Samuel Butler was one of the Victorian era's greatest iconoclasts. Once, he said that after reading Darwin's "The Origin of Species," that the theory of evolution had replaced Christianity for him. And this -- after Butler had originally studied for the clergy. Darwin also praised Butler for his clear understanding of Darwin's scientific work, as expressed in a series of popular articles contributed to the "Canterbury Press." Butler's first literary success came in the form of the 1872 novel "Erewhon," a work that was originally published anonymously, but which was an immediate popular and critical success in its satire of Victorian English mores and customs ("Erewhon" is "Nowhere" spelled backward). After "Erewhon," Butler began writing the first draft of "The Way of All Flesh," but put it aside after realizing that the scathing, autobiographical nature of the story would deeply hurt other family members. "The Way of All Flesh" was eventually published in 1903. It tells the story of Ernest Pontifex, based upon Butler himself, and his struggles with Victorian mores, his restrictive, highly-religious family, and Victorian society itself. Butler is remembered as one of the greatest of the anti-Victorians, whose ideas reflected accurately the new, more liberal society that was to come following the death of England's great Queen, and the beginning of a new era.
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The Way of All Flesh is one of the time-bombs of literature," said V. S. Pritchett. "One thinks of it lying in Samuel Butler's desk for thirty years, waiting to blow up the Victorian family and with it the whole great pillared and balustraded edifice of the Victorian novel."
Written between 1873 and 1884 but not published until 1903, a year after Butler's death, his marvelously uninhibited satire savages Victorian bourgeois values as personified by multiple generations of the Pontifex family. A thinly veiled account of his own upbringing in the bosom of a God-fearing Christian family, Butler's scathingly funny depiction of the self-righteous hypocrisy underlying nineteenth-century domestic life was hailed by George Bernard Shaw as "one of the summits of human achievement."
"If the house caught on fire, the Victorian novel I would rescue from the flames would be The Way of All Flesh," wrote William Maxwell in The New Yorker. "It is read, I believe, mostly by the young, bent on making out a case against their elders, but Butler was fifty when he stopped working on it, and no reader much under that age is likely to appreciate the full beauty of its horrors. . . . Every contemporary novelist with a developed sense of irony is probably in some measure, directly or indirectly, indebted to Butler, who had the misfortune to be a twentieth-century man born in the year 1835."
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Book Description Penguin Books Ltd, 1995. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 140621784
Book Description Penguin Books Ltd, 1995. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 0140621784