Like Demons by Dostoevsky or Magic Mountain by Mann, Huxley’s characters in After Many a Summer Dies the Swan personify different philosophies or outlooks on life. In a sort of Socratic roundtable, the author, always a man of ideas is able to tease out through satire humans’ understanding of other humans. It’s difficult not to laugh at each other when we really sit down and describe our outlooks on life, and its impossible not to laugh at our many selves when they’re sitting on the page.
Like many of Huxley’s works, this novel is both eternal in theme and temporal in method and communication. Readers in 1939 would surely have recognized the absurd Capitalist, Stoyte, as a thinly-veiled reflection of William Randolph Hearst. Huxley, as in Brave New World, seems to want to create something that is targeted at his own time and location (1930s Los Angeles) while still creating a lasting allegory and satire. The effect is Greek in the persistent import of its dialogues and has echoes of Dante, who famously inserted his personal enemies into the worst realms of hell.
This book, and the later novel, Island, seems to me much better introductions to Huxley than Brave New World, his most widely read book. The futuristic societal system and disutopic genre of the latter can often detract from the philosophy. Teasing out thoughts and theories from characters that reflect people on popular magazine covers is far more joyful and accessible than the other-worldliness of Brave New World. Perhaps not, but it is hard to dispute the rich, layered reality that Huxley creates in After Many a Summer…, a Socratic dialogue (or polyphony) among the many cultural voices of last century that we can easily insert ourselves into and talk amongst the characters.