It is 1922 at the Crome manor house in the English countryside. The war has only been over a few years. Denis Stone, 23 years old, is a poet who is going up to visit the family at Crome for a few weeks. Henry and Priscilla Wimbish own the home and their niece Anne is with them. Denis is in love with Anne and one of his published poems is about her. He wonders if she recognizes that.
There is a small gathering of people at Crome, mostly artists and dilettantes like Denis. Crome is a working farm, but the people there are philosophers. Henry Wimbish is interested in the history of Crome. Priscilla Wimbish is interested in astrology and the occult. Mary Bracegirdle is interested in romance and sex. Mr. Scogan is a cynical philosopher. Mr. Gombauld is a painter. Mr. Barbecue-Smith is an author.
Denis ties to get Anne to take him seriously but she keeps putting him off. She puts off all other attention she receives as well. There is a faire that Crome hosts every year that each takes part in. But for the most part, Crome is full of philosophy and history.
Crome Yellow is a philosophical book more than a fiction novel. There is some action, but not much. Most of the book is devoted to the characters' ideas and thoughts. It is a picture of the time when there were still grand homes in England and they could support artists as well as the family.
This is Aldous Huxley's first novel. It is rich with ideas for discussion and thought. One theme is the expression of sex and romance. Henry reflects that sex was an open topic until the Puritans took over England within the last couple hundred years. Mary believes she shouldn't marry until she has some sexual experience to take to it. Scogan is cynical about it all but isn't above using trickery to have a girl pay attention to him. Denis is focused on Anne and his love for her. The sexual repression from the 19th century is attacked throughout the book.
One guest is deaf and is often seen scribbling in a notebook. Denis finds the book and peeks only to discover that Jenny has a clear eye and is good at caricature. He is startled to see that others can see his flaws that he thought he kept hidden from the world. To apply that thought, we think that only ourselves have a good grasp of our flaws and can hide them from others. But other people can see as as sharply as we see ourselves, if not more so. After that Denis looks at other people with a more jaundiced eye, wondering what they observe about him the same as he observes them.
Huxley's future works are hinted at in this book as well. Henry is happiest studying history and hates having to interact with people. He says he rather read about a faire from the past rather than participate in one now. Events, in his mind, are better in retrospect than when they happen. Scogan dislikes people and would be happiest if machines ran everything. He believes people will be happy when they don't have to think for themselves any more (Brave New World, anyone?).
If you can turn to an introspective, philosophical mood, you will appreciate Crome Yellow. It is not a book to enjoy like you would an action suspense or a romance, but rather one to make you think and expand. Although not light, it's fairly short and an easy, interesting read. Although it was written 80 years ago, the ideas are still fresh and often discussed.
Look for this book at your local library. It's also available on line at The Literature Network.
These reviews are personal opinions only and in no way reflect other readers' opinions of the books discussed.
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