Point Counter Point
Point Counter Point is a novel by Aldous Huxley
Aldous Huxley
Aldous Leonard Huxley was an English writer and one of the most prominent members of the famous Huxley family. Best known for his novels including Brave New World and a wide-ranging output of essays, Huxley also edited the magazine Oxford Poetry, and published short stories, poetry, travel...

, first published in 1928. It is Huxley's longest novel, and was notably more complex and serious than his earlier fiction.

In 1998, the Modern Library
Modern Library
The Modern Library is a publishing company. Founded in 1917 by Albert Boni and Horace Liveright as an imprint of their publishing company Boni & Liveright, it was purchased in 1925 by Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer...

 ranked Point Counter Point 44th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.

Title and construction

The novel's title is a reference to the musical technique of counterpoint
In music, counterpoint is the relationship between two or more voices that are independent in contour and rhythm and are harmonically interdependent . It has been most commonly identified in classical music, developing strongly during the Renaissance and in much of the common practice period,...

, and the story is constructed after the fashion of a work of music. Instead of a single central plot, there are a number of interlinked storylines and recurring themes. Many of the characters are based on real people, most of whom Huxley knew personally.

Main characters and storylines

  • Walter Bidlake, a young journalist. A weak and ineffectual man, Walter is living with Marjorie Carling, a married woman whose husband refuses to grant her a divorce. Marjorie is pregnant with Walter's child, but their relationship is disintegrating, largely because Walter has fallen desperately in love with the sexually aggressive and independent Lucy Tantamount (based on Nancy Cunard
    Nancy Cunard
    Nancy Clara Cunard was a writer, heiress and political activist. She was born into the British upper class but strongly rejected her family's values, devoting much of her life to fighting racism and fascism...

    , with whom Huxley had a similarly unsatisfactory affair).

  • John Bidlake, Walter's father, a painter (based on Augustus John
    Augustus John
    Augustus Edwin John OM, RA, was a Welsh painter, draughtsman, and etcher. For a short time around 1910, he was an important exponent of Post-Impressionism in the United Kingdom....

    ). He is famous for his work and for his scandalous love life. However, his recent paintings show a creative decline, which he himself recognises but refuses to admit. He has an illness which is eventually diagnosed as terminal cancer
    Cancer , known medically as a malignant neoplasm, is a large group of different diseases, all involving unregulated cell growth. In cancer, cells divide and grow uncontrollably, forming malignant tumors, and invade nearby parts of the body. The cancer may also spread to more distant parts of the...


  • Philip Quarles, a writer (a self-portrait of Huxley) and his wife Elinor, John Bidlake's daughter. They return from India to England. Quarles is a withdrawn, cerebral man, ill at ease with the everyday world and its emotions; Elinor loves him, but is tempted to enter into an affair with the bold and attractive Everard Webley, a political demagogue and leader of his own quasi-military group, the Brotherhood of British Freemen. (Webley is often assumed to be based on Oswald Mosley
    Oswald Mosley
    Sir Oswald Ernald Mosley, 6th Baronet, of Ancoats, was an English politician, known principally as the founder of the British Union of Fascists...

    , but there are reasons for doubting this: see below.) Quarles' father, Sidney, is unlike his son: outwardly impressive, he is in reality pretentious, feeble and self-indulgent. An undistiguished MP and failed businessman, he has retired from public life, supposedly to concentrate on writing a vast and definitive study of democracy. In fact he has written nothing, but he employs a secretary; the girl becomes pregnant by him and threatens to make a scandal. Philip and Elinor have a young son, little Phil, who becomes ill and dies of meningitis
    Meningitis is inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, known collectively as the meninges. The inflammation may be caused by infection with viruses, bacteria, or other microorganisms, and less commonly by certain drugs...


  • Mark Rampion, a writer and painter. Based on D.H. Lawrence, whom Huxley admired greatly, Rampion is a fierce critic of modern society. A full chapter in flashback shows Rampion's courtship and marriage to his wife, Mary (based on Lawrence's wife Frieda).

  • Maurice Spandrell, an intellectual without purpose or faith (based on Charles Baudelaire
    Charles Baudelaire
    Charles Baudelaire was a French poet who produced notable work as an essayist, art critic, and pioneering translator of Edgar Allan Poe. His most famous work, Les Fleurs du mal expresses the changing nature of beauty in modern, industrializing Paris during the nineteenth century...

    , who of course did not live in Huxley's time). For years Spandrell has devoted himself to vice
    Vice is a practice or a behavior or habit considered immoral, depraved, or degrading in the associated society. In more minor usage, vice can refer to a fault, a defect, an infirmity, or merely a bad habit. Synonyms for vice include fault, depravity, sin, iniquity, wickedness, and corruption...

     and deliberate wickedness. He has found some pleasure in the corruption of an innocent young girl, both in the act itself and in his own feelings of remorse. (The novel gives only vague hints as to what he has actually done to the girl.) More than anything else, however, he suffers from ennui, the sense that everything is pointless. He meets Illidge, a young scientist of working-class origin, and taunts him for his angry left-wing rhetoric and actual political impotence; eventually they join together and succeed in murdering Everard Webley. The murder achieves nothing, except to strengthen Webley's Brotherhood of British Freemen. Spandrell sends an anonymous note to the Brotherhood, informing them that the murderer is at his address; when they arrive he allows himself to be shot and killed, while the third movement from Beethoven's String Quartet No. 15
    String Quartet No. 15 (Beethoven)
    The Quartet in A minor, Op. 132, by Ludwig van Beethoven, was written in 1825, given its public premiere on November 6 of that year by the Schuppanzigh Quartet and was dedicated to Count Nicolai Galitzin, as were Opp. 127 and 130...

     plays in the background.

  • Denis Burlap, Walter Bidlake's editor. Based on John Middleton Murry
    John Middleton Murry
    John Middleton Murry was an English writer. He was prolific, producing more than 60 books and thousands of essays and reviews on literature, social issues, politics, and religion during his lifetime...

    , Burlap is in his writings and public image a Christian and an anguished, self-accusing moralist; in his inner thoughts and private behaviour, however, he is calculating, avaricious and libidinous. He lives with Beatrice Gilray (based on Katharine Mansfield, Murry's wife), who at thirty-five remains a virgin, having been molested as a young girl; for some time their relationship is platonic, but Burlap succeeds in seducing her. The novel ends with his having secured several thousand dollars for a book, St Francis and the Modern Psyche, and enjoying an evening of sensual pleasure with Beatrice.

Oswald Mosley comparison

Comparisons have been made between the character Everard Webley and his Brotherhood of British Freemen and Oswald Mosley
Oswald Mosley
Sir Oswald Ernald Mosley, 6th Baronet, of Ancoats, was an English politician, known principally as the founder of the British Union of Fascists...

 and the British Union of Fascists
British Union of Fascists
The British Union was a political party in the United Kingdom formed in 1932 by Sir Oswald Mosley as the British Union of Fascists, in 1936 it changed its name to the British Union of Fascists and National Socialists and then in 1937 to simply the British Union...

. However, when Huxley wrote Point Counter Point Mosley was still a prominent member of the Labour Party
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

, and would remain so until 1931; the BUF was not founded until 1932. A number of other fascist groups preceded Mosley, the most prominent being the British Fascists
British Fascists
The British Fascists were the first avowedly fascist organisation in the United Kingdom. William Joyce, Neil Francis Hawkins, Maxwell Knight and Arnold Leese were amongst those to have passed through the movement as members and activists.-Early years:...

, and possibly one of those 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
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 mini-series by Simon Raven
Simon Raven
Simon Arthur Noël Raven was an English novelist, essayist, dramatist and raconteur who, in a writing career of forty years, caused controversy, amusement and offence...

 in 1968, starring Tristram Jellinek. It was later broadcast on PBS
Public Broadcasting Service
The Public Broadcasting Service is an American non-profit public broadcasting television network with 354 member TV stations in the United States which hold collective ownership. Its headquarters is in Arlington, Virginia....

television in 1972.

External links

  • Somaweb.org - a collection of links relating to Huxley's works in general
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