By Amy Lay
Aldous Huxley does not write ‘literature,’ nor has he ever been guilty of any idea likely to be of the least value. He belongs to the school of ‘bad, naughty little boys’ of which G. B. Shaw and our own Norman Lindsay are such distinguished members. This school is not so anxious to teach as to shock…
– Anonymous contributor to the Daily Telegraph, 18 February 1933
Aldous Huxley’s most well-known novel is a work of savage satire where the populace is continually high on a government-provided drug, non-monogamous sex is encouraged and the concept of the nuclear family is taboo. In the ‘World State’, babies are decanted from test tubes and their lives are predestined by their label or ‘caste’. Outside of this ‘perfect’ World State are tribes of ‘savages’ in which humans reproduce and develop as nature intended.
Brave New World was published in 1932 by Chatto and Windus, London and was named a prohibited import on 12 October of that year. Only one other nation also banned Brave New World; Ireland missed the irony central to the novel to label it anti-religion, anti-family, and extremely blasphemous. Meanwhile, the novel was freely available in the United Kingdom and the United States, from where several Australian booksellers attempted to import it.
The title of Brave New World is borrowed from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Naïve Miranda, raised on a desert island, exclaims, ‘How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world that has such people in’t’, when she first encounters people other than her own family. In an article titled ‘The Man Who Hates God’, the London-based Sunday Pictorial slavishly outlines Huxley’s ironic title from the Shakespeare quote. ‘There are no “goodly creatures” in it. In it mankind is not “beauteous”. It is loathsome.’
Huxley was highly educated with interests in both science and literature. When Brave New World was published, he had already written four novels dealing with philosophy and ethical dilemmas. Huxley wrote Brave New World in response to the optimistic futurism of his contemporaries such as HG Wells, however reviews of the novel were mixed. According to the Sunday Pictorial, Brave New World had to be ‘read to be retched over’.
Australia’s importation ban was supported with great gusto by church-related associations and temperance movements. Upon learning of the ban, Rev George A Judkins, Director of the Social Services Department of the Methodist Church wrote to Customs Minister TW White in 1933 to declare his organisation’s agreement with the ban, stating his organisation ‘entertain[s] that nothing will be done to remove the ban’. In his return correspondence, Minister White confidently replies that the Reverend may ‘rest assured that the prohibition will not be lifted’.
In another case, the wife of the resident Bishop of Thursday Island wrote to support the ban and recall of the book from the island’s public library, ‘in the interests of the simple and unsofisticated [sic] young people who subscribe to the Library and are residents of this Island’. In fact several copies of Brave New World were smuggled out of the Thursday Island library, and though the mayor promised Customs he would return them upon their discovery, the copies never made it back to Canberra.
Those on both sides of the debate wrote impassioned letters to the Customs Minister. Mr Alfred Thodey of Camberwell wrote to register an ‘emphatic protest’ against the ban. “Oh, Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name!” Mr Thodey scrawls down the side of his letter, which names the ban an ‘unwarrantable interference’. Most incendiary to the conservative ideals of the day, Mr Thodey even compares the themes and ‘filthy lewd stories’ of Brave New World to the ‘so-called “Holy” Bible’.
Publishers and librarians also expressed their displeasure over the ban. Chatto and Windus, the London publishers of Brave New World wrote to Minister White in July 1933, requesting that the book be submitted to the newly-formed literary censorship board and the ban be reconsidered. The publishers pointed out that Brave New World had circulated widely in the United Kingdom without incident and had garnered a generally positive reception. If Huxley had not bred subversion and evil elsewhere in the world, why should Australia expect a different result?
Australian libraries and universities were asked to return their copies of the novel to Customs for destruction in 1933. The Perth Literary Institute protested about having to return their copies, and demanded to know the details of the prohibition before handing anything over. When libraries asked for their copies back after the ban ended in 1937, often all they got in reply was a short form letter informing them of the fiery destruction of their copies in the government furnaces.
Brave New World was only removed from the banned list after the book passed the desk of a member of the Literature Censorship Board in 1937. An Appeal Censor had been finally appointed, and agreed upon its release. A sexually permissive culture did not follow, nor did a seditious and morally bankrupt one. Ernest Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms and James Joyce’s Ulysses were released the same year; it was a brave new world for Australia’s literary public.
Customs file on Brave New World, 1932-37
File kept by Australian Customs Service, South Australia on Brave New World, 1933-35