Written in 1932–1933 just after Brave New World, Now More Than Ever is a "thinker's play" written in response to the social, economic, and political upheavals of its time.
Over the course of his career, British writer Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) shifted away from elitist social satires and an atheistic outlook toward greater concern for the masses and the use of religious terms and imagery. This change in Huxley's thinking underlies the previously unpublished play Now More Than Ever.
Written in 1932-1933 just after Brave New World, Now More Than Ever is a response to the social, economic, and political upheavals of its time. Huxley's protagonist is an idealistic financier whose grandiose schemes for controlling the means of production drive him to swindling and finally to suicide. His fate allows Huxley to expose the evils he perceives in free-market capitalism while pleading the case for national economic planning and the rationalization of Britain's industrial base.
This volume contains the full text of Now More Than Ever, which was believed to be lost until 1976, when a copy was found at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center of the University of Texas at Austin. A "thinker's play" that has never been produced on stage, it is the last previously unpublished piece of Huxley's major writings and immensely important to understanding his development as a writer. The editors of this volume have annotated the play for contemporary readers. Their introduction sets the play in the context of Huxley's intellectual life.
- A Note on the Text
- Now More Than Ever
Though it was an ambition which was destined to remain unfulfilled at his death in 1963, the prospect of authoring a theatrical smash hit tantalized Aldous Huxley throughout his creative life. "Plays are obviously the things one must pay attention to," he told his brother Julian as early as July 1918. "Imprimis, they are the only literary essays out of which a lot of money can be made; and I am determined to make writing pay." By 23 June 1920, in a letter to his father, Huxley had fixed even more firmly on popular drama as a means of escaping from what had by then become a "hectic life of activity... There is nothing but a commercial success that can free one from this deadly hustle. I shall go on producing plays till I can get one staged and successful." As his life wore on, however, a "commercial success" on the stage was to prove ever more elusive. Yet over forty years later, on 17 November 1963, with just five days to live and too weak to hold a pen, Huxley dictated a letter to his literary agent in London informing him of "a new interest in a theatrical production of After Many a Summer [his seventh novel, published in 1939]. I will let you know whatever progress is made over here." Although he had earned practically nothing from his plays over the past four decades, Huxley's enthusiasm for the medium had never flagged and even his imminent death seems not to have dampened his fervent hope of achieving success on the stage.
Widely believed to be "lost" and scarcely "commercial" in its style and subject matter, Now More Than Ever represents Huxley's most substantial and absorbing work as a dramatist, with the possible exception of The World of Light (1931). It is a play that will surprise those inclined to associate the younger Huxley solely with an attitude of cynical detachment. The sincerity of Now More Than Ever is palpable, and readers of the play cannot fail to register the political engagement and ethical gravitas with which it is freighted. But while Now More Than Ever is undoubtedly a significant addition to Huxley's oeuvre, the most likely reason why he failed to get the play produced is equally clear: it relies too obtrusively on the explication of ideas and opinions, and draws too sparingly on the components and conventions of the interwar well-made play. The expository set-pieces, which for Huxley were the backbone of his play, also vitiated the drama by slowing it down. Despite the drawing power of its famous author, the play must have seemed too great a risk to the producers and impresarios who read it in the early 1930s. Ultimately, it is a play more suited to the page than the stage: the epilogue is too protracted--and arguably superfluous--while the dialogue generally lacks sufficient nip and punch. Now More Than Ever was unquestionably topical, but too untypical of its time to deliver the packed auditoria Huxley craved.
A partial explanation of why Huxley made so few concessions to the demands of the commercial theatre is provided, perhaps, in a comment he made during the course of an interview which took place in January 1931. "My chief motive in writing," Huxley remarked:
has been the desire to clarify a point of view. Or, rather, the desire to clarify a point of view to myself. I do not write for my readers; in fact, I don't like thinking about my readers ... I am chiefly interested in making clear a certain outlook on life ... My books represent different stages in my progress towards such an outlook. Each book is an attempt to make things clear to myself so far as I had gone at the time it was written. In that sense they are all provisional ... I believe that mankind is working towards some definite and comprehensive outlook on the world, and I regard my work as contributing something towards that.
While it is impossible to square Huxley's "chief motive in writing" Now More Than Ever with his desire to write a box-office blockbuster, this play, like Brave New World (1932), the text which immediately preceded it, may be understood as part and parcel of Huxley's anxious "clarif[ication]" of his response to the social, economic, and political upheavals of the late 1920s and the early 1930s, and, even more strikingly, as an integral part of his concerted effort to "clarify" himself to himself. Through the character of Walter Clough in particular, Now More Than Ever attests to Huxley's rejection of the hard line elitist ideology which had shored up his writing prior to and (more debatably) including Brave New World, and it bears intriguing witness to Huxley's search for a more humanitarian, down-to-earth, and "comprehensive outlook on the world." Like the Swiss scientist and balloonist Auguste Piccard (1884-1962), who with his brother Jean-Félix reached a record-breaking altitude of 16,940 meters in 1932, Huxley thought of himself as "extraordinarily cut off from people and things" at this time, and in the three years which followed the writing of Now More Than Ever he experimented with breathing exercises, the Hay Diet, the Alexander Technique, and other reconstructive regimes, before concluding the overhaul of his body and mind by committing himself to absolute pacifism in November 1935. Clough's attacks on Philip Barmby's outlook and lifestyle in Now More Than Ever are the kind of criticisms which Huxley leveled against himself during this period. Indeed, Clough, Arthur Lidgate, his daughter Joan, and especially Barmby, with his "famous cynicism" and "hermetically sealed" ductless glands, all find themselves wanting in ways which mirror Huxley's profound dissatisfaction with his own life and work in the early 1930s. As Joan puts it at one point: "Why does one always have to be oneself?" Like Barmby, Huxley was increasingly disposed to regard himself as "just a dilettante with a gift of the gab." Joan accuses Barmby of being "so resigned" and sad, so stuck in a groove, just as Huxley himself felt stuck and dissatisfied with the role which had made him famous in the 1920s, the role of detached and insouciant cynic. He was desperate to commit himself to a cause, in the same way that Clough has devoted himself to communism, but in 1932 he had scant idea what that cause might be.
The decade which concluded with Huxley domiciled in California and attempting (with mixed results) to write for the movies began with him having his early interest in the theatre rekindled. In January 1930 he attended the final rehearsals of This Way to Paradise, Campbell Dixon's adaptation of Point Counter Point (1928), and he plainly found the experience inspiring:
Mr. Dixon has given me an opportunity of vicariously tasting the joys and sorrows of the dramatist's life. The sip has been disquieting but heady. I am tempted, in spite of my unshakable affection for the novel, to renew the draught.
By this point in his career, in addition to his novels, short stories, and nonfictional work, Huxley had written three plays, two short parodies of John Drinkwater's historical dramas," and three dramatic sketches. One of Huxley's plays, Happy Families, had been performed (in his presence) at Harold Scott's and Elsa Lanchester's Cave of Harmony nightclub, while his adaptation of The Discovery (1763) by Frances Sheridan was staged by Nigel Playfair at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, London, in 1924.
Following his stimulating visit to the rehearsals of This Way to Paradise, Huxley sat down to write for the stage once more and the result was The World of Light. In essence a satire on spiritualism, this play, like all Huxley's writings in the 1930s, prompted him to engage in a kind of psychological stocktaking. As he was to do again in Eyeless in Gaza (1936), Huxley explores his predominantly hostile feelings toward his father in The World of Light. Like Mr. Wenham in the play, Leonard Huxley, following the death, in 1908, of his first wife Julia (Aldous's mother), had married, in 1912, a much younger woman, Rosalind Bruce, and had subsequently had two children with her--and both the novel and the play depict, inter alia, a son's aversion to paternal attempts at affection. Interestingly, the son, Hugo Wenham, is a desiccated, disillusioned, and Barmby-like cynic of thirty, who even regards himself as "A dead vacuum."
The World of Light opened at London's Royalty Theatre on 30 March 1931, but although Desmond MacCarthy reviewed it enthusiastically--"Encore! Mr. Huxley, more, please more!"--other critics were less impressed with the play and it closed before the end of its scheduled run. Undeterred, its producer, Leon M. Lion, urged Huxley to continue writing for the theatre, suggesting that he might, for example, attempt an adaptation of his much-discussed Brave New World. Huxley rejected this idea but he did not turn his back on the stage, and in July 1931 he informed his literary agent that he was
working on the scenario of what may be, I think, rather a good play--with a Kreuger-like figure as the central character--linking the story up with general economic ideas, which might be timely, as everyone is bothered about these things.
Huxley and his contemporaries were undoubtedly deeply "bothered" by the extraordinary revelations which followed the suicide of the Swedish financier Ivar Kreuger in Paris in March 1932. Prior to his death, the wealth and power of "The Match King"--Kreuger's sobriquet derived from his monopoly of global production-were legendary, but it soon became apparent that Kreuger's assets largely consisted of bogus bonds, chimerical companies, and cooked accounts. The impact of this bombshell on "general economic ideas" was considerable, and the sheer scale of Kreuger's fraud led to his posthumous installation as "the greatest swindler the world had ever known." In the eyes of many intellectuals, especially those on the left, Kreuger came to embody the chicanery, deceit, and malfeasance at the heart of freemarket capitalism. Two years earlier, the novelist Richard Aldington had caught the tenor of the time when he addressed the disillusionment of "the younger generation" in his review of Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies (1930):
They were ushered into life during one of the meanest and most fraudulent decades staining the annals of history. And it's still going on--forgery, fraudulent bankruptcy, false banknotes, intensive commercial welfare, lying conferences to deceive the nations' demand for peace ...
As well as being the primary model for Now More Than Ever's Arthur Lidgate--who knows that after his death he will be revealed as "one of the biggest swindlers on record"--Kreuger was also the original of Erik Krogh in England Made Me (1935), the novel which Graham Greene set against the "sense of capitalism staggering from crisis to crisis."
On 27 August 1932, Huxley provided Lion with a more detailed synopsis of his current project:
I am writing a politico-economic play more or less about Kreuger; i.e. a financier with a sincere desire to rationalize the world, but who bites off more than he can chew and is driven into swindling and finally suicide. His daughter falls in love with a young man who has given up his social position to preach communism--and he with her; but he refuses to allow himself to love this incarnation of the luxuries and drives her off with a get-thee-behind-me-Satan gesture, until, at the end, the father's sins and suicide make a union possible. Add to this a secretary to the financier--a profound sceptic who riddles both sides with his criticisms and himself enjoys the comfort of a cynical conformity to things as they are. One or two minor characters, and there you are. I have written an act and a half, and hope to get ahead in the next few weeks. There will be a good deal of talk--but on subjects in which everybody is now interested
In the circumstances, Huxley's description of Kreuger as "a financier with a sincere desire to rationalize the world" seems excessively permissive if not perverse. Yet this representation of Kreuger as a noblespirited altruist is one which was quite common at the time. One commentator wrote:
His early achievements as a builder who brought new methods and created new values are of lasting merit. The same applies to the trustification and modernisation of the match industry. On these scores alone he deserves different consideration than an inveterate swindler pure and simple. Furthermore, the loans he made were definitely constructive and helped the rehabilitation of a number of countries [following the Wall Street Crash of 1919]. He may have raised the money in a dishonest way, but he used at least a part of it in a way that was beneficial to the world. His match loans were not only based on most solid foundations; they also contributed to peace and stability.
Another contemporary, Raymond Poincaré, prime minister and finance minister of France from 1926 to 1929, called Kreuger "An outstanding and honest man of unusually well developed and balanced gifts," and the distinguished economist J. M. Keynes, a friend of Huxley's in the early 1930s and someone with whom he no doubt discussed the Swedish financier's life and untimely death, portrayed an equally sympathetic figure in his radio obituary of 14 March 1932:
In Ivar Kreuger's death we have just seen a moving example of the helplessness of the individual. Here we had a man who possessed what was perhaps the greatest constructive financial talent of his era, a man whose wide-embracing activity in the most comprehensive sense of the term was of general significance and who regarded it as his task to create, in the postwar chaos, channels between countries with capital resources in abundance and those in bitter need of these. He built upon solid ground and secured his work with all the guarantees that lay in human power to devise. He lived to experience what the ignorant would call the usual fate of the gambler, but in reality Ivar Kreuger was crushed between icebergs of a frozen world, which is not within human power to thaw out and give the warmth of normal life
Huxley continued to work on Now More Than Ever throughout September 1931. He was also reading War and Peace at this time, "which, I find, is a great consolation and tonic," he told a correspondent on 1 October. "In the intervals I try to write a play--which is interesting and difficult." By 10 October, however, he was able to inform his literary agent, J. Ralph Pinker (who was himself to be jailed for swindling his clients, including Huxley, a few years later) that he had completed his task:
I have finished my play and will send it to you in a few days, when I have done the typing. I read it to some friends yesterday and the effect was good; which is encouraging.
I know you have certain objections to Lion. But I feel under considerable obligation to him for having cheerfully lost money on two of my efforts [as well as The World of Light, Lion also promoted This Way to Paradise]; and I want him to have the first opportunity of losing more--or recouping his losses--on this one. The one condition must be, I think: not in matinées. For I'm convinced that did a lot of harm to The World of Light.
"Let's hope a few members of the theatre going public may find it as interesting as I do," he told another correspondent. "They didn't go near my other play." Huxley sent a copy of Now More Than Ever to the London-based writer and translator Sydney Schiff (who wrote under the nom de plume of "Stephen Hudson") on 3 November, and the following month he, too, arrived in London from his home on the French Riviera, informing an interviewer:
I'm in London because I've written a new play. It's called Now More Than Ever and it deals with the subject of a man like Krueger or Hatry. I suppose it really might be called a study of the present-day financial and economic position of the world.
Huxley had linked Krueger with Clarence Hatry, the leading figure in an enormous City of London Stock Exchange fraud of 1929, earlier in 1932 when he made his first published comment on Krueger's suicide. In quoting what Huxley wrote on that occasion, it is worth underlining the affinity between his benevolent attitude toward Krueger and Keynes's equally benign spin on the financier's activities:
Business, the reformers tell us, and after business, government, must be organised in ever larger and larger units. Krueger was prfoundly convinced of this; so was Hatry. Both men, I imagine, were, among other things, far-sighted idealists. In attempting to act on their enlightened convictions, to put their sociological ideals into practice, both were forced into gigantic fraud.
"It is a play I shall be proud to stage," Lion had written to Huxley after reading The World of Light, "though I dare not flatter you or myself that it will make an appeal to more than a limited public. It is a thinker's play which in the old days the Stage Society would have done." This was a perceptive comment, and in his review of the play the critic Ashley Dukes had even predicted that The World of Light "may prove to be the Widowers' Houses of some new revival of intellectual drama." But this had not happened, and one can imagine how crestfallen the commercially minded Lion must have felt when he first read Now More Than Ever, even though he had been warned to expect "a good deal of talk." In the event, it was clearly too much of "a thinker's play" even for Lion, who, had he been familiar with them, might have felt inclined to redirect toward their author Huxley's comments on John Galsworthy's Plays: Fourth Series:
[T]he literature of social problems...possesses life and value only in so far as its characters are real, individual human beings. The problem does not make the play; it is the characters that cause us to be interested in or tolerant of the problem.
Now More Than Ever's characters are not lifeless by any means, but they are insufficiently realized to allow Huxley to focus on his "problem" to the extent to which he does.
Moreover, in his role as drama critic for the Westminster Gazette, Huxley had in 1920 reviewed a performance of Israel Zangwill's The Melting Pot (1909), and it could be argued that his critique of Zangwill's play is even more applicable to Now More Than Ever than his comments on Galsworthy's drama:
The unsatisfactoriness of The Melting Pot naturally makes one think of the unsatisfactoriness of most of the so-called "drama of ideas." The drama is form in which it is almost impossible to convey ideas of any complexity. To be understood at a first hearing by a mixed crowd of several hundred people an idea must be extraordinarily simple, and even then it must be repeated almost ad nauseum if it is to be thoroughly comprehended. Ideas of the least subtlety or novelty, controversial, difficult, obscure ideas simply escape a listening audience...[T]he difficulty of conveying an idea dramatically is so great, and the range of ideas that can be conveyed so limited, that one wonders why people who are interested in theories go to the trouble of writing a play when their notions could be far more subtly, accurately, and truly expressed in a novel or an essay.
But even though Huxley was fully conversant with the pitfalls of "the drama of ideas," he did not possess the play-writing skills to negotiate them. Some years later, Beth Wendell, who worked with Huxley on a dramatization of his novel The Genius and the Goddess (1955), made the revealing observation that Huxley was "quite unable to visualize creatively... In order to imagine the projection of a play onto the stage, he needed to have it described by someone else. An important task of the collaborator was to supply all the description of sets, action, entrances and exits."
Although Huxley's attempts to get Now More Than Ever produced in London were unsuccessful, when he was in the United States in May 1933 he made some promising contacts and asked his agent to send him a copy of the play:
There are several people in New York interested in it, and I want to make some improvements in the first act--where several defects were pointed out to me by Miss [Theresa] Helburn [executive director] of the [New York Theatre] Guild.
By June 1933, Huxley was back at home in the south of France, where he worked on a "revised version" of the play, and it is almost certain that this is the revised and corrected typescript now held by the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin, on which the present edition of the play is based. Huxley's revisions, apart from rearranging the sequence of events in act I, largely consisted of unimportant alterations to the dialogue of his play, and they did not change its shape, substance, or style. Not surprisingly, therefore, he remained unable to find anyone willing to stage it. On 22 June 1934 he wrote rather plaintively to his literary agent: "I'm still waiting for Miss Helburn to come forward with her suggestion, but she seems to be otherwise occupied."
Huxley persisted in his efforts to find a producer, and as late as December 1934 his literary agent was once again alerted to a possible production of his play, this time in London:
I met last night the man who runs the Shilling Theatre at Fulham [i.e., Robert Newton]. He expressed a desire to look at Now More Than Ever, and I think it would be a good idea to send him a copy... I should like to see some sort of performance of it, if only to be able to judge what should be done in the way of altering it--and I think he might quite possibly give it a show.
Unfortunately for Huxley, the Shilling Theatre was forced to close for financial reasons soon after this meeting with Newton. Equally frustrating, no doubt, was a lunch at the Cheshire Cheese public house in London with Rupert Doone, Robert Medley, and other members of the experimental Group Theatre. "The possibility of a play by [Huxley] was of course the reason for the party, which was a very enjoyable one, but nothing came of it," Medley recalled in 1984. And unsurprisingly: in comparison with the "distinctly new wave" of drama which comprised the Group Theatre's repertoire, Now More Than Ever would have seemed distinctly passé to the likes of Doone and Medley. Huxley abandoned his play soon afterward and concentrated on making progress with Eyeless in Gaza. Now More Than Ever was eventually performed (before its editors, if not its author) at the University of Munster, Germany, on 27 June 1994, as part of the University's "Aldous Huxley Centenary Symposium"--the first of six performances staged during the symposium by the English department's drama group.
If the two most obvious "social problems" with which Now More Than Ever is concerned are the scandal of economic muddle and the wickedness of financial speculation, the topical issues from which it derives its impetus, in addition to Krueger's suicide, are the vogue for corporate planning in the early 1930s and the simultaneous campaign for the wholesale rationalization of Britain's industrial base. Huxley was a vehement proponent of national planning, declaring in May 1931, for instance, "We must either plan or else go under," while in September 1932, in the midst of writing Now More Than Ever, he published an article in which he observed:
A growing body of public opinion is now in favor of the deliberate planning of our social life in all its aspects. It is an ideal which must, it seems to me, appeal to every reasonable man. Viewing the chaos to which a planless individualism has reduced us, we are compelled to be believers in planning.
Planning, indeed, was something of a family passion. In If I Were Dictator (1934), Julian Huxley argued that "the conscious and scientific planning of society" was no less than "the fourth great step in human history."
Rationalization had become a buzz word of the late 1920s following the League of Nations's World Economic Conference in Geneva in May 1927. The conference's Industrial Committee produced a number of resolutions under the general heading of "Rationalisation" which were adopted by the conference as a whole. These recommended "that Governments, public institutions, professional and industrial organisations, and the general public should ... diffuse in every quarter a clear understanding of the advantages and obligations involved by Rationalisation and Scientific Management, and of the possibilities of their gradual application." Another contemporary commentator, Sir Mark Webster Jenkinson, defined rationalization as:
...the fusion of manufacturing capacity and the closing down of redundant units to eliminate waste and loss, production being concentrated in the best equipped shops under the most favourable output conditions. It involves not merely a reconstruction of capital, a reorganisation of management, a re-shuffling of plant, but a revolution in our ideas, in our mentality, in our outlook on the industrial situation.
As Britain attempted to come to terms with increasing industrial competition not only from the likes of Germany and the United States, but also from France, Italy, and Japan, it was widely believed that she must either reform her manufacturing base and coordinate her national effort, or else she would go to the wall. The vogue for rationalization in Britain was synonymous with Sir Alfred Mond, Lord Melchett (1868-1930), who had amalgamated the diffuse British chemical industry into the giant Imperial Chemical Industries Limited (ICI) in 1926. In February 1931, Huxley toured the vast ICI chemicals plant at Billingham in the northeast of England and acclaimed it as "one of those ordered universes that exist as anomalous oases of pure logic in the midst of the larger world of planless incoherence," and in Brave New World, which he wrote soon afterwards, Huxley gives the name Mond to the Resident World Controller for Western Europe.
In Jesting Pilate (1916), Huxley condemns financial speculation as "the most discreditable, unproductive and socially mischievous" way of making money, and in 1933 he predicted that "In the planned economy, which the rulers of almost every civilized country are now trying to impose, there will be no room for speculation in stocks." The bursting of Wall Street's speculative bubble in 1929, coupled with the Hatry and Kreuger scandals, deeply perturbed Huxley not least because of the Italian economist and sociologist Vilfredo Pareto's singling out of speculators as figures who:
rejoice in dangerous economic ventures and are on the watch for them. In appearance they are always submissive to the man who shows himself the stronger; but they work underground and know how to win and hold the substance of power, leaving the outward forms to others.
When he first read Pareto in the mid-1920s, Huxley was completely won over by the Italian's analysis of social psychology, and it is highly likely that he had Pareto's description of the machinations of the speculator in mind when he conceived Now More Than Ever's Sir Thomas Lupton, "a gross, red-faced, greasily prosperous-looking man" whose speculative activities (in cahoots with the shady New Yorker, Wertheim) lead to the failure of Lidgate's plan to rationalize the iron and steel industry and to Lidgate's subsequent suicide.
Another issue which looms over Now More Than Ever is the spectre of overproduction, which Huxley had long believed to be an inherent defect not just of the British economy, but of capitalism as a whole. "Industrial progress means over-production," Rampion tells Philip Quarles in Point Counter Point, "means the need for getting new markets, means international rivalry, means war." In a letter to the man who invited him to the Durham coalfield in 1930 in order to witness the dire effects of the Slump at first hand, Huxley indicated why he thought Britain's miners were unemployed and what he thought the solution to their plight might be:
Shortage of gold, overproduction, closing of the largest Eastern markets by political disturbance, development of autonomous industries in places that used to depend on English goods--the only conceivable remedy is a rational policy of all the world in agreement. But as the world seems incapable of agreeing...
Visiting the northeast of England convinced Huxley that over production was primarily responsible for Britain's "technological unemployment:"
Why are there armies of unemployed in every industrial country in the world? Because there is over-production... Why is there over-production? Because those arts of invention, by means of which we have conquered nature, are now, in their turn, conquering us. The rate at which the machinery of production is being improved is far more rapid than the rate at which the consuming population grows, or even than the rate at which appetites can be created and stimulated by advertising and salesmanship. Result: too many goods, consequently too low a price, consequently a panic restriction of production, consequently unemployment.
To remedy this, Huxley called for the formation of a Wellsian global economy. As he put it in the same essay of July 1931:
There must be a world-wide adjustment of production to consumption, world-wide agreements about the establishment of new industries and the use of new inventions in old ones, a world policy for gold, for fuel, for agriculture--in a word, a general agreement to make some universally valid sense out of our babel of separate and private achievements.
Huxley's proposal was grandiosely utopian, as befitted a quasi-Wellsian "Open Conspirator," and it is interesting to note that such a rationalization of economic affairs has been effected in the World State of A.F. 632, where the citizens are conditioned from childhood to consume all they make. "Nowadays the Controllers won't approve of any new game unless it can be shown that it requires at least as much apparatus as the most complicated of existing games," the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning tells his party of students. "Ending is better than mending," the "happy, hard-working, goods-consuming" citizens blithely intone.
If the sources of Huxley's understanding of overproduction are to be found in the celebrated controversy between Malthus and Ricardo concerning the reasons for the economic depression which followed the Napoleonic Wars--Malthus argued that it was due to overproduction which had caused stagnation of output and thus unemployment--the most obvious contemporary sources were economists such as Keynes, Henry Clay, whose Economics: An Introduction for the General Reader (1916) A.J.P. Taylor called "the accepted [economics] textbook of the nineteen-twenties," and Fred Henderson, a socialist who had achieved international recognition in 1911 with his The Case for Socialism. In a letter of 7 July 1932 Huxley told his father that he had just finished:
an excellent book on the present economic situation--The Economic Consequences of Power Production, by Fred Henderson... which I greatly recommend you to read if you have the chance. I am sure he has got hold of the essential inwardness of the situation. But, alas, it takes a fearful long time for such books to make any effect on governments. "In politics, everything is as stupid as it seems." Bagehot, I think--and painfully true!
As its title suggests, Henderson's study addresses the grievous overproduction inherent in highly mechanized economies, and it helped to reinforce Huxley's fears about the social and strategic perils of the unplanned state.
But if Now More Than Ever is largely shaped and driven by Huxley's concern with macroeconomic problems in the 1930s, the extra stimulus it acquired from Huxley's struggle with himself gives it added interest today. Through the character of Walter Clough, Huxley articulates a more compassionate understanding of the industrial masses in Now More Than Ever than he was capable of in the 1920s, and the play helps prepare the ground for his eventual conversion into the more spiritually conscious author of Eyeless in Gaza and Ends and Means (1937) In this respect, one of the most interesting passages in the play occurs in act III, scene 1. The action takes place in the sparsely furnished parlor of Clough's small house in the north London borough of Camden Town. Walter Clough confesses to Joan Lidgate:
Loving one's neighbour is heroic. Heroic because it's so damnably difficult, the most difficult thing in the world. I've never been able to do it.
JOAN: But if you don't love your neighbour, why do you make sacrifices for him?
CLOUGH: Because I hate injustice, I hate the criminal stupidity and insensitiveness of the people who perpetrate the injustice. But as for saying that I love the men and women I want to save from the exploiters--no; it wouldn't be true. I don't. They bore me. They make me impatient. Why are their minds so limited and personal? Always, me, me, you, you; never an idea or a generalisation. And then that awful complacency and indifference and resignation! The way they put up with intolerable situations! Nobody has a right to be resigned to slums and sweated labour and fat men guzzling at the Savoy. But damn them, they are resigned. And then I don't enjoy their pleasures. The movies, and jazz and looking-on at football--it bores me stiff--and, of course what I call pleasure they detest. It's a case of chronic and fundamental misunderstanding. Which isn't exactly the best foundation for love. But all the same, I believe it is possible to love one's neighbour even though one may have very little in common with him. I believe there's some way of learning to love him. Through humility, perhaps. (Pause). Queer, the way one finds oneself using religious language. But they knew a lot about human beings, those Christians. If only they hadn't used their knowledge to such bad ends. One's got to take the good and just ruthlessly stamp out the rest. All the disgusting superstitions and the stupid cocksure intolerance. They've got to be fought and conquered and utterly abolished.
Clough's soul-baring foreshadows the direction which Huxley's life and thought were to take from the mid-1930s onward, with a pivotal tilt from ends to means; with a shift in attitude from a superior contempt for the masses to a hesitant affirmation that "it is possible to love one's neighbour even though one may have very little in common with him"; and with the abandonment of an assuredly atheistic position in favor of one where Huxley often found himself "using religious language."
With the reinstatement of Now More Than Ever in the Huxley canon, it is now possible to form a complete picture of what is the most fascinating period of his entire career. Though the play was too stationary and talky for its own time, its themes are still relevant to our own, and, directed with flair and pace, the urgency and sense of crisis which prompted Huxley to write the play could still have some impact today.