In 1955, Aldous Huxley Wrote This Very Creepy Story for The Atlantic

In honor of the Brave New World author's 119th birthday, an excerpt from "Voices," about a disgruntled orphan's dealings with her high-class relations and a murderous dinner party

In 1955, "Voices," a short story by Brave New World author Aldous Huxley, was published in The Atlantic. Huxley's satire describes one night in the life of Pamela, a disgruntled orphan, and her high-class relations, who (as Pamela likes to remind the reader) have no hope of ever understanding her.

The story begins with a party, hosted by Pamela's aunt. It's all pleasantries until, halfway through the evening, one of the guests, Miss Dillon, starts to hear voices at the dinner table. All of the others listen intently, enraptured. They can hear them, too. When Pamela realizes how seriously her aunt is taking these voices, she decides to try to recreate them -- a game that eventually becomes a murder.

Just before "Voices" appeared in The Atlantic, Huxley -- who would have turned 119 today -- wrote The Doors of Perception, a famous collection of essays about how taking mescaline led him to enlightenment. He wrote this biting satire of upper-class life a year later. Below is an excerpt from "Voices," and you can read the full text here.

There was silence in the lily pool. And now she would refresh her abhorrence of the humans. Keeping to the shadows, Pamela walked over to the house. There they were, behind the plate glass, like things in an aquarium. Mr. Bull was doing the crossword in the London Times. In the yellow sofa beyond the fireplace, Aunt Eleanor was busy on the embroidery of that altar cloth for Bishop Hicks. Beside her sat Alec Pozna with a book, reading aloud. Under the bristles of his mustache those juicy sea anemones that were his lips moved steadily, inaudibly. He turned a page and Pamela had a glimpse of the title: Spiritual Something or Other -- the second word escaped her. She smiled sardonically, remembering that phrase she had read in an article by some Austrian psychoanalyst -- "Menopause Spirituality." In Aunt Eleanor's case it was Menopause Spirituality combined with Senility Spiritualism. You could express it in the form of an equation: -

"Change of Life multiplied by Fear of Death equals
Spiritual Something or Other plus
Give us a Message."

Result: poor old Mr. Bull had to listen to voices, and the unspeakable Pozna (whose personal taste, as she knew, ran to Mickey Spillane and naked girls with bullet holes two inches below the navel) had to spend his evenings reading about Mental Prayer and Religious Experiences.

A wave of heat ran up her spine. Like centipedes, like innumerable caterpillars, crawling up her throat, crawling over her breasts -- horrible beyond words and yet one wished it could go on forever.

How peaceful they looked in their aquarium, how domestic, and at the same time how extraordinarily high-class! Like an illustration to a story about Mother's Day -- but Mother's Day at the Vanderbilts'. She made a grimace of disgust and turned back toward the summer house. "Loathsome," she whispered, then touched her face and tried again. "Absolutely loathsome."

This time, it seemed to Pamela, there was a real improvement. Much less breath coming out between the teeth, hardly any movement of the lips. And the throat, the whole face, felt easier, looser, altogether more natural.

Presented by

Caroline Kitchener is a writer based in Princeton, New Jersey.

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