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15 Things You Might Not Know About Brave New World

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Aldous Huxley’s 1932 classic Brave New World is arguably one of the most inventive novels published in the 20th century. In case you haven’t taken a trip to Huxley’s World State in quite some time, here are a few interesting facts about the novel’s inspiration and the legacy it spawned.

1. IT STARTED OUT AS A PARODY.

Before creating his most famous work, Huxley was mostly known as a satirist. His early novels Crome Yellow, Antic Hay, and Those Barren Leaves had served as send-ups of the avant-garde communities of the 1920s. When he began work on the project that would ultimately become Brave New World, Huxley was envisioning a loose and affectionate parody of the Wellsian utopia in the science fiction works of H. G. Wells, notably A Modern Utopia, Men Like Gods, and The Sleeper Awakes.

2. HINTS OF BRAVE NEW WORLD CAN BE SEEN IN HUXLEY’S FIRST NOVEL.

While the author’s debut novel Crome Yellow was by no means a dystopian parable, the satire gave Huxley a chance to form the ideology he would later explore. At one point in Crome Yellow, the story’s resident cynic, Mr. Scogan, enchants his company with a diatribe about a future strikingly similar to that which Huxley would come to create for Brave New World:

An impersonal generation will take the place of Nature's hideous system. In vast state incubators, rows upon rows of gravid bottles will supply the world with the population it requires. The family system will disappear; society, sapped at its very base, will have to find new foundations; and Eros, beautifully and irresponsibly free, will flit like a gay butterfly from flower to flower through a sunlit world.

3. A BOAT TRIP SHOWED HUXLEY A KEY CREATIVE INFLUENCE.

Sheer luck led Huxley to a major inspiration for Brave New World. On a boat traveling between Singapore and the Philippines, Huxley happened upon a copy of Henry Ford’s 1922 manifesto My Life and Work. Ford would go on to be a major character—something of a deity—in the society Huxley created in Brave New World.

4. SAN FRANCISCO PROVIDED FURTHER INSPIRATION.

Though he was born and raised in a small market town in Surrey, Huxley was affected by a visit to the United States in the 1920s. San Francisco’s youth culture made an especially large impact on the author. His indignation over what he saw as epidemics of consumerism and promiscuity in the city would inform Brave New World’s key themes. Disapproval of the California lifestyle notwithstanding, Huxley ended up moving to Hollywood in 1937.

5. AN ENGLISH CHEMICAL PLANT MADE ITS MARK ON THE NOVEL.

Along with the philosophies of Ford and the freewheeling lifestyle of San Francisco, Huxley found an unlikely muse in the Billingham Manufacturing Plant in Stockton-on-Tees, North East England. The author visited this industrial giant and was struck by how it was an "anomalous [oasis] of pure logic in the midst of the larger world of planless incoherence." The factory was set up by a businessman and politician named Sir Alfred Mond, 1st Baron Melchett, who would lend his name to the story’s Resident World Controller of Western Europe, Mustapha Mond.

6. AN INDIAN SCIENTIST HAS BEEN CREDITED WITH INFLUENCING BRAVE NEW WORLD'S SETTING.

While Huxley considered his principal literary influences to be H. G. Wells and D. H. Lawrence, many scholars agree that the writer’s scientific leanings can be traced to Indian-British physicist, geneticist, and biologist J. B. S. Haldane. One can find specific forerunners to the science fiction concepts of Brave New World in Haldane’s 1924 text Daedalus; or, Science and the Future, which engages topics like transhumanism (that is, the synthetic control of human genetics and evolution) and in vitro fertilization.

7. HUXLEY WROTE THE BOOK QUICKLY.

After interacting with all of these influences that went into Brave New World, Huxley set to work writing his story in 1931. He completed the novel in just four months.

8. GEORGE ORWELL ACCUSED HUXLEY OF PLAGIARISM ...

Orwell, known best for Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, opened this discussion in his Tribune magazine review of the 1923 novel We by Russian novelist Yevgeny Zamyatin. Orwell penned the review in 1946, stating that, "Aldous Huxley's Brave New World must be partly derived from [We]. Both books deal with the rebellion of the primitive human spirit against a rationalised, mechanised, painless world, and both stories are supposed to take place about six hundred years hence." Huxley claimed to have had never even heard of We until long after he had finished writing Brave New World.

9. ... AS DID KURT VONNEGUT, THOUGH IN A MUCH FRIENDLIER WAY.

Condemning the originality of his own 1952 debut novel Player Piano, Vonnegut admitted to casually swiping the general premise from Brave New World. He softened the blow of his self-directed castigations, however, by asserting that Huxley had done the very same with Zamyatin’s We. As Vonnegut told Playboy in 1973, "I cheerfully ripped off the plot of Brave New World, whose plot had been cheerfully ripped off from Yevgeny Zamyatin's We."

10. THE BOOK HAS BEEN BANNED IN MULTIPLE COUNTRIES.

The prevalence of casual sex in Brave New World has earned the wrath of many conservative governments. The novel was banned in Ireland and Australia in 1932, with the latter maintaining its censorship for five years. In 1967, India banned Brave New World, likening the work to pornography.

11. IT SPARKED A LAWSUIT IN MARYLAND.

In 1963, Maryland public school teacher Ray Elbert Parker was fired from his job following—and, he believed, as a result of—his inclusion of Brave New World in his class curriculum. Believing his sudden dismissal to be a violation of his rights as guaranteed by the First Amendment, Parker took the issue to district and later circuit courts. The untenured teacher’s efforts were to little avail, however, as both courts wound up ruling in favor of the Board of Education.

12. BRAVE NEW WORLD CAME UNDER RENEWED FIRE IN 2010.

Although a controversial text in the years following its publication, Brave New World gradually escaped public heat, dropping out of the top tier of the American Library Association’s Most Frequently Challenged Books list throughout the 1990s. In 2010, however, the novel reclaimed its contentious place when a Seattle family objected to its depiction of Native Americans. Brave New World ranked as No. 3 on the ALA’s Top 10 Challenged Books that year, and No. 7 on the following year’s list. By 2012, it had dropped from the Top 10 altogether once more.

13. AS TIME WENT ON, HUXLEY BECAME MORE AND MORE AFRAID OF HIS PROPHECIES COMING TRUE.

Huxley’s Brave New World Revisited, published in 1958 following an upswing in American counterculture and the author’s own attraction to Hindu Vedanta, was a work of nonfiction detailing Huxley’s apprehensions over a rapidly approaching overhaul of society by the values and practices illustrated in his 1932 original. Huxley even attempted to propose a de facto "call to arms" to reduce the likelihood of a dystopian reality.

14. THE 1980 FILM EMPLOYED AN INTERESTING NAME CHANGE.

The central female character in Huxley’s novel is named Lenina Crowne, an allusion to Vladimir Lenin and romantic dramatist John Crowne. In the first TV movie adaptation of the book, broadcast on NBC in 1980, Lenina’s last name is changed to "Disney."

15. BRAVE NEW WORLD HAS INSPIRED SEVERAL UNIMAGINATIVELY TITLED TELEVISION EPISODES.

Looking for an easy title for an episode of TV? Huxley wrote your book. The title "Brave New World" has been applied to a number of popular series’ individual television episodes, with varying degrees of thematic appropriateness. Shows to use the phrase at one point or another include seaQuest 2032, Boy Meets World (for its series finale), One Tree Hill, Grey’s Anatomy, Heroes, The Vampire Diaries, and Fringe.

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The Little Known Airport Bookstore Program That Can Get You Half of What You Spend on Books Back
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Inflight entertainment is a necessary evil, but the price can quickly add up without the proper planning. Between Wi-Fi access and TV/movie packages, you can run into all kinds of annoying additional charges that will only increase the longer your flight is. Thankfully, there is one way to minimize the cost of your inflight entertainment that’s a dream for any reader.

Paradies Lagardère, which runs more than 850 stores in 98 airports across the U.S. and Canada, has an attractive Read and Return program for all the books they sell. All you have to do is purchase a title, read it, and return it to a Paradies Lagardère-owned shop within six months and you'll get half your money back. This turns a $28 hardcover into a $14 one. Books in good condition are re-sold for half the price by the company, while books with more wear and tear are donated to charity.

If you haven’t heard of Paradies Lagardère, don’t worry—you’ve probably been in one of their stores. They’re the company behind a range of retail spots in airports, including licensed ventures like The New York Times Bookstore and CNBC News, and more local shops exclusive to the city you're flying out of. They also run restaurants, travel essentials stores, and specialty shops. 

Not every Paradies Lagardère store sells books, though, and the company doesn’t operate out of every airport, so you’ll need to do a little research before just buying a book the next time you fly. Luckily, the company does have an online map that shows every airport it operates out of and which stores are there.

There is one real catch to remember: You must keep the original receipt of the book if you want to return it and get your money back. If you're the forgetful type, just follow PureWow’s advice and use the receipt as a bookmark and you’ll be golden.

For frequent flyers who plan ahead, this program can ensure that your inflight entertainment will never break the bank.

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Musée du Louvre, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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How a Notorious Art Heist Led to the Discovery of 6 Fake Mona Lisas
Musée du Louvre, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Musée du Louvre, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Human civilization has changed a lot over the past five millennia—but our instinct toward fakery, fraud, and flimflam seems to have remained relatively stable. In their new book Hoax: A History of Deception (Black Dog & Leventhal), Ian Tattersall and Peter Névraumont sift through 5000 years of our efforts to con others with scams and shakedowns of every description, from selling nonexistent real estate to transatlantic time travel. This excerpt reveals a convoluted art heist that netted not one, but six, of Leonardo da Vinci's most famous portrait(s).

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is, by a wide margin, the world’s best-known Renaissance painting. The pride of Paris’s Louvre museum, it is hard nowadays for a visitor to get a good look at. Not only do heavy stanchions and a substantial velvet rope keep art lovers at bay, but a jostling horde of phone-pointing tourists typically accomplishes the same thing even more effectively. While you can expect to scrutinize Leonardo’s nearby Virgin and Child with Saint Anne up close and in reasonable tranquility, you are lucky to catch more than a glimpse of the Mona Lisa over the heads of the heaving crowd. And that’s just getting to admire the painting: With elaborate electronic protection and constantly circulating guards, stealing the iconic piece is pretty much unthinkable.

At a time when the standards of security were considerably more lax, around noon on Tuesday, August 22, 1911, horrified museum staff reported that the Mona Lisa was missing from her place on the gallery wall. The Louvre was immediately closed down and minutely searched (the picture’s empty frame was found on a staircase), and the ports and eastern land borders of France were closed until all departing traffic could be examined. To no avail. After a frantic investigation that temporarily implicated both the poet Guillaume Apollinaire and the then-aspiring young artist Pablo Picasso, all that was left was wild rumor: The smiling lady was in Russia, in the Bronx, even in the home of the banker J.P. Morgan.

Two years later the painting was recovered after a Florentine art dealer contacted the Louvre saying that it had been offered to him by the thief. The latter turned out to have been Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian artist who had worked at the Louvre on a program to protect many of the museum’s masterworks under glass.

Vincent Peruggia, Mona Lisa thief
Vincent Peruggia
Courtesy of Chronicle Books/Alamy

Peruggia reportedly told police that, early on the Monday morning before the theft was discovered—a day on which the museum was closed to the public—he had entered the Louvre dressed as a workman. Once inside, he had headed for the Mona Lisa, taken her off the wall and out of her frame, wrapped her up in his workman’s smock, and carried her out under his arm. Another version has Peruggia hiding in a museum closet overnight, but in any event the heist itself was clearly a pretty simple and straightforward affair.

Peruggia’s motivations appear to have been a little more confused. The story he told the police was that he had wanted to return the Mona Lisa to Italy, his and its country of origin, in the belief that the painting had been plundered by Napoleon—whose armies had indeed committed many similar trespasses in the many countries they invaded.

But even if he believed his story, Peruggia had his history entirely wrong. For it had been Leonardo himself who had brought the unfinished painting to France, when he became court painter to King François I in 1503. After Leonardo died in a Loire Valley château in 1519, the Mona Lisa was legitimately purchased for the royal collections.

So it didn’t seem so far-fetched when, in a 1932 Saturday Evening Post article, the journalist Karl Decker gave a significantly different account of the affair. According to Decker, an Argentinian con man calling himself Eduardo, Marqués de Valfierno, had told him that it was he who had masterminded Peruggia’s theft of the Mona Lisa. And that he had sold the painting six times!

Valfierno’s plan had been a pretty elaborate one, and it had involved employing the services of a skilled forger who could exactly replicate any stolen painting—in the Mona Lisa’s case, right down to the many layers of surface glaze its creator had used. By Decker’s account, Valfierno not only sold such fakes on multiple occasions, but used them to increase the confidence of potential buyers, ahead of the heist, that they would be getting the real thing after the theft.

The fraudster would take a victim to a public art gallery and invite him to make a surreptitious mark on the back of a painting that he had scheduled to be stolen. Later Valfierno would present him with the marked canvas, which had allegedly been stolen and replaced with a copy.

This trick was actually accomplished by secretly placing the copy behind the real painting, and removing it after the buyer had applied his mark. According to Valfierno, this was an amazingly effective sales ploy: So effective, indeed, that by his account he managed to pre-sell the scheduled-to-be-stolen Mona Lisa to six different United States buyers, all of whom actually received copies.

Mona Lisa returned to the Uffizi Gallery in 1913
Museum officials present the (real) Mona Lisa after its return to Florence, Italy's Uffizi Gallery in 1913.
The Telegraph, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Those copies had been smuggled into America prior to the heist at the Louvre, when nobody was on the lookout for them, and the well-publicized theft itself served to validate their apparent authenticity when they were delivered to the marks in return for hefty sums in cash.

According to Valfierno, the major problem in all this turned out to be Peruggia, who stole the stolen Mona Lisa from him and took it back to Italy. Still, when he was caught trying to dispose of the painting there, Peruggia could not implicate Valfierno without compromising his own story of being a patriotic thief, so the true scheme remained secret. Similarly, when the original Mona Lisa was returned to the Louvre, Valfierno’s buyers could assume that it was a copy—and in any case, they would hardly have been in a position to complain.

Decker’s story of Valfierno’s extraordinary machinations caused a sensation, and it rapidly became accepted as the truth behind the Mona Lisa’s disappearance. Perhaps this is hardly surprising because, after all, Peruggia’s rather prosaic account somehow seems a little too mundane for such an icon of Renaissance artistic achievement. The more flamboyant Valfierno version was widely believed, and is still repeated over and over again, including in two recent books.

Yet there are numerous problems with Decker’s Saturday Evening Post account, including the fact that nobody has ever been able to show for certain that Valfierno actually existed (though you can Google a picture of him). Only Peruggia’s role in the disappearance of the Mona Lisa seems to be reasonably clear-cut. Still, although it remains up in the air whether Valfierno faked his account, or whether Decker fabricated both him and his report, the Mona Lisa that hangs in the Louvre today is probably the original.

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