Read The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler Online


'The Way of All Flesh' 'exploded like a bomb' in Edwardian England. Based on Samuel Butler's own life & published posthumously, it indicts Victorian bourgeois values as personified in five generations of the Pontifex family....

Title : The Way of All Flesh
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781406595536
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 456 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Way of All Flesh Reviews

  • Carrie
    2019-01-21 11:36

    This is a true story about me reading The Way of All Flesh. Remember how I once mentioned that I nerdily read in the elevator on the way home (for the whole two minute trip)? Well, I was reading this book on my way down one evening at my old job when an older man that I didn’t know turned to me and asked what I was reading (Modern Library version, so the cover is blank, you dig?). I smiled uncomfortably (I may be a book nerd, but I do recognize that it’s a little odd to read in the elevator when you only work on the thirteenth floor), and repeated the title. At which point the stranger asked, “Oh, is it erotic?” And I was totally speechless, turned bright red, and mumbled something like, “Oh no, no its about Victorian hypocrisy, furthest thing actually, etc.” until we reached the lobby. But seriously, that was an inappropriate question, right?* I don’t know if the guy was a client or a partner (he was definitely one or the other, since he was an older gentleman in a suit), so I couldn’t really say what I wanted to, which was something like “Excuse me?” or, you know, “Screw you, pal.” But either the guy was totally clueless, and tripped over his tongue, or he was totally boorish, and trying to make me uncomfortable. Which he succeeded at, at least for a bit. But you know, I quickly regained my composure, and, you know, women still get to be lawyers and work in law firms and have power, no matter what gross guys in the elevator say. So it’s more an interesting story than anything else.Certainly that anecdote is more interesting than, say, The Way of All Flesh. The story is supposed to be a scathing indictment of Victorianism, so much so that the author (who was famous in his lifetime for his satires and treatises) didn’t publish it in his lifetime. I am certain that at the time it was published that it spoke truths that had not been heard before, particularly about Victorian morality and parenting. The thing is, nowdays, the Victorians haven’t only been indicted, they’ve been tried and found guilty. We all think of them as stern, repressed, phony, over authoritative, etc. Lytton Strachey did his job well – we no longer really believe in Eminent Victorians. So that part of The Way of All Flesh no longer really shocks.Which leaves the story itself, a bildungsroman telling the story of Ernest Potifax. His tale includes bad overbearing parents, tough times at school, and a mistaken attempt to be a clergyman. There is an absolutely ridiculous passage where he is wrongfully arrested for sexual assault and spent six months in jail (I absolutely could not understand the charges – he seems to have been arrested for going into a woman’s room). Broke, he marries poorly, and then is saved when it turns out his wife was already married and he can jettison her (his children aren’t so lucky – he farms them out and doesn’t really give them a second thought). At twenty-eight he inherits a fortune (the reader knew this was coming, Ernest did not), and then retires into a life of quiet travel, research and writing. Perhaps the tale sounds interesting in the describing, but not so much in the reading. The reason is, I think, that Ernest is inherently uninteresting. He is the proverbial wet noodle. The narrator – Ernest’s godfather, and guardian of his fortune (and burlesque author!) is much more interesting – and, actually he is the one who does most of the scathing and indicting. I wish I’d read his story! As it is, Ernest flounders from one mistake to another, trying on different philosophies and experiences, and finally, decides to retire from public life entirely and write his books. Hardly a triumphant choice. The point is, without the scandal of the critique of the times, the plot was sort of dull. Well written, but dull.*And seriously, who reads an erotic book at work??

  • Anne Hawn Smith
    2019-02-07 07:13

    I've read this book at least 5 times and I always come back to it. It has seemed to have something unique to say to me no matter what age I am when I read it. I first read it in my Freshman year of college and there were very few of us who really liked it. I couldn't understand why at the time, but I think I do now.The book is very introspective and if you are looking for some kind of action or plot, this isn't the book for you. The main action takes place in the character's minds. Butler takes his main character and gives him an upbringing that is deplorable and then uses the rest of the book showing how Ernest works through the hand life has dealt him. I found some profound statements on the process of education and the effect on the young...things that are just as present today as in the 1700's. This book is a wonderful book to take on a vacation when you have time to sit and ponder on Butler's ideas and relate them to your own life. I've read this at just about every major stage of life and learned something different each time.

  • Jan-Maat
    2019-01-18 07:10

    The Way of All Flesh is the anti-Victorian novel. In the clergyman’s house the daughters play cards to determine which of them will get to marry the single suitor lured in through the front door (view spoiler)[and England expects every man to do his duty in luring him in no matter how far Jane Austen turns round in her grave (hide spoiler)], there is no weeping round the death bed (view spoiler)[ in a lovely moment the children of George Pontifex compose the following epitaph for him, pregnant with double meaning: "HE NOW LIES AWAITING A JOYFUL RESURRECTIONAT THE LAST DAY.WHAT MANNER OF MAN HE WASTHAT DAY WILL DISCOVER." (p110) (hide spoiler)], just a sincere wish for the end to hurry up now, and the hero does get to marry his childhood sweet heart but since she has become by that time an alcoholic, it is lucky the union turns out to have been bigamous (view spoiler)[ apart from for the children who thereby become bastards, still no omelettes without breaking eggs and all that… (hide spoiler)].Wealth ruins people (view spoiler)[ unless invested in railway shares for ever, ideally with the same company, other forms of investment may lead to your being swindled by an almost Catholic deacon and certainly losing money in any case (hide spoiler)], the family is a torture chamber ruled by a domestic tyrant in which one generation’s torments can be passed on to the next, the world of music has been inexorably going downhill since the death of Handel, and the Church is ably served by men such as Theodore Pontifex who succeeds in petrifying an elderly parishioner into hiding under her bed clothes with the fear of hellfire when she had been only a little frightened of dying and in need of some gentle handholding.This along with Father and Son was recommended to me, by my history teacher if I remember correctly, when I was about sixteen. They are both great statements of opposition to Victorian ideals and how to survive the Victorian family. At the time I first read was a little after Mrs T (view spoiler)[ in my imagination the estranged wife of Mr T on account of her not being prepared to even pity a fool (hide spoiler)] had spoken out in favour of Victorian values - plainly as is often the case with very little idea about Victorian values actually were but assuming that they were as demonstrated here, uncontroversially a good thing. For Butler those values were bullying, swindling, pride, boasting, flogging your children, and the reading of arbitrary Bible passages (view spoiler)[ as well as investing in railway shares if you were wise (hide spoiler)]. Edmund Gosse’s experience, as far as I remember, was written with more sadness at the gulf between father and son but anger flavours Butler’s interpretation and understanding of his family relationships.Not so much as Bildungsroman as a Verderbensroman, the spirit of Rousseau rather than of Darwin breathes across its pages. Everything starts off well with the Great-grandfather, but is horribly warped by the Grandfather’s worldly success. You are born innocent, in this view, with a natural desire for a penny loaf, which feelings are flogged out of you by the dual action of a tyrannous father and prolonged schooling in pomposity and priggishness. If the process is conducted correctly you will be suitable for no productive role in society and instead fit to minister in the Church of England (view spoiler)[other churches are available I am told (hide spoiler)]. Rousseau is also apparent in the hero farming out his children at a pound a week to a bargeman’s family to bring up, ideally as illiterates, which makes the boy into an excellent steamboat captain and the girl into a good housewife (view spoiler)[ there are limits, it appears, to Butler’s disenchantment with the social norms of his day, though a maiden aunt is a positive figure (view spoiler)[she invests in railway shares (hide spoiler)] (hide spoiler)]. Well, it is a Bildungsroman, but one in which schooling is not an educational process. Instead prison, the zoo (view spoiler)[ but not if you go to see the lions, reptiles or monkeys, obviously! (view spoiler)[ but not because of their attitude to railway shares (hide spoiler)] (hide spoiler)], and relations with the opposite sex perform that function.Edmund Gosse’s memoir, Father and Son, works, I feel, better. The fictionalisation of Butler's own experience creates an awkwardness in this book, which the on and off process of writing for a long period during his life only emphasises, and in the end the book was published posthumously. It is successful, maybe too successful, in conjuring up a narrow, uncritical, crushing, family atmosphere in which parent envy their children’s success and desire nothing more than to keep them smaller than themselves, and ideally in a position in which they can give them a good kicking periodically. but also Butler wants to have his penny loaf and eat it. The past represented by the craftsmanship of the Great-Grandfather is good (view spoiler)[ and this is the type of Victorian novel that starts with the hero’s great grandfather so you can properly understand where he is coming from, like a Zola saga condensed into a single volume (hide spoiler)], but railway shares make the modern world better. In a moment reminiscent of – and for all I know inspired by - a scene in Under the Greenwood Tree there’s a lament for the passing of the old church music and the bawling out of the old hymns, but equally the past isn’t completely idolised (view spoiler)[ with the exception of Georg Friedrich Handel (hide spoiler)] since the ploughmen of earlier times are vacant, made more animal than human by their daily grind unlike the next generation of farming folk who have the time and energy to gossip. In my memory the book was more of a struggle against evangelicalism, but rereading, the precise nature of the faith is irrelevant, in fact we even see Theobald’s religious practise move from being more low church to higher church (view spoiler)[ ie from something almost Protestant to practically Roman Catholic (hide spoiler)] under the influence of his daughter and wife (view spoiler)[ themselves under the influence of others (hide spoiler)]. Instead the book is a brick through the shop window of the conventional and a raising of the Jolly Roger against all ships that sail the seas of social norms (view spoiler)[ and by ‘brick’ I don’t mean to imply that it is particularly well written despite some funny sentences (view spoiler)[and good advice in regards to railway shares (hide spoiler)] (hide spoiler)].(view spoiler)[ I had lent this book to my Mum and much to my surprise and despite the passage of many years she still hasn't traded it in for some railway shares, which is the normal way of all books (hide spoiler)]

  • Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
    2019-02-12 15:33

    There's a poem by Kahlil Gibran which goes like this:"Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.You may give them your love but not your thoughts, 
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, 
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, 
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, 
and He bends you with His might 
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, 
so He loves also the bow that is stable."Had Samuel Butler's parents known this poem and took it to heart he would not have found the inspiration to write this semi-autobiographical novel where, in one passage, the principal protagonist Ernest Pontifex, as he was about to get out of prison, felt the dread of meeting his parents after a long time and then the narrator continuing--"...There, sure enough, standing at the end of the table nearest the door were the two people whom he regarded as the most dangerous enemies he had in all the world--his father and mother."It is a very common parental mistake even nowadays, almost always by parents who have had successes in their careers or had built great wealth: they think their children are like them and that they own them. So when these creatures of their loins, seemingly like wayward arrows hit piles of dung on the ground instead of the lofty trees they had targeted, they gnash their teeth in anger and despair and their children, seeing their reaction, either undertake a rebellion or carry their burden of self-pity, unworthiness and defeat all their lives.A recommended reading for those who have, or have had, problems with their parents along this line or are parents like these themselves (according to their children).

  • Elina
    2019-02-07 07:26

    Τί απολαυστικότερο για τον αναγνώστη να έρχεται σε επαφή με ένα κείμενο που γράφτηκε τον 19ο αιώνα αλλά να νιώθει σα να γράφτηκε χτες. Το απόλαυσα απ αρχής μέχρι τέλους. Το καυστικό χιούμορ και η διάχυτη ειρωνεία στιλιτεύουν με μαεστρία την κοινωνία της Αγγλίας τότε. Προτείνεται ανεπιφύλακτα!!!

  • Marvin chester
    2019-01-20 12:22

    Flesh is what governs the soul. Much of the book contains a scathing, satirical appraisal and condemnation of church, clergy, christianity, and the hypocrisy, dogma and deliberate self-delusion of religion. Pretty outrageous for 1884."the story that Christ died, came to life again and was carried from earth through clouds into the heavens could not be accepted ... He (Ernest) would probably have seen it years ago if he had not been hoodwinked by people who were paid for hoodwinking him." p.293 ".. he had been humbugged and the greater part of the ills which afflicted him were due to ... the influence of Christian teaching.." p. 298 Of Ernest's clergy parents: "They had tried to keep their ignorance of the world from themselves by calling it the pursuit or heavenly things and then shutting their eyes to anything that might give them trouble." p.288It matters little what a man professes "provided only that he follows it out with charitable inconsistency" ... p.314 I love this profound observation - that principle can be an ugly thing without charitable inconsistency. The book is about a slow witted bumpkin who, because of his genteel birth, must be saved from poverty by a secret inheritance. Ernest, the hero, learns at a painfully slow pace that his beliefs are mere witless prejudices devoid of truth. The author has Ernest find salvation later in the idea that expediency of belief trumps veracity - that accepting christianity is expedient, its truth is not relevant. I'm sure Butler, the author, would exempt his personal finances from that principle - that expediency trumps veracity.Unfortunately, those not endowed with a class birthright - like Ellen, Ernest's false wife - are not worth saving. Writes Butler: "We set good breeding as the corner-stone.. That a man should have been bred well and breed others well ... so that no one can look at him without seeing that he has come of good stock .. this is the desiderandum." The class divide is as unbridgable to Butler as is the theological divide to his Theobald Pontifex character. Thus the book itself ends up being a monumental hypocrisy. Exactly the kind of unthinking narrow prejudices that his anti-hero Theobald Pontifex has about religion, the author, Samuel Butler, has about class. He has Ernest cured of his idiotic stupidity by having money thrust upon him. He has poor lower class Ellen condemned to be incurable from drink. To be in poverty is to be uncivilized. Ernest, upon getting money, gets back to civilization. (Butler's phrase)

  • Brandon
    2019-02-02 12:36

    I mean, yes it was a harsh upbringing, Butler, but did you have to take it out on us, the readers? I would have gladly taken a beating for you if you had just shortened the book by about 400 goddamned pages. Were you supposed to be Ernest? So after all that, you abandoned your own kids to explore the world? Ugh. True, you married a prostitute, so you scored a few points there with me, and you forgave your batshit mother, but you abandoned your own kids after suffering through a shitty childhood. i wonder if my dad read this book? hmm....

  • Moses Kilolo
    2019-02-17 07:21

    After reading Theodore Dreiser's introduction to this book, I put it back to the library shelf and consciously staid away for well over two months. I had my reasons, but one of them was not that I didn't want to 'sink my mental teeth' into this, one of the finest and simple yet complex literary pieces. My main reason was Dreiser himself. It stands that one of the books that had a most profound effect on me was Sister Carrie, one among Dreiser's masterpieces. If he, - Mr. Dreiser, at whatever time he did his friends assignment of selecting a book that was 'simply life,' worth the reading of a well read gentleman, who was as well advanced in years too, could only pick The Way of all Flesh from a list of other masterpieces, well, I had to get my damn head ready for a lifetimes reading experience. So I finally got down to it . . .,Do I agree with Dreiser, - to a considerable extend yes, well, to a greater extend YES. The story of Ernest Pontifex is as much comprehensive of the longing, the frustrations, the dreams, the desires, the failures and the triumphs of man as any story can be. And that makes Samuel Butler's work worthy of Dreiser's introduction of this. his enduring story. This review will tell you nothing more, except ask you to read Dreiser's introduction to the book, and always, always, read, if you can find great books like this for you to 'sink your mental teeth into them.' Happy reading, friend.

  • Greg
    2019-01-20 14:18

    Witty, sarcastic attack on the institutions of Victorian England published in 1903 (but written decades earlier). Most of the humor still holds up, and I really enjoyed most of the book. I don't seek out novels of that period as a rule, because I generally dislike their prolixity and find their themes dated and uninteresting. This is an exception. It's on the 5 side of 4 stars.SORTA SPOILER ALERTI found the description of how alcohol destroys one poverty-stricken female character to be annoying, but perhaps Butler was just trying to avoid being overly politically correct (i.e., because opponents of religion, say, also had to believe that the poor were more virtuous than the wealthy).

  • Veronica
    2019-01-31 09:38

    What a pleasant surprise this book turned out to be. I must admit I wasn’t looking forward to reading a book written in the 1800′s and published in 1903 about repression and family life in mid-1800′s England.This is a book to be read with focus as much could be lost without careful reading. One can certainly not steamroll through this novel without missing out on great humor from its marvelous author, Samuel Butler. Each page requires longer than usual time for reading, however, the payback is well worth the effort.Butler’s wit is found throughout The Way of All Flesh and helped the reader go along with him as the main character, Ernest Pontifex comes of age in a repressed English household in the mid-1800′s. Butler’s ability to capture the essence of all his characters is evident upon reading and was apparently based on his own parents along with other relatives, family friends and teachers.Ernest’s parents are quite believable as Butler portrays the vanity of a mother who fancies her portrait on display when her son becomes bishop and a father who demands a financial accounting from all family members and claims monetary hardship to the point of unnecessary self sacrifice.Ernest endures beatings from his father who then forces him into the clergy. The naive young man must learn to grow and finally rebels, only after unwittingly being imprisoned while living among the poor as a young cleric. I won’t say more for fear of revealing too much of this wonderful story.Ironically, the repression Butler himself experienced wasn’t completely squashed as he ensured The Way of All Flesh was not published until after his death in 1902. I believe Butler did so as to not offend the many readers who could be recognized in his book. Butler claimed he was still revising the novel he had worked on from 1872 to 1884 and postponed its earlier publication and only at his deathbed did he request its being published as it were.I think I could get into some trouble with Mr. Butler were I to meet him as I believe him to be a rebel such as myself. I believe he truly wrote from his heart and I would love to ask if he really kept little notebooks in his pockets as Ernest does in The Way of All Flesh.Quotes:…Papas and mamas sometimes ask young men whether their intentions are honourable towards their daughters. I think young men might occasionally ask papas and mamas whether their intentions are honourable before they accept invitations to houses where there are still unmarried daughters.If a young man is in a small boat on a choppy sea, along with his affianced bride and both are seasick, and if the sick swain can forget his own anguish in the happiness of holding the fair one’s head when she is at her worst–then he is in love, and his heart will be in no danger of failing him as he passes his fir plantation.Theorists may say what they like about a man’s children being a continuation of his own identity, but it will generally be found that those who talk in this way have no children of their own. Practical family men know better.‘What can it matter to me,’ he says, ‘whether people read my books or not? It may matter to them–but I have too much money to want more, and if the books have any stuff in them it will work by and by. I do not know nor greatly care whether they are good or not. What opinion can any sane man form about his own work?’My rating for The Way of All Flesh is a 9 out of 10.

  • Γιώργος
    2019-02-08 12:36

    Το "Way of all Flesh" του Σάμιουελ Μπάτλερ είναι σίγουρα ένα βιβλίο που επιδέχεται πολλές ερμηνείες και είμαι σίγουρος πως δεν είμαι ικανός να το καταλάβω σε βάθος μα αυτό που με άγγιξε από αυτό το βιβλίο ήταν πρώτα από όλα το ανελέητο καυστικό "χιούμορ" ή μάλλον καλύτερα η ειρωνεία του για όλους και για όλα. Η ιστορία αυ΄τη έχει να κάνει με τρεις γενιές της οικογένειας Πόντιφεξ, τον Τζορτζ, τον γιο του Θίομπαλντ και το γιο του τελευταίου Έρνεστ που είναι και ο πρωταγνωνιστής αυτής της ιστορίας διηγούμενη από τον νονό του Όβερτον. Είναι οικογένεια κληρικών της Αγγλικής Εκκλησίας, όπως και του ίδιου του συγγραφέα, τους οποίους ο Μπάτλερ θεωρεί εντελώς ακατάλληλους να κάνουν οικογένεια λόγω των αξιών που μεταφέρουν στα παιδιά τους ότι "ο κληρικός βρίσκεται πολλές ώρες στο σπίτι" έτσι ώστε να ταλαιπωρεί ατ παιδιά του. Ο Έρνεστ από μικρός ανατράφηκε από τον κληρικό πατέρα του Θίομπαλντ να μην πιστεύει στον εαυτό του, να νιώθει όι είναι κακός, ανίκανος και άχρηστος. Όμως εκείνος, μετά από πολλές κακουχίες κατάφερε να αποδευσμευτεί και να κάνει αυτό που ήθελε. Το βιβλίο αυτό κατακεραυνώνει την υποκριτική Βικτωριανή εποχή και με την έκδοση του στις αρχές το 20ου αιώνα ανοίγει τον δρόμο στην Νέα Εποχή και δίνει ένα ελπιδοφόρο μήνυμα στους νέους κάθε εποχής.

  • Estott
    2019-02-13 07:33

    Slight spoiler I first read this years ago and it affected me deeply- and the best parts still do, though I now find it a very uneven work. As I see it (after recently rereading his Erewhon books) is that Butler was a divided character: he was a good writer who could tell an entertaining story, but he was also a bitter man who wanted to be didactic - and he couldn't manage to do it without the narrative grinding to a halt at intervals. This is a very good book which could be edited into a great one. (a little research informs me that the generally available version IS an editing of Butler's more lengthy manuscript)Worth reading at least for the ironic comedy: While pregnant Ernest's mother is afraid she might die in childbirth so she writes a letter to be only opened in the event of her death. (she lives). Ernest finds it many years later and is moved when he reads it...but he notices that the envelope has been opened and his Mother has edited and re-written it over the years.

  • Stratos
    2019-02-02 15:10

    Άλλο ένα αριστούργημα το οποίο σου δημιουργεί θλίψη για τα σημερινά ...αριστουργήματα που κυκλοφορούν κατά δεκάδες. Δεν περιγράφει αλλά διεισδύει στους χαρακτήρες, στη διάπλαση τους, στην εξέλιξη τους αναδεικνύοντας τις κρυφές αυτές λεπτομέρειες της ψυχοσύνθεσης των πρωταγωνιστούν που δύσκολα γραφίδες της εποχής μου έχουν την δυνατότητα. Ίσως έφτασε η εποχή που καλόν είναι να διαβάζουμε τέτοια βιβλία ανακαλύπτοντας και πάλι την αίσθηση του καλού βιβλίου. Έχουν βέβαια ένα ελάττωμα. Δεν διαθέτουν καλό μάρκετινγκ...Τα μακολουθεί μόνο η φήμη τους!

  • Αγγελική
    2019-01-30 08:23

    3,5 για την ακρίβεια. Ένας άλλος τίτλος για το βιβλίο θα μπορούσε να είναι: Δίψα για ελευθερία και ανεξαρτησία.

  • Shannon (Giraffe Days)
    2019-02-03 11:37

    When this book came up as the October selection for the Classics Book Club (a "real life" book club here in Toronto rather than an online one, run by Chris of Eclectic Indulgence), I was pretty pleased because it meant getting around to reading a book I've had on my shelf for about fifteen years. The reason I had this - which, let's face it, isn't one of the more famous Classics you've heard of - is rather silly but I'll tell you all the same. I grew up watching A Room With a View - I've probably seen it fifty times if I've seen it once, it's a wonderful movie with countless quotable lines because the actors have such superb delivery (while I'm at it, I'll confess that as a teen I had a huge crush on George Emerson, played by Julian Sands) - and there's a scene in the movie, the famous nude bathing scene; I'm stunned that it's not up on YouTube.So, the scene begins when Mr Bebe, the vicar (Simon Callow), and Lucy's brother Freddy (Rupert Graves) go to the Emerson's cottage, which they're still moving into, to ask George if he "wants to have a bathe". Mr Bebe starts going through the Emerson's books, sitting in a packing box, picking them up and reading the title - he picks up one, says in a curious voice, "The Way of All Flesh.... Never heard of it." And that's it. I'd never heard of it either, and then one day I came across this old Penguin edition in a second hand bookshop and I was so curious and fan-girly about it I bought it. Flipping through it, though, it looked dense and even had bars of music in it - not good fodder for a young teen who read mostly fantasy! I carted it around with all my books whenever I moved, over the years, but never honestly thought I'd get around to reading it. Until now. And I have to say, I loved it!First, a word on the cover. The painting is called "Family Prayers" and it was painted by Butler himself. Once you know that, and know that the book is semi-autobiographical, you can see why such an ugly painting is perfect for the book. The stiff, wax-like figures enduring what is clearly a very dull Bible reading is very much a slice from Butler's life. The new Penguin edition has the larger version of the painting, and the colours are different, making it a more appealing portrait than the dowdy, drab version on my edition.The book was first published in 1903, after Butler had died, but it was written in 1873, revised in 1880, put aside in 1884, a year before his dear friend and editor, Miss Savage, died. The last chapter is considered inferior because she never had a chance to read it. This edition is also the original, abridged edition: when Butler died, he charged his publisher, R.A. Streatfeild, to publish the manuscript; Streatfeild made some edits to the manuscript and it is that version that I read, though the cut paragraphs are in the notes at the back. The new Penguin edition reinserted those cuts, but I'm not entirely convinced Streatfeild's version isn't the better one after all.The novel is semi-autobiographical, as I mentioned: the Samuel Butler character is the "hero" the story, but not the narrator. The story is narrated by a family friend and the "hero's" godfather, Edward Overton, who knew his hero's great-grandfather, old Mr Pontifex, when he was just a boy, and Mr Pontifex's successful and pompous son George. Mr Overton was of an age with George Pontifex's younger son Theobald, who took Orders, married an older woman, Christina, and had three children: Ernest, Joey and Charlotte. Ernest is Butler.It is a harsh, honest - though certainly one-sded from Butler's perspective - portrait of a Victorian family, as well as a discursive essay on religion. Mr Overton gives a family chronicle of the Pontifex's, focusing on Theobald - a weak man who avoids committing to things, including marrying his fiance - and, once he's born, Ernest. Ernest is a deeply flawed boy who grows into an equally flawed man. Growing up in a repressive environment at home, frequently chastised, beaten and told he is inferior, Ernest develops into a boy who is always looking for love and acceptance, is naive and gullible to the point of being taken advantage of, and imitates what he hears from the mouths of others because of his understanding, drummed into him from birth, that everyone else is superior. His mother, Christina, he wants to love but she betrays his trust, time and again.In fact, both of Ernest's parents are the epitome of "well-meaning" cruelty, and Butler comes down heavily upon them both. They, like many Victorian parents but perhaps more so, believe in the concept of "training up" their children. I came across this term, "train up", earlier this year thanks to the wonderful blog, Awful Library Books - one book featured there was the shocking contemporary piece, Train Up Your Child by Michael & Debi Pearl (1994), which advises parents to whip their children, even babies, for "every transgression" in order to make them dutiful and submissive. They also recommend mothers hit their children if they cry for her. I'll leave you to read more excerpts from this "manual" through the link above; suffice it to say that the descriptions of Theobald and Christina's misguided parenting technique brought it vividly to mind, including this insight about Christina:...nevertheless she was fond of her boy, which Theobald never was, and it was long before she could destroy all affection for herself in the mind of her first-born. But she persevered. (p.118)Yet it's also apparent that if Theobald had been a different man - and he himself learnt parenting, such as it is, from his own bully of a father - Christina would have been a much different mother.There are many gems in this book that stand out, and speak to people in different ways (as was clear at the book club meeting). Ernest's life journey to the point at which he comes into money left him by his aunt when he turns twenty-eight, and also comes into self-awareness, cleverness and a higher degree of astuteness, is one which has more lows than highs. Some seriously crappy things happen to him, most of which are his fault - or rather the fault of his repressive, forbidding childhood and parents, who, in their quest to make him dutiful and submissive to their will, created an individual who is ripe pickings for scams, swindles and other hood-winking at the hands of others. Yet, I felt great sympathy for Ernest. He isn't a likeable character but his yearning for love and acceptance, and the influence of his parents on all his flaws, made me both sorry for him and angry on his behalf. Mr Overton dangles the words "my hero" (meaning, the focal point of his story and also a character who, if you bear with him, will make it all worthwhile), and made me extremely interested in finding out how Ernest could go from this weak-willed, easily taken advantage of idiot to someone who can laugh at his own foolishness and point out his own previous flaws articulately.Ernest isn't the only fascinating character. We are very much in Butler's hands here, but it wasn't a bad place to be. His characters will put you in mind of Dickens, I should think: larger-than-life, extreme examples and even stereotypes; monstrous. And the ups and downs of Ernest's young life, likewise, could put you in mind of young Pip. (Dickens's fiction is dismissed as trash by Mr Overton, and Austen portrait of families is also referred to: "The parents in Miss Austen's novels are less like savage wild beasts than those of her predecessors, but she evidently looks upon them with suspicion..." [p.52])There being so much going on in this book, I could write for ages and never cover it all. I don't have ages though, and neither I'm sure do you, so I'll get right to the religious side of the novel. I liked the way Richard Hoggart expressed it in his introduction:Most of [the book's] specific causes have been won; its battles tend to look old-fashioned - interesting, no doubt, but dated. Yet it still has a peculiarly lively appeal. It speaks to us, makes us listen, less for the particular errors it is castigating than for the way it castigates and exposes them: we respond to its temper of mind, its energy, charity and irony. (p.7)In the novel, Ernest and Theobald give us perspective on the position of Christianity at the time, and Butler, through his characters, comes down just as hard on the hypocrisy and cruelty in the church as he does the hypocrisy and cruelty in the domestic family. While he does at times drift into long paragraphs of thought that can lose you a bit (some readers preferred to skim over these passages and stick to the more clear-cut story), I found it fascinating and intriguing - but I didn't take away any new ideas. In fact, I can't clearly remember any points from these ramblings, as I can about Ernest. Still, the novel wouldn't be the same without them.If you have some time, patience and aren't easily daunted by lengthy books - and I hasten to add here that I found this novel to highly readable, with a deep sense of irony - I highly recommend The Way of All Flesh. It's very much a product of its time, and yet there are points in here that show just how far we haven't come; some astute observations on everything from academia to families, that are still highly relevant today and no doubt will be for a long time yet to come.And I can totally see why Merchant Ivory placed this book so prominently in the Emerson's Edwardian home.

  • Simon Mcleish
    2019-01-29 11:30

    Originally published on my blog here in April 1999.Samuel Butler's posthumously published novel has been described as the first twentieth century novel (it was in fact completed in the 1880s though not published until the early 1900s). In its iconoclasm, it certainly marks a break with the mainstream of the nineteenth century, and foreshadows the way that the twentieth century has seen criticism and questioning of just about every conventional value.Butler's style and language are, to my mind, fairly resolutely nineteenth century; the novel more closely reminds me of Vanity Fair than anything else. It is much more savage than Thackeray's work, and it should be remembered that Vanity Fair caused something of a scandal when first published.The Way of All Flesh is principally about the relationship between Ernest Pontifex and his father Theobald, and is strongly autobiographical. One of Butler's chief concerns, writing soon after Darwin's The Origin of Species (the book contains material composed over a twenty year span), was with the importance in the eventual character of heredity and environment, what we sometime today call the nature vs. nurture debate. Thus he puts the relationship that is his main concern in the context of Theobald's relationships with his own father and grandfather.Theobald is a harsh parent and a hypocrite, and he brings up Ernest in the strictest of orthodox Protestant homes, the smallest lapse being punished with a severe beating. Taught to believe himself destined, like his father, to enter the church, Ernest does so, but hates his life, ending up in prison. Being cut off by his family because of this is described as being one of the best things that happened to him, and he finishes his term of hard labour, emerging into the world determined to make a fresh start as a layman.Although few of her actions directly affect the plot, Ernest's mother Christina is even more unpleasant than his father. She (for example) wheedles confidences out of him as a child, which are then passed on to his father to be the occasion of further beatings; she writes Ernest letters full of pious hypocrisy.Butler attacks the major institutions of nineteenth century England - the family, the church, the idea of class - because of their stifling effect on those people who do not - can not - fit into the accepted picture of how things are. It is in this that The Way of All Flesh is most powerful, and this is how it foreshadowed much of the writing which followed the effective destruction of these institutions in their nineteenth century form which followed the First World War.

  • Evripidis Gousiaris
    2019-01-27 09:30

    Είναι περιττό να πω πολλά για αυτό το βιβλίο γιατί είμαι σίγουρος ότι θα μιλήσει διαφορετικά σε κάθε αναγνώστη… Θα πω μόνο ότι πρόκειται για μια αυτοβιογραφία με δομή μυθιστορήματος που είχε σκοπό να περιγράψει με καυστικό τρόπο την Αγγλία του 19ου αιώνα. Καταφέρνει όμως πολλά παραπάνω και αποκτάει διαχρονικό χαρακτήρα. Προσωπικά με συγκλόνισε το οικογενειακό περιβάλλον του ήρωα. Πράγματα που φαντάζουν δεδομένα ο ήρωας τα στερείται και γίνεται το εξιλαστήριο θύμα της οικογενείας του. Εκτός από την πιεστική και αυστηρή μόρφωση εισπράττει μόνο αδιαφορία από τους γονείς του και χωρίς κανένα σωστό εφόδιο καλείται να αντιμετωπίσει τον κόσμο. Εξαιρετικό βιβλίο το οποίο προτείνω σε όλους :) 4+ αστεράκια…

  • Kim
    2019-02-13 08:23

    I liked it as much as I liked Erewhon. I didn't like Erewhon. This one started OK, but after the first third I lost interest. I think by that time you knew what was going to happen in the entire book, and that's pretty much what happened very few surprises. I never cared about anyone in the book. No one with a child seemed to care about them in the least. Oh, and the narrator seemed creepy to me.

  • Tryn
    2019-02-15 12:34

    Is this book a biography, autobiography, or novel? It reads like a biography, but is a fictionalized account of the author’s life, so in a sense it is all three. This is the story of a young man, Ernest, who studies to be a clergyman but ends up leaving the faith. His life is set in context of the generations who came before him, so we learn about his father and grandfather for several chapters before we meet the main character. The whole novel is essentially a commentary on family life and parent-child relationships, as well as religion and religious upbringing. It is hard for me to decide what to make of this book. I find myself thinking about it a lot, even now, a few weeks after I finished it. But its theme is so cynical that I can’t feel very fond of the book. It makes me think, and for that alone I will rate a book highly, but the more I think about the philosophies undergirding the story, the more I dislike the author’s stance. Butler seems to be implying that some people just aren’t cut out to be parents and it would be better for their children to be raised elsewhere by those few who are. The parents in this story don’t like children and are impatient and lack understanding. They care more about their money and see their children as a drain on their resources, but feel duty-bound to support them anyway. They use their children only to gratify their vanity; they imagine the supposed glory their children will bring to them and feel let down when children don’t live up to their idealized notions. The father is unhappy in his own life and uses his son as a scapegoat. He blames and teases and abuses his son in order to displace responsibility for their own unhappiness. Every mother, father, and father-figure in this story is controlling and manipulative. There is something of Jane Austin’s keen eye and ironic wit here; identifying the foibles of these parents makes us examine ourselves to see if we share any of their flaws. But Jane Austin’s parent characters are somewhat lovable in spite of their foibles. These parents are so unsympathetic that they are unlikable. The author several times makes the point that the abuse and injustice a young person suffers at the hands of parents and schoolmasters (father figures) actually help to shape him in ironic ways by exposing the foolishness of the parents’ positions and traditions. Parents end up pushing children away from whatever they try most desperately to push their children into, in this case religion. The author implies that religious upbringing creates naive children who do not understand themselves or the world and so end up getting into more mischief than they would have if they were raised with more street sense. Their ignorance of sin is a hindrance and a liability. In this sense, he implies that the poorer classes who live in baser conditions and are exposed to more worldly ways are smarter, in spite of or maybe because of their lack of formal education. Yet the character the narrator admires more than any other is actually of the upper class: Ernest’s friend Towneley is rich, sophisticated, practical, worldly, discreet about his vices, educated, friendly, charming, and helpful. This seems to be the ideal persona to the author’s way of thinking. As Ernest faces the realities of the world, he eventually comes to a crisis of faith. His missionary efforts bring him into contact with an agnostic or perhaps atheistic man who causes him to question the viability of the New Testament. His further studies lead him to the conclusion that the Bible is inconsistent in its details and that the miracles are unbelievable, especially the resurrection. Christ was a historical figure, not a god. The implication is that any thinking young person will ultimately come to see this as well. And beyond the crisis of faith, on the other side of it, lies maturity. Here rationality is king and the goal is to avoid extremes and polarity. A mature man does not take religion too seriously, but neither does he oppose it too vocally. He does not invest himself in family life, although he does recognize its duties. He keeps himself unattached and unbiased, so that he can examine everything from a rational standpoint. To my way of thinking, Butler’s ideal is a man without loyalty. Basically, The Way of All Flesh repudiates what I hold most dear: faith and family. However, I think it was a valuable read because it helps me understand the mindset of those who think differently from me. It is especially interesting in historical context, since the book is set in a time period when many people began to question the faith of their fathers. It was the advent of Darwinism. It was the beginning of the modern era. This book chronicles the first steps down a path our society has traversed a long ways by now.

  • Patrice Sartor
    2019-02-18 07:15

    I hereby vow to myself to never again pick up random titles in the Classics section of a used bookstore simply because I have a credit at the store that is burning a hole in my pocket, and because I live 30 minutes away and do not wish to return any time soon.That's how I picked this up, some years ago, and after only a few pages have decreed it not something I wish to read. If that makes me less of an intellectual, I embrace my shallowness.If this was a movie, and I watched it in my home theater room, with lots of popcorn and possibly an adult beverage, I might enjoy it. Otherwise, it just wasn't for me.

  • Karen
    2019-02-04 12:33

    This novel had me at the description of the wallpaper (a mass of roses, in want of bees). Of course a child would imagine bees flitting from flower to flower, or crawling down the wall! There is a delight in the verbal descriptions of visual things, as well as the unfolding of the story of the Pontifex family and their generational flaws. Sure, there are PLENTY of digressions and tangents, but you get that with this particular era of writing. Although some might consider it stuffy (you have to dig the period), I found it an absolute pleasure to read.

  • Alex Lee
    2019-01-19 12:35

    Butler may not have adhered to any school of thought but I found in this a strange quasi-mixture of both existentialist and naturalist thinking. The damnest thing that Butler has done is to trace lineal history, as some kind of psychoanalytic background, in order to create a mesh that would explain the particularity of the main character Ernest's upbringing.In fact, the climax of the work, if there is indeed one, comes in pretty late when Ernest is forced into prison and nearly dies because he is forced to face the complex contradictory impulses of those around him. Ernest learns that he has to lead his life rather than relying on the life-narrative of others who would seek to justify him as being this way or that. That is to say, for Butler, coming onto his own is synonymous with being self defining.Butler fiddles with some vague notions of evolutionarism, to explain lineage, in this case, a kind of genealogy of discourse, but really, for Butler, Ernest is able to come onto his own as an enlightened figure when he steps out of the discourse of church and state; to see political domination as the goal of the very power structure claiming to be enlightened. This seems to be enough for Butler to claim that Ernest has a kind of null point of view now; one that allows him both to see through the BS of his family and the BS of the institutions and culture that surround him in Victorian England.What's really kind of stupid about this is that of course Butler has it in for store that Ernest should become wealthy and independent. Without this kind of independence he could never come onto his own. He could never truly stand validated to write books that are reviled by critics but acclaimed by a public... that Truth is always visible to the masses even if individuals cannot see it; that social validation through publication must also equate with economic validation (the freedom to travel and be truly an international citizen, unbeholden to any kind of culture or wage-slavery)... the ending is too easy. A real critique of Ernest's new ideas would be for him to have to live in a kind of hellish double-vision, seeing the fraud of his Victorian Era but still needing to make a living in it. Butler avoids this complicated ending though, because he wants to establish Ernest as seeing the way out (of his personal and cultural history) but not ever challenging Ernest to really live up to a particular content.Because, it may be too hard to say, that for Butler just getting by was important enough... validation, once it was thrown out, was no longer needed by Ernest. He could then be rich without ever getting tied up in the validation game that others enslaved him with, all his life. So Having, then, once introduced an element of inconsistency into his system, he was far too consistent not to be inconsistent consistently, and he lapsed ere long into an amiable indifferentism which to outward appearance different but little from the indifferentism from which Mr. Hawke had arosed himThis brings us to the font of nihilism; that ghost of existentialism which lay us bare to one another. In this, perhaps survival was enough, depending on however you wanted it. Perhaps this was too easy an ending; but then Butler didn't seem to want to set out an answer to the query; he just wanted to point out the critique of there ever being a standard answer to the question in the first place.Over all, this is a very materialist book, but one in which we can get no answer from, other than, gee, how nice is is to be rich and not care about anything...and in that sense, Butler can be seen to be far more conservative than he already is as he sees political domination to be a separate issue from economic privilege.After all, it's very easy to criticize everything if you can be independent of it all.

  • blakeR
    2019-01-19 10:25

    This one sort of recalled Of Human Bondage, another autobiographical novel where the protagonist bottoms out for a good chunk of the middle portion before finally (and predictably) ascending to a state of success/contentment. I think I'm finally figuring out that these early 20th-century bildungsromans aren't my cup of tea. Even when engagingly written, like this or Maugham's, and even when presenting philosophies with which I agree, they remain too sterile and (usually) bloated for me to greatly enjoy. I wouldn't necessarily say I regret the time I spent with them, as they're classics and I consider it important to familiarize myself with works that are highly regarded by the literary community. But all the same, I may have reached a saturation point on old British guys telling (and telling, and telling) about their younger, more rebellious days.This one made incisive points on human nature, the double-edged sword of family ties (especially parental ones), and about both aristocratic and religious hypocrisy. And I did care about Ernest and his travails. Also, Butler has a gift for metaphor and is able to unexpectedly tease them out without torturing them -- one of my favorites was his comparison of daily prayer to bees trying to drink from flowery wallpaper. Yet there was much that felt extraneous and the 430 dense pages felt ultimately unconsummated by the distinctly mundane ending.As I said though, I'm happy to have read it, I just can't recommend it except for avid fans of Brit-Lit or those highly motivated to read as many of the classics as possible. It did have one of the more favorite quotes I've read in awhile, especially meaningful to me as an occasionally aspiring writer:'What can it matter to me,' he says, 'whether people read my books or not? It may matter to (the critics) -- but I have too much money to want more, and if the books have any stuff in them it will work by and by. I do not know nor greatly care whether they are good or not. What opinion can any sane man form about his own work? Some people must write stupid books just as there must be junior ops and third-class poll men. Why should I complain of being among the mediocrities? If a man is not absolutely below mediocrity let him be thankful -- besides, the books will have to stand by themselves some day, so the sooner they begin the better.' 428Obviously, literary history has confirmed Butler's apathy toward his own accomplishments to be not only healthy but prescient.P.S. Something that bothered me about the book but that I had forgotten until reading Marvin Chester's review was Butler's treatment of the Ellen character. She's apparently irredeemable, much unlike Ernest despite being in a similar position. The only difference between them, of course, is their breeding stock. So really despite all of Butler's radical criticisms of hypocrisy and elitism, he's as guilty of it himself in the very midst of his critique. All a person needs in order to self-actualize is to be high-born and then inherit bottomless wealth. Similarly, Butler sort of cops out when discussing Ernest's children. They're of course neither high-born nor educated, so all they have is wealth (and I guess good genes?). Yet the reader is seemingly meant to believe that everything will work out for them just because Ernest was able to set them up. No chance of them squandering everything as Ellen did. . . if this is just Butler's idealism, it's really short-sighted and quite inexcusable.Not Bad [email protected]

  • Greg Deane
    2019-01-29 13:23

    Butler's narrator rarely asserts his identity, and it would be easy to miss his name, Overton. But in fact he is a very valuable actor in the life of his godson, who is ever present as a safety net ready to save his godson, Ernest Pontifex, by lending him money that comes out of the inheritance due to him from his well-disposed aunt. Old John Pontifex, a simple man who earned a private fortune, bequeaths both a capacity for accumulating wealth and for enjoying the things he earns. But these capacities are corrupted in the most of the children in the generations that follow him, beginning with the brutal, hypocritical alcoholic George. Samuel Butler provides interesting insights into the cycles of abuse that extend from one generation to another. He implies that such cycles can be broken by more abject suffering that redeems the final victim.It is obviously no accident that Alethea's name is the Greek for truth, nor that Pontifex is a Latin word for priest. For Samuel Butler, perhaps writing as a deliberate successor to Anthony Trollop and his satire on the Church of England in "Barchester Towers". Butler's sly parody seems to undermine the claims to piety of the pastor Theobald pastor who is consumed by greed and ambition, and pretences to theological intellectualism. His wife Christina, and mother of Christina uses her own religiose affectations as a justification for her own vain reveries of social and spiritual elevation.Though the generations of the Pontifexes all follow the way of flesh, it is only Ernest who truly goes on a journey of self-discovery, in quest of a genuine understanding of alethea or the truth bequeathed him in his aunt's name. In his bid to be a good minister, Ernest strives to live up to his mind. He lives among the poor who shun him; he works to set up a theological college for genuine inquiry but is embezzled by another curate; he delves into various sects. But he does not find any certainty until he falls into the way of all flesh and mistakes a respectable girl for a prostitute. He is imprisoned for six months apparently for the indiscretion of a misdirected proposition. But in prison, he follows Christ, by studying carpentry. A skill that neither of them may have ever used for gain.After living with the alcoholic mother of his children and coming to know more of the ways of the world, or the flesh, Ernest is eventually saved when he comes of age to receive his aunt's bequest. Unlike his father and grand-father, he uses his wealth to develop his mind without affectation, earnestly. But most importantly, he uses his money to provide a happy way of life for his children.The novel is unsatisfactory in that Ernest is able to redeem itself even though it seems he abandons the upbringing of his children to another family. Another criticism is that the book races through 5 generations 400 pages, so that it is hardly possible to offer any points of view except that of the narrator, Overton, who is no more than a mouthpiece for Butler. Still, the work is interesting as an early example of intergenerational study, combined with criticism of ecclesiastical practices.

  • Courtney H.
    2019-01-24 07:26

    The Way of All Flesh is a scathing indictment on Victorian middle-class society, its religion, and its religious practices. The ideas contained in the novel are worth considering, and the narrator is certainly gives thoughtful voice to many of the extremes of the time. And one cannot fault Butler for wanting to indict his parents, who subjected him to the same sort of physical, mental, and emotional assaults that Ernest endured. The problem was that Butler couched his ideas in a novel, and used semi-autobiographical fiction as a mere vehicle for his ideas. Neither is this bad; it is done often, and often successfully. Many books are vehicles for ideas. The problem with The Way of All Flesh is, first, that Butler (via his narrator or protagonist) often resorts to lecturing us or pondering to us, and neither the narrator nor Ernest is as interesting as Howard Roark. So that's problem #2. Books that do this successfully don't have to lecture (much), and they create excellent pieces of fiction that happen to have a purpose, rather than being an article that happens to be couched in fiction. The Way of All Flesh is the latter. Butler's characters all served a purpose, and it made them dull or predictable. They were chess pieces, being moved in order to teach us something, in an obvious way, and they weren't even that interesting. At least if you're going to lecture us, make fascinating characters; it cushions the blow of the paltry storyline that serves as the facade for your lecture.The novel isn't irredeemable, of course. I thought it interesting how far back Butler traced the family's development, its rise to its plateau. Never mentioned after Ernest's grandfather left the house, it was fascinating to look back to the trajectory from great-grandparents to children, and the course that enlightenment took. It made me wonder if there was a seed of the cycle beginning again. And Butler is a good writer; I still would like to read more by him (perhaps something with less overt purpose). But ultimately, this just was a fine novel with a then-groundbreaking purpose. It is interesting comparing it to Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence -- another book that served as a social indictment of her era and society. Wharton was more subtle, and her characters were better developed and more carefully crafted. They were real, rounded, fleshed out. Butler did that somewhat with his characters, but he gave them back story; Wharton gave her characters life.I can see why it falls into the realm of literature, because it warrants respect if only for giving a dissenting voice to an era not often challenged. But as for being the actual best literature? There are better options.

  • Chad
    2019-02-16 11:39

    I enjoyed Butler’s semi-autobiographical novel far more than Sons And Lovers. (And much more than A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man. Was there some requirement that turn-of-the-century novelists from the British isles write such a work?) Although written some 30 years earlier, I found it much more accessible to the modern reader. Framing the entire story as a second-hand account from someone who was occasionally involved in the plot but in general was told about things long after the fact helps, I believe. While it discusses weighty matters, the book is full of wit that seems fresh today. It is no surprise that Butler could not publish this during his lifetime; while much of what would have shocked the Victorians is commonplace now, few people would like to see themselves in the novel’s antagonists, as is inevitable. The first two thirds of the book are one of the greatest primers on what not to do as a parent, teacher, or other guardian of a child ever written. While I disagree with some of Butler’s philosophy and theology, he certainly anticipated postmodernism by more than half a century.My only complaint is that the last tenth or so of the novel is quite weak. Perhaps I am missing something powerful, but to my interpretation it slowly peters out without anything noteworthy happening. The postscript in particular tells me nothing at all. Anyone who seriously wishes to be a good parent, teacher, or clergyman should read this critically and with a constant eye to their own thoughts and behaviors.

  • Stephanie
    2019-02-02 15:24

    I wasn't familiar with Samuel Butler prior to borrowing this book from the library, but it makes me want to dig up some of his plays. This book is an autobiography that tells the story of the Pontifex family culminating on the focus of Ernest. Butler spends the entire book mocking Victorian Era behaviors for their hypocrisy. Ernest has spent his life with some intolerable characters {namely his totally weird and self-absorbed parents}, and Butler examines what that has done to the outcome of his life.There are some absolutely awful characters in this book. However, it all sets up to make Ernest the way he is thanks to a very strict and weird upbringing. His mother was by far my least favorite if only because she seemed so incredibly dull and empty inside.I'm not sure this book is for everyone. It gets unforgivably dry in certain parts, but Butler quickly makes up for it with some snide comment making fun of his friends. Additionally, there is very little frilly language here. Butler is very to the point and spares the reader too many tangents. There are certainly a number within the book, but they are all funny and usually worth reading. There needs to be some familiarity with the Victorian Era or else you may be lost. It's good. Slow, but very good. I enjoyed Butler's sense of humor and his scathing review of the era for what it was.

  • Dan
    2019-02-10 11:27

    At its best the humor in this book really reminded me of Middlemarch, which is high praise. I really love the Victorian use of understatement to highlight absurdity and Butler is frequently masterful in this regard. It was sometimes embarrassing to be reading this on the train, because I'd be giggling so much.That said, where this book falls short, even at its best, is that while Eliot seemed genuinely fond of most of her characters, Butler's comedy is almost always the comedy of contempt. He seemed to hold pretty much everyone in contempt including himself (the book is semi-autobiographical). What comes across in Middlemarch as poking fun at people with hints of self deprecation comes across in WOAF as naked loathing.The book also loses a star for the comedy drying up toward the end. In the last 150 pages of the book, I frequently felt like Homer Simpson watching Garrison Keillor. "Stupid book! Be more funny!"

  • Andrew
    2019-01-24 11:20

    This is one of those books that doesn't seem to be as widely read as it once was. I'm reminded a little of Of Human Bondage-- our hero-of-a-sort, Ernest Pontifex, spends a lot of time hunting for a god that isn't there, and while his end circumstances are pretty far from ideal, he's at least stepped out of his doll's house, and that's something.Sidenote: it's honestly pretty weird to think that Butler himself believed that this book would so damage his reputation that he didn't get it published in his lifetime-- it seems pretty innocuous to the modern reader, but there's a reason the word "Victorian" typically doesn't have positive connotations vis-à-vis society, morality, etc.

  • John
    2019-02-07 13:19

    The novel traces the development of the Pontifex family over four generations. Traits are handed down. Ernest the hero of the book, an outcast of conventional society, is the most self fulfilled and materially successful of all the Pontifexes. He ensures that his own children are not brought up by a Pontifex – there is too much at stake – he bears the scars of a Pontifex childhood! I enjoyed reading this but the author does not have the easiest of writing styles.