Aldous Huxley had left England by 1923 and was living a balmy exile in Florence, Paris, and the Cote d'Azur. Already a literary success at home, his image - from today's vantage point - was that of an aloof and detached highbrow whose sole concern was to satirize the emotional and intellectual failings of British life. But the letters and essays in Between the Wars, published here in book form for the first time, reveal this as a time of ferment for Huxley: he was moving from a fascination with elitist rule toward an appreciation of common people.
Until this book, as the editor David Bradshaw notes, the depth of Huxley's distaste for mass society and parliamentary democracy, and his later mutation into a point man for the anti-fascist intelligentsia and a spokesman for the dispossessed, were undocumented. Typical of his era, here was Huxley denouncing parliamentary democracy as a system "whereby confidence tricksters, rich men, and quacks may be given power by the votes of an electorate composed in great part of mental Peter Pans." And here he was on the possibilities of eugenics "to improve the human breed": "Society will be organized as a hierarchy of mental quality and the form of government will be aristocratic in the literal sense of the word - that is to say, the best will rule." Even compulsory sterilization attracted Huxley's attention.
Yet he was scarcely aloof. As Between the Wars shows, Huxley was drawn to the social and political upheavals of the period, made frequent visits to England to investigate them, and wrote trenchantly about them. His visit to a mining village prompted a tribute to its miners that foreshadowed by six years Orwell's praise in The Road to Wigan Pier. The deteriorating situation in Germany following Hitler's appointment as chancellor in 1933, and Huxley's firsthand experience with Mussolini's fascism and with victims of Nazi oppression, finally led to what Bradshaw calls "a sea change in Huxley's attitude to authoritarianism."
Skillfully edited and introduced by David Bradshaw, Between the Wars contains essays on art and literature, letters to H. L. Mencken and H. G. Wells, and social and political writings from the early and later thirties. It enhances Aldous Huxley's stature as one of the giants of modern English prose and of social commentary in our time.