A Story A Day: A Vain Man Makes A Poor Friend

After an unintentional hiatus, we’re back!  And what better to get our literary taste buds back in order than scandal, murder, and thoughts on the modern man?  In this episode: “The Gioconda Smile” by Aldous Huxley.

Until recently, the name Aldous Huxley only brought Brave New World to mind, so I was pretty surprised by the modernist literary style found in “The Gioconda Smile”.  This is no sci-fi tale of the future, and its focus is far from the political and scientific questions that are still on our minds today.  Mr. Hutton, whose thoughts the reader is trapped in, is a man unhappy with his marriage.  His wife seems to be dying.  She complains about being sick constantly.  But instead of being compelled to stay near her in support, Mr. Hutton feels driven away toward other women.  It’s this simple feeling, and Mr. Hutton’s actions reasoned by it, that leads the man to ruin.  In a way, the overall story arc seems pretty close to that of classical tragedy.

Tragedy has always been fueled by mankind’s appeal to the less savory desires of human nature.  Most tragic elements can be attributed to the side of man that came out of Pandora’s jar.  Murder is a result of anger, or jealousy, or in some cases pure righteous folly, where a character forgets their own fallible mortal nature, often in the pursuit of “justice.”  Theft can be driven by sloth or greed.  In this story, Mr. Hutton’s own vanity (a form of pride) seems to drive him through the plot, leading him down a road of righteous folly in his self-absorbed mind state.


By selectively limiting the narration to Mr. Hutton’s thoughts, this story features a focus on individual morals and their loose hold on a self-reflecting mind.  In the very first scene, Mr. Hutton is looking in the mirror and calling himself the “Christ of Ladies” in a play on words. Then he laughs at his own cleverness and flirts with Ms. Spence, a woman who is not his wife.  Next, the man is in his car with another woman, Doris, who is also not his wife.  He necks with this one.  Finally, he makes it home to his dying wife, who he upsets by refusing to take a trip with her because he claims to be too busy.  Too busy with those other hoochies, obviously.  The next day, his wife dies.

Mr. Hutton reacts accordingly, vowing to clean up his act and “live by reason…be industrious…and curb his appetites.”  He does this for about five days, then Doris (the girl from the car) writes him, and he’s right back at her side.  Disgusted with himself because “at the first itch of desire he had given way,” Mr. Hutton decides to try the other extreme.  Similar to Milton’s Satan, Mr. Hutton decides “if he were hopeless, then so be it; he would make the best of his hopelessness.”  But again, this resolution flits away under the revelation that Ms. Spence loves him madly and wants to be with him.  Mr. Hutton panics and flees from her, wondering “why had his irresponsibility deserted him, leaving him suddenly sober in a cold world?”  Seeking an escape, Mr. Hutton marries Doris and they travel in Europe, causing quite a scandal in the papers (apparently Mr. Hutton is some kind of big name).  However, he is quickly called home for an inquest when it is discovered that Mrs. Hutton was poisoned.  Mr. Hutton’s name is ruined, as are his relationships.

The real underlying point of “The Gioconda Smile” seems to be a kind of moral maxim: the self-absorbed man can never find peace in others because there is no peace in him.  Mr. Hutton fails to appreciate his wife (or at least is not honest with himself about the situation), so he looks for attention from others.  He racks up quite a list of adulteries beside the two we meet in the story, Mr. Hutton confesses at one point.  When his wife’s death shocks him, he attempts to become a better man, but his will is weak because it is driven purely by vain, egotistical desires of accomplishment.  Social and political conquests are harder than romantic conquests to Mr. Hutton, and so he slips back into his old ways.  In the end, his self-love is the source of his own self-destruction.  Tragic.



1 Comment »

  1. Lil SPJ Said:

    Longing for more insightful blog posts. ❤

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