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The Way of All Flesh (Modern Library)by Samuel Butler
Synopses & Reviews
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."
"If the house caught on fire, the Victorian novel I would rescue from the flames would be not Vanity Fair or Bleak House but Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh. 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, which are not the horrors of the Gothic novel but of family life." William Maxwell, New Yorker
"One of the great books of the world....Butler is the only man known to history who has immortalized and actually endeared himself by parricide and matricide long drawn out. He slew the good name (and it was such a very good name!) of his father and mother so reasonably, so wittily, so humorously, and even in a ghastly way so charitably, that he convinced us that he was engaged in an execution and not in a murder." George Bernard Shaw, Pen Portraits and Revisions, 1932
"[Butler] uses ordinary conversational English idiom, managing to seem perfectly at ease in it, and continually showing how rich in expressive turns and formulations and apt and vivid words it really is....This is the perfection of what one loosely thinks of as the 'plain' style and which of course is not 'plain' at all, but fashioned with hard labor and the most sensitive and resourceful skill. In writing Butler attained that 'grace after the flesh' for which Ernest pined in vain." P. N. Furbank
A semi-autobiographical novel examines the complex relationships that exist in the Pontifex family as they reflect the hypocrisy of middle-class life in Victorian England.
"One of the time bombs of all literature" (V.S. Pritchett). Written in the 1880s and not published until 1903 after Butler's death, the semi-autobiographical story of the Pontifex family savages the bourgeois Victorian family and its values.
About the Author
SAMUEL BUTLER (1835-1902), the freethinking iconoclast whom George Bernard Shaw deemed "the greatest English writer of the latter half of the nineteenth century, also satirized Victorian society in Erewhon (1872) and Erewhon Revisited (1901). His work strongly influenced such writers as Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, and James Joyce.
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