His mother, Julia Frances Huxley, was the daughter of Thomas Arnold (1823–1900) and the granddaughter of Thomas Arnold (1795–1842) of Rugby School. His grandfather was T. H. Huxley and his aunt was Mary Humphry Ward. His eldest brother was Julian Huxley.
Huxley attended Prior's Field, a progressive school founded by his mother. He arrived at Eton College in the autumn 1908. Soon afterwards his mother died that according to one biographer, destroyed his faith in life. In 1911 Huxley was struck down by a staphylococcic infection in the eye that left him purblind for eighteen months. According to David King Dunaway: "At home Huxley taught himself to read Braille, to touch-type, and to play the piano. His eyesight improved to one-quarter of normal vision in one eye (he spent half a century experimenting with alternative therapies and surgery)."
Huxley won a scholarship to Balliol College, to read English language and literature. However, he could only study by dilating his eyes with drops and using a large magnifying glass. While at Oxford University Huxley contributed articles to The Athenaeum. This brought him into contact with John Middleton Murry who introduced him to writers such as D. H. Lawrence and Katherine Mansfield.
Huxley began spending time with Philip Morrell and Ottoline Morrell at their home Garsington Manor near Oxford. It was also a refuge for conscientious objectors. They worked on the property's farm as a way of escaping prosecution. It also became a meeting place for a group of intellectuals described as the Bloomsbury Group. Members included Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Clive Bell, John Maynard Keynes, David Garnett, E. M. Forster, Duncan Grant, Lytton Strachey, Dora Carrington, Gerald Brenan, Ralph Partridge, Bertram Russell, Leonard Woolf, Desmond MacCarthy and Arthur Waley. Other people who Huxley met at Garsington included Dorothy Brett, Mark Gertler, Siegfried Sassoon, Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson, Thomas Hardy, Vita Sackville-West, Harold Nicolson and T.S. Eliot.
One of the members of this group, Frances Partridge, later recalled in her autobiography, Memories (1981): "They were not a group, but a number of very different individuals, who shared certain attitudes to life, and happened to be friends or lovers. To say they were unconventional suggests deliberate flouting of rules; it was rather that they were quite uninterested in conventions, but passionately in ideas. Generally speaking they were left-wing, atheists, pacifists in the First World War, lovers of the arts and travel, avid readers, Francophiles. Apart from the various occupations such as writing, painting, economics, which they pursued with dedication, what they enjoyed most was talk - talk of every description, from the most abstract to the most hilariously ribald and profane."
Leonard Woolf first met Huxley at Garsington Manor. He later commented: "The Oxford generations of the nineteen tens and nineteen twenties produced a remarkable constellation of stars of the first magnitude and I much enjoyed seeing them twinkle in the Garsington garden. There for the first time I saw the young Aldous Huxley folding his long, grasshopper legs into a deckchair and listened entranced to a conversation which is unlike that of any other person that I have talked with. I could never grow tired of listening to the curious erudition, intense speculative curiosity, deep intelligence which, directed by a gentle wit and charming character, made conversation an art."
Aldous Huxley fell in love with Dora Carrington during this period. "Her short hair, clipped like a page's, hung in a bell of elastic gold about her cheeks. She had large blue china eyes, whose expression was one of ingenuous and often puzzled earnestness." Although she enjoyed his company she was not looking for a physical relationship with Huxley. He told Dorothy Brett: "Carrington and I had a long argument on the subject of virginity: I may say it was she who provoked it by saying that she intended to remain a vestal for the rest of her life. All expostulations on my part were in vain."
After obtaining a first at Oxford University, Huxley taught at Repton School and at Eton College, where among his students were George Orwell and Harold Acton. He also published four volumes of poetry: The Burning Wheel (1916), Jonah (1917), The Defeat of Youth (1918), and Leda (1920). Lytton Strachey liked Huxley's poetry but claimed that "he looked like a piece of seaweed" but he was "incredibly cultured."
Huxley married, Maria Nys, a Belgian refugee who he had met at Garsington Manor, on 10th July 1919. The following year she gave birth to a son, Matthew (April 1920). They lived in a small flat in Hampstead, and as well as contributing to literary journals he began work on his first novel, Crome Yellow (1921). Scott Fitzgerald wrote that the novel was "the highest point so far attained by Anglo-Saxon sophistication" and that Huxley was "the wittiest man now writing in English".
Crome Yellow brought Huxley instant fame but upset his friends who appeared in the novel. This included Dora Carrington (Mary Bracegirdle). In the novel Huxley recreated his many discussions with Carrington. She explained what she was looking for in a man: "It must be somebody intelligent, somebody with intellectual interests that I can share. And it must be somebody with a proper respect for women, somebody who's prepared to talk seriously about his work and his ideas and about my work and my ideas. It isn't, as you see, at all easy to find the right person."
Ottoline Morrell felt betrayed by Huxley for writing about her in Crome Yellow. The character, Priscilla Wimbush, was described as having a "large square middle-aged face, with a massive projecting nose and little greenish eyes, the whole surmounted by a lofty and elaborate coiffure of a curiously improbable shade of orange." Ottoline was also furious about his rude and unfunny descriptions of her friends, Dorothy Brett, Dora Carrington, Bertram Russell and Mark Gertler. She told Huxley that his book reminded her of "poor photography".
Huxley followed Crome Yellow with Antic Hay (1923) and Those Barren Leaves (1925). According to David King Dunaway, all three novels "satirized social behaviour in post-war Britain using friends and family as fodder for incisive characterizations... The comic lightness of the novels was undermined by much wider social concerns.... Moreover, a dark thread runs through Huxley's musings on corruption in the smart set; his characters are torn between pleasures of the flesh and an austere dedication to the spirit, and Huxley was willing to expose human frailty, to illuminate hypocrisy."
Huxley continued the idea of writing about people he knew in his next novel, Point Counter Point (1928). Characters in this novel included Lucy Tantamount (Nancy Cunard), John Bidlake (Augustus John), Everard Webley (Oswald Mosley), Mark Rampion (D. H. Lawrence), Mary Rampion (Frieda Lawrence), Denis Burlap (John Middleton Murry) and Beatrice Gilray (Katherine Mansfield).
Beatrice Webb praised the writing of Huxley but disliked the subject matter of his books. She put in him the same group as D. H. Lawrence, Compton MacKenzie, David Garnett and Norman Douglas: "clever novelists... all depicting men and women as mere animals, and morbid at that. except always that these bipeds practise birth control and commit suicide. so it looks as if the species would happily die out. it is an ugly and tiresome idol of the mind, but it lends itself to a certain type of fantastic wit and stylish irony.
Huxley's books sold very well and with his royalties he purchased a villa in Bandol on the south coast of France. He also had a summer home at Forte dei Marmi in Tuscany. After the death of his friend, D. H. Lawrence, Huxley arranged for the publication of The Letters of D. H. Lawrence (1932). As well as novels, plays and short stories, Huxley wrote a large number of articles for newspapers and magazines.
In summer 1932 Huxley published Brave New World. It was an international best-seller and established him as Britain's best-known novelist between the wars. Translated into twenty-eight languages, the novel was inspired by Men Like Gods, a utopian novel by H. G. Wells. However, George Orwell argued that the novel "must be partly derived from" We by the Russian writer, Yevgeny Zamyatin. Huxley denied that he had ever heard of this book.
David King Dunaway has pointed out: "The novel, the first about human cloning, is a dystopia set five centuries in the future, when overpopulation has led to biogenetic engineering. Through computerized genetic selection, social engineers create a population happy with its lot. All the earth's children are born in hatcheries, and Soma, a get-happy pill, irons out most problems."
Time Magazine saw it as an attack on the culture of the United States with Henry Ford as the new God (worshippers say "Our Ford" instead of "Our Lord"): "Huxley's 1932 work - about a drugged, dull and mass-produced society of the future - has been challenged for its themes of sexuality, drugs and suicide. The book parodies H.G. Wells' utopian novel Men Like Gods and expresses Huxley's disdain for the youth and market-driven culture of the U.S. Chewing gum, then as now a symbol of America's teenybopper shoppers, appears in the book as a way to deliver sex hormones and subdue anxious adults; pornographic films called feelies are also popular grown-up pacifiers."
Beatrice Webb was also highly critical of the book: "I have been reading Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point, and pondering over this strangely pathological writing, pathological without knowing it. The febrile futility of the particular clique he describes reminds me of that far more powerful book The Magic Mountain, by Thomas Mann. Far more powerful because Mann is describing a society of sick people ... Huxley's group do not know that they are sick and are presented as a sample of normal human life. What with their continuous and promiscuous copulations, their shallow talk and chronic idleness, the impression left is one of simple disgust at their bodies and minds.... And the book, apart from arousing a morbid interest in morbidity, is dull, dull, dull. In a few years' time it will be unreadable - it represents a fashion. In this characteristic of fashionableness Aldous Huxley is like his maternal aunt, Mrs Humphry Ward; also in his tendency to preach."
Aldous Huxley's next novel was Eyeless in Gaza (1936). Huxley then suffered from "writer's block" and it was several years before he could complete another novel. In 1937 Aldous and Maria Huxley travelled to North America, spending time in New York City and San Cristobal, where he finished, Ends and Means (1937), a book explaining his pacifist beliefs.
In January 1938 the Huxleys moved to California and was employed by Hollywood film studios. He wrote the screenplays for Pride and Prejudice (1940), Madame Curie (1943), Jane Eyre (1943), A Woman's Vengeance (1948), Prelude to Fame (1950) and Alice in Wonderland (1951). He found working with studio executives difficult who he described as having "the characteristics of the minds of chimpanzees".
Huxley's next book, The Devils of Loudun (1952), was "a historical recreation of a story of demonically possessed French nuns and exorcists". Based on the true events in the small French town of Loudun in 1631, it features the activities of Father Urbain Grandier. As Time Magazine pointed out: "In The Devils of Loudun, Aldous Huxley with skill and scholarship resurrects one of the forgotten scandals of Christendom. The result is a brilliantly quarrelsome tract that is also one of the most fascinating historical narratives of the year."
Maria Huxley developed cancer. She told her friend: "To me, dying is no more than going from one room to another." She died on 12th February 1955. The following year he married Laura Archer (1911–2007), an Italian violinist, writer, and psychotherapist. He published his last novel, Island in 1962. He claimed "this is what Brave New World should have been, and wasn't".