A Crystal Age by W.H. Hudson

How it all began…

This utopian novel was about a man named Smith who woke up on a pile of stones from an unknown accident (although Smith believes that he had fell on to the pile of stones). He wakes up, wanders around and stumbles upon a society in The House. The people in The House were in the middle of a funeral service. Although Smith tried to remain unnoticed, his ‘unusual’ dressing, compared to the people, gave him away. The people then took him in, and that’s how Smith started to learn about this utopian society.

Important characteristics of the society

This society practices an entirely different set of cultures and common sense.

To start off, this society worships nature. They’re entire lifestyle surrounds understanding, admiring, and learning from nature. The citizens of The House believe that nature is how God communicates with them. Although the word “God” was not formally used, words like “the Builder of the world” and “the Father of the world shows that they believe in God. Understanding and learning from nature is their priority above anything else. Therefore, even though people in this community have their own tasks and jobs, their main responsibility as citizens of The House is to learn from and admire nature.

They don’t know about any other societies or places, like England or India, and they’ve never heard of people like Alexander the Great, Confucius, or Shakespeare. Logically, they don’t practice our common language, and law. In terms of language, these people do understand English but not in the written word. In fact, they don’t know English as “English”, but rather, the “language of human beings”. They adopt a Hebrew-like writing system, which sounds exactly like English when read. However, they do not understand the figures of speech that Smith uses. In terms of law, the people are punished for indecent behavior like lying, and minute mistakes in performed tasks. They also punish people when they fall ill because falling ill shows that one is not taking care of himself/herself well. All punishments are usually solitary confinement in varied length of time.

In The House, there is no such thing as money. The prime medium of trade is labor or requests. When Smith wanted to have clothes that the people were wearing, his payment was in the form of a 1-year labor contract. On another occasion, when the Father of The House wanted the special ink pen that Smith has, in exchange, The Father granted his daughter, Yoletta, as Smith’s guide/teacher.

As everyone in this world lives a long life, everyone looks younger than his or her biological age. Hence, this is precisely the reason why there aren’t many children around as there is no need for sexual reproduction. It works well for the society too, since everyone regarded each other as only brothers or sisters, there’s no possibility for a “romantic” relationship to develop. However, the only exceptions to this rule are The Father and The Mother of the house. In addition to being The Father and Mother to everyone in The House, they also have their very own biological children.

The driver of the story, and how it ends.

A Crystal Age, and Smith’s new life, is hugely driven by the character “Yoletta”, who is the most beautiful person to Smith, and Smith falls quickly and deeply in love with her. However, in this society, romantic love does not exist; the only kind of love that exists is sisterly/brotherly love, which extends to all inhabitants of this utopian society. Everyone regards each other as a brother/sister.

Throughout the story, Smith tries to understand the “passionless” nature of this society. He eagerly tries to explain to Yoletta how much he loves her, and that his love is not the love that Yoletta shares with everyone else, but a love that he only reserves for Yoletta. Yoletta, unexposed to Smith’s notion of love, struggles to understand how can anyone love one person in a different way that one would love brothers and sisters.

Being Smith’s teacher, Yoletta spends more and more time with Smith. As time passes, her love for Smith grows, but still not as what Smith has hoped for – a romantic love between them. Smith is incredibly troubled by the passionless nature of this society, and he struggles o find out why. His obsession with this thought drained his soul, and he became less joyful than he originally was. Knowing that Yoletta will never be able to love him the way he wants her to, he thought he might as well learn to be “passionless”.

He stumbles upon a potion in a library that reads “When time and disease oppress, and the sun grows cold in heaven, and there is no longer any joy on the earth, and the fire of love grows cold in the heart, drink of me, and for the old life there shall be new life”. He thought that this potion would help him become “passionless”, and after some deliberation, he drank the potion. As he reads the book by the potion, he slowly feels his bodily sensation fade away. It turns out that the potion was actually poison.

The story ends with Yoletta coming by his side, and the hint that Yoletta and Smith were the appointed new Mother and Father of The House.

Final thought

It seems like Hudson, the author, is trying to convey that romance and sex are sources of unhappiness. In addition to the fact that Smith has died precisely because of his passion, the fact The Mother was also allowed to be the only one in The House to be “unhappy” tells me so too. The Mother, supposedly being the one who has ultimate happiness, is also the only one who is NOT punished for falling sick because childbirth is a natural source of suffering. While one may think that the suffering of childbirth is a temporary one, the only two Mothers (the current one and the preceding one) mentioned in the story were both suffering one way or the other.

3 thoughts on “A Crystal Age by W.H. Hudson

  1. I find your point about Hudson’s message of sexual/emotional repression very interesting. The fact that the Mother is the only one allowed to be “unhappy” and Smith’s ultimate demise due to his love for Yoletta is very telling. Another interesting aspect of Hudson’s work I found to be is his image of a pastoral utopia. In his society, he clearly indicates that the beauty of nature should not only be of sole importance to society; but this same devotion makes the members of the society pure of heart, so to speak. Contributing to this, is the fact that at the time most utopian writers focused on the importance of technological progress. In direct contrast, Hudson favored a return to agrarian simplicity, much like our class reading of Morris’s “News From Nowhere.” Hudson’s use of imagery also shows the beauty he finds in nature and his support for a pastoral utopia. Given the writings of other authors during this time, it is a very interesting contrast that is not widely used until many years later.

  2. Every novel that introduces a society with a restriction or absence of romantic relationships seems to center around a character that falls in love (e.g. “We”)! You mention that Smith “falls quickly and deeply in love with [Yoletta].” However, this is a society where romantic love does not exist, and Yoletta struggles to understand his deep love for only her. Since Yoletta is unable to understand passionate, romantic love, Smith ultimately concludes that he might as well learn to become “passionless” like everyone else in society. It’s disappointing to see that Smith doesn’t find his love for Yoletta meaningful enough to keep trying (to make her understand and reciprocate the love he has for her).

    You suggest that Hudson seems to convey the idea that love is a source of unhappiness. What’s ironic is that The Mother is allowed to be “unhappy” by suffering pain from childbearing, which is a natural and allowed suffering. However, from what I’ve heard from many expectant mothers, being pregnant is an intimate process. Expectant mothers often claim that they’ve fallen in love with their child(ren) while they’re still pregnant. This bond between mother and child is love in its purest form! So how can this society, which allows mothers to experience pregnancy and childbirth, not understand what love really is? I may have to read this novel to really figure out what Hudson is trying to say about love.

  3. This community seems like a calm and peaceful utopian society. Everyone is happy and works for what they want (in terms of a contract). This society actually reminds me of the utopia that Peace, Robin, and I constructed, Melloasis. The citizens of Melloasis enjoy and try to preserve nature, are generally happy, and start their apprenticeships to learn about their future careers. Another society that is similar to the one in A Crystal Age, is Shangri-La in Lost Horizon by James Hilton. The society is inside a big mountain and the people there age slowly and as time passes their passions slowly fade away. Something I was confused about was the addition of poison in the story. Since this is a utopian society, why would poison be allowed?

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