“After Many A Summer Dies The Swan” was written in 1939 by Aldous Huxley, known for his dystopian novel “Brave New World.” This is basically what would happen if Aldous Huxley wrote the script to Citizen Kane.
There’s this eccentric multimillionaire who lives in a castle-like mansion and has a young mistress. Only in this case, he wants to live forever and he wants Jeremy, the protagonist, to scour the records of an English aristocrat who was said to have had his youthful vitality at a very old age.
I liked the beginning which has Jeremy Pordage, a British scholar, coming to America and taking the ride to Stoyte’s mansion. It really sets the tone when Stoyte himself isn’t immediately shown, rather the evidence of his wealth and power are shown. That’s what I like when it creates that aura of superiority that Stoyte seems to have over everyone.
The last four chapters I thought were pretty well-escalated and suspenseful. It was an ending I barely expected and it caught me off my guard. Everything in between, however, I felt was tedious. It tends to get stymied when Mr. Propter walks in and starts getting into a debate with Pete, Dr. Obispo, Jeremy, or Stoyte. But as far as the conflict goes, Virginia is the center of attention and it gets messy.
One of the types of characters that Aldous Huxley writes about, in his works such as “Brave New World” and “Time Must Have A Stop,” is the wise man, which is basically Huxley himself being inserted into the story and basically preaches his own philosophical musings to the other characters. It happens here with Mr. Propter, but I felt like it slowed the story. I wanted to know about the state of the other characters.
As an Aldous Huxley novel, there are science fiction elements involved. The major one is how exactly Earl Hauberk was able to live so long and why is Stoyte intent on rediscovering it. It involved a species of two carp fish that the Earl kept in his well. These fish had intestinal bacteria that completely de-toxified their organs and allowed them to live so long.
This takes place in the post-WWII era. It’s not a coincidence that it takes place in California because, to this day, it’s still viewed as a place of wealth, fame, glamour, and Hollywood. Stoyte is the representation of that image.
Jeremy Pordage: his role in the story made it a little slow. I think what mattered was his research most of all.
Jo Stoyte: as Jeremy mentioned in a letter to his mother about Jo Stoyte, he expresses his superiority over culture, talent, and education by buying them rather than destroying them. I think that summarizes how Stoyte does business. He owns hospitals, oil companies, banks, and an art school.
Virginia Maunciple: Stoyte’s mistress. She’s very plucky. I did think that she had her own thoughts that fitted her and she wasn’t just this empty-headed mistress.
Dr. Sigmund Obispo: He is Stoyte’s personal doctor. he likes pushing the buttons of the characters. Especially Stoyte, who he knows relies on him not just with his research but for his day-to-day heart problems.
Pete: Fought against the Fascists in Spain, works for Dr. Obispo. Because he lost his comrades in their struggle, he is left questioning his faith, and that’s when he debates with Mr. Propter. He doesn’t have any importance to the story other than that.
Mr. Propter: He is a professor who often congregates among the Okies that work for Stoyte. I felt like his only purpose was to provide historical context. There was a part when he talked about a solar-powered machine that could throw Stoyte off his monopoly, that part intrigued me, but then it doesn’t go anywhere.
Earl Charles Hauberk: the only information that is known about him is through the records that describe his capital, political activity, and misadventures. However, when the experimenting with the carp becomes more important, his entries become merely entertainment for Jeremy.
There’s a lot of intricate detail to Stoyte’s mansion in the descriptions. I felt like this really helped put the reader where exactly he is.
There’s a lot of unique writing styles for each characters’ perspective. It made me understand who’s perspective was who’s. There’s a lot of chemical and anatomical names mentioned whenever the perspective comes to Dr. Obispo, especially in his explanation as to how the carp lived so long. There’s a lot of life in Jeremy’s dialogue, because as a scholar he studied literature movements and artistic movements. So his speech is very reflective of his studies. He also tends to use French words, as though to sound more sophisticated. It should be noted that a thousand years ago the Normans, who spoke French, conquered Britain. So as such, the language of the ruling elite was French while the rest of the population spoke what is today English.
Virginia is a Roman Catholic, and as such, she’s constantly thinking about heaven and hell and sin and all those theological concepts.
There isn’t anything unique in Pete’s or Propter’s perspective. Pete mainly takes the side of the non-believer while Mr. Propter takes the side of the believer in their debate of religion and philosophy.
I can imagine this being made in a movie. Obviously it would take place in America. Especially in this political environment, it would be a very opportune moment when this book hits production immediately. It’s the quintessential Hollywood story with a science fiction twist, but I can also envision a lot being cut out.
Huxley, Aldous. “After Many A Summer Dies The Swan.” Perennial Classic. 1965. Cover by Seymour Chwast.