Theodore Gumbril, bored pedagogue, is sitting in chapel one day, ruminating over the awfulness of teaching history to his pupils (who have almost all written the same essay about Pope Pius IX), when the hardness of his seat inspires him to envisage Gumbril’s Patent Inflatable Small-clothes, to perfectly cushion the seat of the modern man with his sedentary lifestyle. Full of enthusiasm for his idea, Gumbril resigns from his job forthwith, and sets off to London to sell it to the world.
He stays with his father, an ambitious but not very successful architect, and looks up his old friends: Mercaptan (a writer of pieces in high-brow periodicals), Lypiatt (an artist), Coleman (an enfant terrible), Shearwater (a physiologist so intellectually curious that it leads him to neglect his wife), and Myra Viveash (a lady-about-town, with whom Gumbril has been unhappily in love). The novel follows, in a desultory and leisurely sort of way, the activities of most of these characters, primarily Gumbril, as they spend the next few weeks.
We are shown Lypiatt’s love for Myra, and her indifference to him; we learn that he’s not a very good artist, though he talks the talk and lives the life of the Artist. Gumbril acquires a false beard, in imitation of Coleman’s, and (surprisingly, to this reader, who would not consider a “blond, fan-shaped beard” particularly attractive) uses it to strike up acquaintance with random young women. This leads to a confusion over Gumbril’s real name with his lover, Rosie, and mistaken identity ensues. Collisions between the characters occur, and they are inevitably brought into Huxley’s dance by beautiful coincidence.
It’s an amusing book, satirical in tone (particularly the scene at Lypiatt’s show), and Huxley mocks both the all-surface-no-depth trend to modern arts, and Gumbril’s invention, though there are genuinely moving parts (such as the brief moment where we’re allowed into Myra’s head, and see why she behaves in the way she does: indifferent, weary and endlessly ennuied).
I enjoyed this very much.