How many gentle flowers grow

Crome Yellow
Free</a>, Gutenberg

Condensed to the basics of its plot, Huxley's Crome Yellow sounds more like an episode in the H.E. Bates Darling Buds franchise than a biting social satire. Denis Stone pootles over hill and dale on his bicycle, to arrive at Crome, the idyllic country house in "the green heart of England", not far from the mythical village of Camlet. He joins an assortment of English archetypes---the languid, pale young woman; the horsey lady of the manor; her buffoonish husband; a pink-cheeked earnest bluestocking; a troubled, tempestuous artist; a rational Brunellian technologist; a sweet-talking mercurial womanizer---to lounge about in their little world, listen to some family history, attend a fête, and fall prey to charming misunderstandings.

If the happenings sound inconsequential, it's because they are; and, with Huxley's writing, if they are, then they're meant to be. Not only does the novel draw energy from such small ironic paradoxes, but the very pointlessness of life for Denis, Anne, Priscilla and the rest is simultaneously a dig at their social stratum and a conveniently anonymous prop on which to base any number of subtle character sketches. As Denis with his pretensions to poet angsts and wrangles his way through his internal life, the opinions, mores and beliefs of his era are lifted one by one for examination in the summer sunlight, and hung up for exhibition, like bunting between the supports of the cake tent.

Huxley's years spent in a country manor are far more conducive to his muse than the metropolitan set that inspired Antic Hay. In Crome Yellow Huxley has written a novel both of its time and of any time. The middle-class farce it evokes is taking place even now, and the elements that have lapsed still deserve just as much satirizing to prevent nostalgia setting in. Suiting its internal contrasts and ironies, this is an important novel masquerading as a trivial one, and it proves as easy to read as it is hard to put down.