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After Many a Summer Dies the Swan

Aldous Huxley



  Aldous Huxley was born in 1894, the third son of Leonard Huxley and grandson of T. H. Huxley. From a preparatory school (described in Eyeless in Gaza) he went on to Eton, which he left at seventeen owing to serious eye trouble which left him nearly blind. One eye recovered sufficiently for him to enter Oxford in 1913, but he had to abandon his hope of becoming a physician and was rejected for military service in 1914. In 1919 he married Maria Nys, a Belgian, and joined the Athenaeum magazine, writing biographical and architectural articles and reviews of fiction, drama, music, and art Having already published three books of verse, he began with Limbo and Crome Yellow the series of stories and novels which combined dazzling intellectual dialogue and a surface cynicism with a ground of clear moral convictions, and exerted a stroņg emancipating influence. In the twenties Huxley lived mostly in Italy; in the thirties his home was near Toulon, France. To this period belonged Brave New World, a pessimistic futurist novel and his best known. In 1937 the state of his eyes led him to move to California, where he became convinced of the value of mystical experience, the theme of several of his later works. After the death of his first wife in 1955, Huxley married Laura Archera. Their home was destroyed by fire in 1961; little survived apart from the manuscript of Island, his last novel. Aldous Huxley died in November 1963.



  Aldous Huxley

  Elephant Paperbacks


  AFTER MANY A SUMMER DIES THE SWAN. Copyright © 1939 by Aldous Leonard Huxley. This book was originally published in 1939 and is here reprinted by arrangement with the Estate of Aldous Huxley.

  First ELEPHANT PAPERBACK edition published 1993 by Ivan R. Dee, Inc., 1332 North Halsted Street, Chicago 60622. Manufactured in the United States of America and printed on acid-free paper.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:

  Huxley, Aldous, 1894–1963.

  After many a summer dies the swan / by Aldous Huxley. —1st Elephant pbk. ed.

  p. cm.

  “Elephant paperbacks”

  Originally published: New York : London : Harper, 1939.

  ISBN 1-56663-018-5 (pbk.)

  1. Millionaires—California—Los Angeles—Fiction. 2. Hollywood (Los Angeles, Calif.)—Fiction. I. Title.

  PR6015.U9A77 1993

  823'.912—dc20 92-43906


  Chapter I

  IT HAD all been arranged by telegram; Jeremy Pordage was to look out for a coloured chauffeur in a grey uniform with a carnation in his button-hole; and the coloured chauffeur was to look out for a middle-aged Englishman carrying the Poetical Works of Wordsworth. In spite of the crowds at the station, they found one another without difficulty.

  “Mr. Stoyte’s chauffeur?”

  “Mr. Pordage, sah?”

  Jeremy nodded and, his Wordsworth in one hand, his umbrella in the other, half extended his arms in the gesture of a self-deprecatory mannequin exhibiting, with a full and humorous consciousness of their defects, a deplorable figure accentuated by the most ridiculous clothes. “A poor thing,” he seemed to be implying, “but myself.” A defensive and, so to say, prophylactic disparagement had become a habit with him. He resorted to it on every sort of occasion. Suddenly a new idea came into his head. Anxiously, he began to wonder whether, in this democratic Far West of theirs, one shook hands with the chauffeur—particularly if he happened to be a blackamoor, just to demonstrate that one wasn’t a pukka sahib even if one’s country did happen to be bearing the White Man’s burden. In the end he decided to do nothing. Or, to be more accurate, the decision was forced upon him—as usual, he said to himself, deriving a curious wry pleasure from the recognition of his own shortcomings. While he was hesitating what to do, the chauffeur took off his cap and, slightly over-acting the part of an old-world Negro retainer, bowed, smiled toothily and said:

  “Welcome to Los Angeles, Mr. Pordage, sah!” Then, changing the tone of his chanting drawl from the dramatic to the confidential, “I should have knowed you by your voice, Mr. Pordage,” he went on, “even without the book.”

  Jeremy laughed a little uncomfortably. A week in America had made him self-conscious about that voice of his. A product of Trinity College Cambridge, ten years before the War, it was a small, fluty voice, suggestive of evensong in an English cathedral. At home, when he used it, nobody paid any particular attention. He had never had to make jokes about it, as he had done, in self-protection, about his appearance, for example, or his age. Here, in America, things were different. He had only to order a cup of coffee or ask the way to the lavatory (which, anyhow, wasn’t called the lavatory in this disconcerting country) for people to stare at him with an amused and attentive curiosity, as though he were a freak on show in an amusement park. It had not been at all agreeable.

  “Where’s my porter?” he said fussily in order to change the subject.

  A few minutes later they were on their way. Cradled in the back seat of the car, out of range, he hoped, of the chauffeur’s conversation, Jeremy Pordage abandoned himself to the pleasure of merely looking. Southern California rolled past the windows; all he had to do was to keep his eyes open.

  The first thing to present itself was a slum of Africans and Filipinos, Japanese and Mexicans. And what permutations and combinations of black, yellow and brown! What complex bastardies! And the girls—how beautiful in their artificial silk! “And Negro ladies in white muslin gowns.” His favourite line in The Prelude. He smiled to himself. And meanwhile the slum had given place to the tall buildings of a business district. The population took on a more Caucasian tinge. At every corner there was a drug-store. The newspaper boys were selling headlines about Franco’s drive on Barcelona. Most of the girls, as they walked along, seemed to be absorbed in silent prayer; but he supposed, on second thought, it was only gum that they were thus incessantly ruminating. Gum, not God. Then suddenly the car plunged into a tunnel and emerged into another world, a vast, untidy, suburban world of filling stations and billboards, of low houses in gardens, of vacant lots and waste paper, of occasional shops and office buildings and churches—primitive Methodist churches built, surprisingly enough, in the style of the Cartuja at Granada, Catholic churches like Canterbury Cathedral, synagogues disguised as Hagia Sophia, Christian Science churches with pillars and pediments, like banks. It was a winter day and early in the morning; but the sun shone brilliantly, the sky was without a cloud. The car was travelling westwards and the sunshine, slanting from behind them as they advanced, lit up each building, each sky sign and billboard as though with a spot-light, as though on purpose to show the new arrival all the sights.





  The car sped onwards, and here in the middle of a vacant lot was a restaurant in the form of a seated bulldog, the entrance between the front paws, the eyes illuminated.

  “Zoomorph,” Jeremy Pordage murmured to himself, and again, “zoomorph.” He had the scholar’s taste for words. The bulldog shot back into the past.


  DRIVE IN FOR NUTBURGERS—whatever they were. He resolved at the earliest opportunity to have one. A nut-burger and a jumbo malt.


  Surprisingly, the chauffeur stopped. “Ten gallons of Super-Super,” he ordered; then, turning back to Jeremy, “This is our company,” he added. “Mr. Stoyte, he’s the president.” He pointed to a billboard across
the street. CASH LOANS IN FIFTEEN MINUTES, Jeremy read; CONSULT COMMUNITY SERVICE FINANCE CORPORATION. “That’s another of ours,” said the chauffeur proudly.

  They drove on. The face of a beautiful young woman, distorted, like a Magdalene’s, with grief, stared out of a giant billboard, BROKEN ROMANCE, proclaimed the caption. SCIENCE PROVES THAT 73 PER CENT OF ALL ADULTS HAVE HALITOSIS.




  Next door to the beauty shoppe was a Western Union office. That cable to his mother . . . Heavens, he had almost forgotten! Jeremy leaned forward and, in the apologetic tone he always used when speaking to servants, asked the chauffeur to stop for a moment. The car came to a halt. With a preoccupied expression on his mild, rabbit-like face, Jeremy got out and hurried across the pavement, into the office.

  “Mrs. Pordage, The Araucarias, Woking, England,” he wrote, smiling a little as he did so. The exquisite absurdity of that address was a standing source of amusement. “The Araucarias, Woking.” His mother, when she bought the house, had wanted to change the name, as being too ingenuously middle-class, too much like a joke by Hilaire Belloc “But that’s the beauty of it,” he had protested. “That’s the charm.” And he had tried to make her see how utterly right it would be for them to live at such an address. The deliciously comic incongruity between the name of the house and the nature of its occupants! And what a beautiful, topsyturvy appositeness in the fact that Oscar Wilde’s old friend, the witty and cultured Mrs. Pordage, should write her sparkling letters from The Araucarias, and that from these same Araucarias, these Araucarias, mark you, at Woking, should come the works of mingled scholarship and curiously rarefied wit for which her son had gained his reputation. Mrs. Pordage had almost instantly seen what he was driving at. No need, thank goodness, to labour your points where she was concerned. You could talk entirely in hints and anacoluthons; she could be relied on to understand. The Araucarias had remained The Araucarias.

  Having written the address, Jeremy paused, pensively frowned and initiated the familiar gesture of biting his pencil—only to find, disconcertingly, that this particular pencil was tipped with brass and fastened to a chain. “Mrs. Pordage, The Araucarias, Woking, England,” he read out loud, in the hope that the words would inspire him to compose the right, the perfect message—the message his mother expected of him, at once tender and witty, charged with a genuine devotion ironically worded, acknowledging her maternal domination, but at the same time making fun of it, so that the old lady could salve her conscience by pretending that her son was entirely free, and herself, the least tyrannical of mothers. It wasn’t easy—particularly with this pencil on a chain. After several abortive essays, he decided, though it was definitely unsatisfactory, on: “Climate being subtropical shall break vow re underclothes. Stop. Wish you were here my sake not yours as you would scarcely appreciate this unfinished Bournemouth indefinitely magnified. Stop.”

  “Unfinished what?” questioned the young woman on the further side of the counter.

  “B-o-u-r-n-e-m-o-u-t-h,” Jeremy spelled out. He smiled; behind the bifocal lenses of his spectacles his blue eyes twinkled, and, with a gesture of which he was quite unconscious, but which he always automatically made when he was about to utter one of his little jokes, he stroked the smooth bald spot on the top of his head. “You know,” he said, in a particularly fluty tone, “the bourne to which no traveller goes, if he can possibly help it.”

  The girl looked at him blankly then, inferring from his expression that something funny had been said and remembering that Courteous Service was Western Union’s slogan, gave the bright smile for which the poor old chump was evidently asking, and went on reading: “Hope you have fun at Grasse. Stop. Tendresses. Jeremy.”

  It was an expensive message; but luckily, he reflected, as he took out his pocketbook, luckily Mr. Stoyte was grossly over-paying him. Three months’ work, six thousand dollars. So damn the expense.

  He returned to the car and they drove on. Mile after mile they went, and the suburban houses, the gas stations, the vacant lots, the churches, the shops went along with them, interminably. To right and left, between palms, or pepper trees, or acacias, the streets of enormous residential quarters receded to the vanishing point.




  Yet once more, the traffic lights turned red. A paper boy came to the window. “Franco claims gains in Catalonia,” Jeremy read, and turned away. The frightfulness of the world had reached a point at which it had become for him merely boring. From the halted car in front of them, two elderly ladies, both with permanently waved white hair and both wearing crimson trousers, descended, each carrying a Yorkshire terrier. The dogs were set down at the foot of the traffic signal. Before the animals could make up their minds to use the convenience, the lights had changed. The Negro shifted into first, and the car swerved forward, into the future. Jeremy was thinking of his mother. Disquietingly enough, she too had a Yorkshire terrier.





  Another zoomorph presented itself, this time a real estate agent’s office in the form of an Egyptian sphinx.




  With the triumphant expression of Puss in Boots enumerating the possessions of the Marquis of Carabas, the Negro shot a glance over his shoulder at Jeremy, waved his hand towards the billboard and said, “That’s ours, too.”

  “You mean, the Beverly Pantheon?”

  The man nodded. “Finest cemetery in the world, I guess,” he said; and added, after a moment’s pause, “Maybe you’s like to see it. It wouldn’t hardly be out of our way.”

  “That would be very nice,” said Jeremy with upper-class English graciousness. Then, feeling that he ought to express his acceptance rather more warmly and democratically, he cleared his throat and, with a conscious effort to reproduce the local vernacular, added that it would be swell. Pronounced in his Trinity College Cambridge voice, the word sounded so unnatural that he began to blush with embarrassment. Fortunately, the chauffeur was too busy with the traffic to notice.

  They turned to the right, sped past a Rosicrucian Temple, past two cat-and-dog hospitals, past a School for Drum-Majorettes and two more advertisements of the Beverly Pantheon. As they turned to the left on Sunset Boulevard, Jeremy had a glimpse of a young woman who was doing her shopping in a hydrangea-blue strapless bathing suit, platinum curls and a black fur jacket. Then she too was whirled back into the past.

  The present was a road at the foot of a line of steep hills, a road flanked by small, expensive-looking shops, by restaurants, by night-clubs shuttered against the sunlight, by offices and apartment houses. Then they too had taken their places in the irrevocable. A sign proclaimed that they were crossing the city limits of Beverly Hills. The surroundings changed. The road was flanked by the gardens of a rich residential quarter. Through trees, Jeremy saw the facades of houses, all new, almost all in good taste—elegant and witty pastiches of Lutyens manor houses, of Little Trianons, of Monticellos; light-hearted parodies of Le Corbusier’s solemn machines-for-living-in; fantastic adaptations of Mexican haciendas and New England farms.

  They turned to the right. Enormous palm trees lined the road. In the sunlight, masses of mesembryanthemums blazed with an intense magenta glare. The houses succeeded one another, like the pavilions at some endless international exhibition. Gloucestershire followed Andalusia and gave place in turn to Touraine and Oaxaca, Düsseldorff and Massachusetts.

  “That’s Harold Lloyd’s place,” said the chauffeur, indicating a kind of Boboli. “And that’s Charlie Chaplin’s. And
that’s Pickfair.”

  The road began to mount, vertiginously. The chauffeur pointed across an intervening gulf of shadow at what seemed a Tibetan lamasery on the opposite hill. “That’s where Ginger Rogers lives. Yes, sir,” he nodded triumphantly, as he twirled the steering wheel.

  Five or six more turns brought the car to the top of the hill. Below and behind lay the plain, with the city like a map extending indefinitely into a pink haze.

  Before and to either hand were mountains—ridge after ridge as far as the eye could reach, a desiccated Scotland, empty under the blue desert sky.

  The car turned a shoulder of orange rock, and there all at once, on a summit hitherto concealed from view, was a huge sky sign, with the words BEVERLY PANTHEON, THE PERSONALITY CEMETERY, in six-foot neon tubes and, above it, on the very crest, a full-scale reproduction of the Leaning Tower of Pisa—only this one didn’t lean.

  “See that?” said the Negro impressively. “That’s the Tower of Resurrection. Two hundred thousand dollars, that’s what it cost. Yes, sir.” He spoke with an emphatic solemnity. One was made to feel that the money had all come out of his own pocket.

  Chapter II

  AN HOUR later, they were on their way again, having seen everything. Everything. The sloping lawns, like a green oasis in the mountain desolation. The groups of trees. The tombstones in the grass. The Pets’ Cemetery, with its marble group after Landseer’s Dignity and Impudence. The Tiny Church of the Poet—a miniature reproduction of Holy Trinity at Stratford-on-Avon, complete with Shakespeare’s tomb and a twenty-four-hour service of organ music played automatically by the Perpetual Wurlitzer and broadcast by concealed loud speakers all over the cemetery.

  Then, leading out of the vestry, the Bride’s Apartment (for one was married at the Tiny Church as well as buried from it)—the Bride’s Apartment that had just been redecorated, said the chauffeur, in the style of Norma Shearer’s boudoir in Marie Antoinette. And, next to the Bride’s Apartment, the exquisite black marble Vestibule of Ashes, leading to the Crematorium, where three super-modern oil-burning mortuary furnaces were always under heat and ready for any emergency.