strategy, preparing for radio broadcasts by substituting difficult words with easier synonyms (22).
13 The “Great Martyr Anastasia” was a Christian saint executed at Sirmium on Christmas Day under the rule of Roman Emperor Diocletion (285-304 CE). To confuse her own name with that of Aspasia, as Huxley suggests, would be no small gesture. A Greek woman of the fifth century BCE, Aspasia was reportedly a courtesan of Athenian statesman Pericles and thought to have kept a brothel. Having thus transformed a saint into a brothel-keeper, Huxley inserts a similarly ironic parallel between St. Paul and “Guy Faukes [sic].” St. Paul, or the Apostle Paul of Christian fame, becomes Guy Fawkes (1570-1606), infamous for his attempted and failed assassination of King James I in the Gunpowder Plot. Jumping two millenia, Huxley twice undercuts Christian history, replacing the work of martyr and apostle with that of courtesan and terrorist.
14 Valerie Greenberg observes that Freud’s treatise, a technical and strictly neurological evaluation of aphasia, has been largely ignored, even within aphasiological studies (2). For a historian’s account of Freud’s research and findings, see Anne Harrington’s Harrington’s Medicine, Mind, and the Double Brain: A Study in Nineteenth-Century Thought (1987), which also includes interesting accounts of language localization through studies of Broca and Hughlings Jackson. Also relevant here is Harrington’s fascinating discussion of speaking bodies and psychosomatic medicine at the turn of the twentieth century, as well as connected accounts of Freud’s research, in “The Body That Speaks” in The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine (2008).
15 For an account of the nineteenth century’s fascination with cerebral localization and particular attention to research on speech and language, see Robert M. Young’s cultural history of mind, Mind, Brain, and Adaptation in the Nineteenth Century (1970). Laura Salisbury and Chris Code, in their work on Samuel Beckett and aphasia, attribute to aphasiologist John Hughlings Jackson “the fact that language cannot be understood as simply the expression of the most willed, most abstract, or ‘highest’ qualities and strata of the mind,” but that “it must also be understood as formed within and produced by the moor ‘automatic,’ ‘primitive,’ ‘emotional,’ parts of an evolutionarily developed brain” (102).
16 In fact, Bastian did not write or publish anything titled On the Brain. Instead, Huxley may have conflated Bastian’s study The Brain as an Organ of Mind (1880) with his later A Treatise on Aphasia and Other Speech Defects (1898). What Bastian here terms “paraphasia” would today be diagnosed as “jargon aphasia”—a subspecies of fluent aphasia. According to Rohrer, Rossor, and Warren, “[t]he production of incomprehensible language containing frequent phonemic distortions, semantic errors or neologisms secondary to neurological disease has been termed jargon aphasia (or if writing is affected, jargon agraphia)” (155-159).
Quarles is himself linked to another literary lineage, also linked to evolutionary dynamics. Jerome Meckier notes that the name is an allusion to Philip Quarrl, the protagonist of Peter Longueville’s 1727 imitation of Robinson Crusoe entitled The Hermit: or, The Unparallel’d Sufferings And Surprising Adventures of Philip Quarrl, an Englishman: Who was lately discovered upon an uninhabited Island in the South Seas. Philip Quarrl is shipwrecked on an island, but unlike Crusoe, he has no desire to return to his native England. He has made the foreign familiar, living among monkeys and far removed from his fellow man. As Meckier explains it, “[t]he picture of Quarll among his monkeys became a satiric analogue for Quarles amidst the artists and bohemians of the allegedly ‘bright’ 1920s. In that same picture, Huxley also saw himself” (269).
17 Bastian writes specifically about a “scholar of Trinity College, Dublin, aged 26 years, of very considerable literary attainments, and well versed in French, Italian, and German” who, following “an apoplectic fit,” “had the mortification of finding himself deprived of speech.” Bastian reports that “his extraordinary jargon led to his being treated as a foreigner in the hotel where he stopped.” The patient’s reading comprehension and writing abilities remained highly competent but when prompted to read aloud from “the bye-laws of the College of Physicians,” the patient instead read: “An the be what in the temother of the trothotodoo to majorum or that emidrate eni enikrastrai mestreit to ketra to tombreidei to ra fromtreido as that kekritest.” Prompted to read the same passage aloud several days later, the passage produced these words: “Be mather be in the kondreit of the compestret to samtreis amtreit emtreido andt emtreido mestreiterso to his eftreido tum bried rederiso of deid daf drit des trest” (224-6).
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