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Brave New Worlds at the Cheltenham Literature Festival

‘Brave New Worlds’ is one of several structuring themes of Cheltenham Festival 2014.  Readers and writers explore how ‘new’ worlds are projected and represented, with topics ranging from digital technology, democracy, futures, nature, the environment and architecture to dystopian writing. There’s even a little ‘new world’ garden in Imperial Square.

Aldous Huxley’s futurist novel Brave New World still has the power to shock and unsettle. His most recent biographer, Nicholas Murray, spoke to a capacity crowd in the Salon this morning at a university-sponsored event, introduced by Professor Shelley Saguaro.  Aldous Huxley: An English Intellectual was published in 2002, reissued this year, and has never gone out of print; Nicholas Murray used the occasion to reconsider Huxley’s ideas in a twenty-first century context. He revealed Huxley as a thoroughly Victorian intellectual in some ways, who inherited his grandfather Thomas Huxley’s liberal and scientific thinking.  More personal details were just as interesting, though. I hadn’t realised how bad Huxley’s eyesight was (an eye infection picked up at school almost blinded him) and I wondered whether it might have contributed to Brave New World‘s strangely compressed visuality. Perhaps I should have asked Nicholas Murray, but the other questions were less niche.

Afterwards it was time for me to head for the Town Hall Drawing Room and a workshop on dystopian writing. About seventy students ranging from year 10 to A/AS level joined me for a really good discussion about utopian/dystopian literature, satire, and science-fiction – a very wide-ranging session indeed. One student had asked Nicholas Murray a very probing question about gender, and we agreed that the novel remains non-committal, oblivious almost, of gender’s ideological force.

What a great day. And Benjamin Zephaniah was in the green room.

Photo: Dr Debby Thacker

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