Point Counter Point  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Point Counter Point, published in 1928, was Aldous Huxley's fourth novel. It is highly regarded: the Modern Library lists it in the top 100 novels of the 20th century.

Consistent with Huxley's other novels, Point Counter Point has no overarching plot. Instead, the story is an intricate set of sub-plots revolving around several key characters each with a set of sub characters. Each character represents some aspect of life or is a stereotype of some sort from a rather vapid group in the twenties. The various character paths cross in varying circumstances. Much of the novel consists of deeply penetrating personality sketches and long intellectual conversations. When actions are described, Huxley analyzes every motive and internal emotion in detail, sometimes even jumping into a character's past to provide context. His characters decry the dangers of sacrificing humanity for intellectualism, and express concern about the staggering progress of science and technology. There are perhaps two main issues - the first is class and the reactions of people as the barriers break down. The second is sex where various possibilities and relationships are described. Philosophically, the entire book plays on the dichotomy between reason and passion. Huxley's "champion" of philosophical balance is the fictional character, Rampion, who was coincidentally inspired in Huxley by his encounters with D.H. Lawrence.

Synopsis and characters

Set in 1920s London, the novel begins by detailing the misery of one Walter Bidlake, but quickly expands its reach through Walter's social sphere, which is a mix of British nobility and lower-class intellectuals. Walter's affair with Marjorie, a married woman, has gone sour, and he is off to a party at Tantamount House to doggedly chase Lucy Tantamount, a woman he finds logically abhorrent but irrationally attractive. Following Lucy to a restaurant, they meet up with Mark Rampion and Maurice Spandrell, intellectuals.

Walter's father John Bidlake is an artist and a rake who has had countless discreet and amicable affairs with various society women, many of them his models. Walter's sister Elinor is married to Philip Quarles. They return from India but their relationship is not going well: Philip lives in a world of intellectualism, and is uncomfortable with his humanity so far as to suppress it.

Walter tries to ask his boss at a literary magazine for a raise. The man, Denis Burlap, is a facetious and hypocritical individual who idolizes -- and thinks himself to be like -- St. Francis. All the while, the charismatic Everard Webley is building up his Brotherhood of British Freemen, a group with decidedly fascist politics.

Elinor, though devoted to her husband, desperately needs a passionate relationship. This nearly comes to fruition with Everard Webley, but his murder prevents this actually happening. Quarles's father has had a succession of affairs, usually with working class girls, but ends up in a sticky situation with one who is upset by his meanness and manages to get pregnant. Walter's editor Burlap is living in a platonic relationship with Beatrice who has been frightened of any form of sexual contact and is gradually succeeding in breaking down the barriers. Meanwhile another victim of sexual conflicts is Spandrell who has reacted to these problems by treating women as objects and delighting in corrupting innocence.

The story concludes with the resolution of several situations. Spandrell murders Webley and realising the futility and emptiness of his own life, lets himself be killed by Webley's followers. John Bidlake dies; Walter returns to Marjorie; Burlap eventually wins over Beatrice, and also gets rid of the secretary who has subjected him to an emotional blackmail. There is however a real tragedy in the death of the son of Philip and Elinor Quarles

Oswald Mosley comparison

Comparisons have been made between the character Everard Webley and his Brotherhood of British Freemen and Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists. However, because Mosley was still a prominent member of the Labour Party at the time of the publication of Point Counter Point in 1928 and would remain so until 1931 it is highly unlikely that Huxley had him in mind. A number of other fascist groups preceded Mosley's BUF (founded in 1932), the most prominent of which was the British Fascists. Possibly one of these may have been Huxley's inspiration. In the 1996 reprint of Point Counter Point, Mosley's son Nicholas discusses the connection in a new introduction to the novel.

Film and television adaptations

The novel was adapted into a BBC mini-series by Simon Raven in 1968, starring Tristram Jellinek. It was later broadcast on PBS television in 1972.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Point Counter Point" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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