Jim recorded her own reading in the margin of her exercise book diaries, adding The Voyage by Charles Morgan against this entry:
1941 January 3
It was bitterly cold.I felt lonely and depressed. I don’t know why with a good home and so much to be thankful for – just when I felt at my worst the postman brought a letter containing 10 dollars from America. I wrote to thank. Was going out but the siren sounded.
The story, set in the late nineteenth century, tracks the lives of a young couple from their upbringing in the same French village. Barbet is a war veteran, farmer, and warden of a small prison and performs his work with kindness and dedication. He is amazed at the ability of nature to carry on, regardless of war. Therese is the lovechild of the local priest, rebellious and happy-go-lucky, and goes to Paris where she sings in the nightclubs.
Such is Morgan’s skill that the book reads like a translation of a French novel. He uses detailed description without suffocating the reader’s imagination. When Barbet lets the prisoners walk free, he risks loss of freedom for himself. When he subsequently joins Therese in Paris, the law catches up with him. One wonders how Hugh felt in terms of freedom and imprisonment as he embarked upon the next stage of his life.
British author Charles Morgan was popular with 1940s readers not least in France. He dedicated the book to a French couple, friends of his whom he hopes will not suffer as a result of invasion. The wife translated the book into French for publication after the war. The Voyage gets its title from the very end of the book when the two lovers decide to take a journey into the unknown.
Eyeless in Gaza
It may have been the unusual structure of Eyeless in Gaza that Jim didn’t like. Huxley describes the lives of Anthony Beavis and his boarding-school friends from 1902 -1935. However, the story appears in non-chronological order. The reader has to unravel the time-scale as well as the tangle of Anthony’s mind. Anthony reflects on the major events in his life and considers what effect they have on his personality. He wonders whether one’s actions are the inevitable consequence of the past.
Jim may also have been uncomfortable with the portrayal of the sexual freedom of the middle class in the inter-war years. The losses of a parent and of friendships were also features of the book which Jim may have felt too close for comfort.
From Samson Agonistes
The title is a quote from Milton’s Samson Agonistes (telling the story from Judges, Chapter 16). Samson wondered whether his blindness and imprisonment were his own fault or the will of God and whether he could have altered the course of events. The theme of imprisonment runs through both the book and the story which inspired it.
For Jim and Hugh, the war threatened freedom and in Hugh’s case brought the prospect of a restrictive life at sea. For both, their experience of the First World War was as small children. Huxley writes of contemporary times with the threat of another war. Maybe this is what Hugh found depressing; or, he may have reflected on his father’s decision to take the family to America in the grip of economic slump.
Hugh had not expected to become a submariner and he may have been wondering what lay ahead. There was no escape from life on board with the foul air and lack of natural light. In this sense, Hugh was a prisoner, blinded by his sense of loyalty and duty to the country of his birth.
Jim’s loyalties were to her mother and sister neither of whom were in good health. Although her longing to travel had somewhat been satisfied with her American adventure, her life in general was far from fulfilled. ‘Ask for this great deliverer now, and find him eyeless in Gaza at the mill with slaves.’
Ends and Means
Written in 1937 as Fascism was rising in Europe, Ends and Means starts with the assumption that humanity has universal goals of liberty, peace, and justice. Societies and individuals vary as to the means to those ends. Technological advances lead to less self-sufficiency as developing countries produce goods cheaply for rich countries to consume. However, as poorer countries become more self-sufficient and industrialised, how, Huxley asks, can they distribute their wealth. He suggests that maximum as well as minimum wages could be the answer along with cooperatives.
Huxley reflects on the causes and effects of war. People are seldom bored in wartime. The ideals of governments filter down into society which seeks new freedoms. Education produces creativity but the top achievers become controllers. As a pacifist, Huxley sees an anomaly in that violence supposedly leads to ‘peaceful’ ends. He foresees a world in which people become addicted to products of science and technology, fed by sound, sight and even the written word. What would he have made of the worldwide web, social networking, smartphones and satellite navigation?