I bought a copy of Aldous Huxley’s The Gioconda Smile some years ago, and it’s taken me this long to get to it. It’s brief: my copy of oversized print runs to 42 pages, so it’s a short story. This is the tale of married man, Mr Hutton, who fancies himself as dashing and handsome. The story opens with Mr Hutton visiting “poor” Janet Spence. She’s the one with the Gioconda smile, and all I could think of was that old song, ‘Mona Lisa.’
If there’s a mirror in a room, that’s where you will find Mr. Hutton admiring himself whenever he gets the chance. There’s “no sign of baldness ” yet “only a certain elevation of the brow,” which Hutton thinks is “Shakespearean.” Hutton has money, an invalid wife, a perky, doting lower-class mistress, and yet, he still finds the time and energy to visit Janet Spence. Hutton never knows what to make of Janet. She’s so calm and self-contained–not like the other women in his life.
Hutton, like most womanizers, liberally drops hints about his unhappy married life (he sounds a lot like Grant in Christina Stead’s A Little Tea, a Little Chat):
Reality doesn’t always come up to the ideal, you know. But that doesn’t make me believe any less in the ideal. Indeed, I do believe in it passionately the ideal of a matrimony between two people in perfect accord, I think it’s realisable. I’m sure it is.
He paused significantly and looked at her with an arch expression.
Poor Hutton… making his unhappiness known. But the next scene shows Hutton rapidly switching gears as he joins his cockney mistress who’s waiting patiently for Hutton in the back of his chauffeur driven car.
The portrayal of Hutton is masterful–even if the story’s denouement is not. Hutton is very much a type, and yet still strongly individualistic. A man who thinks he owns the world, runs the world and yet is still basically clueless.
I’ve read a few Huxley stories/novellas now and enjoyed them all. Brave New World dominates Huxley’s work, and other than that book, he seems to have fallen out of fashion.
25 responses to “The Gioconda Smile: Aldous Huxley”
God, it took me a while to realise that Gioconda is La Joconde.
I’ve never read short stories by Huxley, this one seems to be about a perfectly self centered womaniser.
Yes, and he never gets it which makes it more fun.
I read a couple of Huxley’s early novels just recently, Antic Hay and Point Counter Point, so from the same time as this story. They were really good! Especially the latter. But I somehow had the feeling that I was reading books that were not in such good health, on the way to being forgotten books. I hope not.
I have Antic Hay so I’ll get to it sooner or later. Sad really to think of him falling out of view
He’s gone the same way as D H Lawrence really in being an author who was once feted but is now hardly ever mentioned….
Lawrence… I have never recovered from LC’s Lover.
Interesting. I haven’t read him since Brave New World when I was an undergraduate. I tried Antic Hay but didn’t get far. Might have another look.
I read three novellas a while back.
I’ve only read Brave New World, but I’ll have to check out more of his work. I picked up Jesting Pilate a while back but haven’t gotten to it yet.
Not sure I’ve even heard of that one…
I re-read Brave New World recently enough…It was still startling in many ways, but I don’t think it has aged as well as eg 1984. I also read Crome Yellow, which was very funny. I hadn’t realised he had a whole career as a comic novelist – almost a mini-Waugh. This sounds like it fits in that part of his career.
Among afficianados of literary dystopia, many feel that BNW nails it and that1984 misses. Well, yes and no. And, of course, 1984 isn’t really a novel of dystopia, is it? That is, it’s not a Utopia gone bad at all. It’s just BAD; more like Metropolis.
It’s been years since I read them so I can’t comment, and I’m not sure I’ll ever go back and reread either of them.
BTW, have you read the stories of Robert Aickman, the writer of “weird” tales. You might be interested.
No but I have COMPULSORY GAMES on a to-buy list (released next month NYRB)
Yeah, that’s how I hoid of him. I read a few from The Wine Dark Sea. Quite a stylist, and kind of funny, and, of course, creepy.
I looked the date up and it’s 1921: part of a collection Mortal Coils
I’ve read Brave New Workd but also some of his other stuff and it’s really good.
I’ve got several titles to read, and I’ve been pleased so far–although the ending on this one wasn’t great. Perhaps it’s better read as part of a collection.
I haven’t read his short stories either, at least not that I recollect, but you’ve intrigued me with this, mainly because of your depiction of Hutton as both a type but something more as well. I haven’t read a lot of literature that describes personal vanity in men ….
Good point Gummie.
I think BNW is his best, and one of the best sci-fi satires ever. I have read a LOT of Huxley (a youthful enthusiasm), but the only novel I would recommend is After Many A Summer Dies the Swan, espcially if you have any connection to southern California. The Devils of Loudon is good if you like the flick, and if you can tolerate his endless and repetitive musings about human psychology and Being.
Hutton is blindsided by his underestimation of Janet Spence, whom he has lead on with promises for the future. His inner monologue about her faults is wickedly rendered.. A woman wronged, she orchestrates his fate. A comedy of manners….In the years since I first read this short story (which was made into a play) I have seen in newspaper events that have uncanny similarities.
I have a stack of this author’s novels unread. Do you have any recommendations?