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The Way of All Flesh

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Paperback published by Modern Library (Random House Publishing Group)

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Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all time

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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Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all time

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."
Product Details
Paperback (448 pages)
Published: September 14, 1998
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Imprint: Modern Library
ISBN: 9780375752490
Other books bySamuel Butler
  • Life and Habit

    Life and Habit
    William Bateson claimed at the Darwin Centenary in 1909 that Samuel Butler (1835-1902) was 'the most brilliant and by far the most interesting of Darwin's opponents, whose works are at length emerging from oblivion.' Best remembered today as the author of the novels Erewhon and The Way of All Flesh, he also wrote on a range of subjects from translations of Homer to studies of evolutionary thought. In his Life and Habit (published in 1878) Butler contended that much of inheritance was based on habit making a feature ingrained, to the extent that it could pass between generations. However, he strongly contests Darwin's views on natural selection, and supports those of Lamarck - who he felt was unjustly overlooked in the scientific rush to acclaim Darwin - and of St George Mivart, whose On the Genesis of Species, published in 1871, was another blast against natural selection by a disenchanted Darwinist.

    Unconscious Memory

    Unconscious Memory
    "The only thing of which I am sure is, that the distinction between the organic and inorganic is arbitrary." So writes Samuel Butler is his work of biological philosophy, Unconscious Memory, where he presents his theories of the mind through the lens of his criticism of established scientific ideas.

    A First Year in Canterbury Settlement

    A First Year in Canterbury Settlement
    Samuel Butler (1835-1902) became famous with his satirical Utopian novel Erewhon, based on his experiences as a sheep farmer in New Zealand and published, initially anonymously, in 1872. This earlier book, published in London in 1863 while he was still abroad, is a compilation of his letters home. Having obtained a degree in Classics from Cambridge, Butler had left England in 1859 with generous funding from his father, who hoped that making his fortune in the colonies would cure his son's ambition to become an artist. Butler was highly successful in his farming enterprise, and his letters provide both financial details and information on the practicalities of animal husbandry, pasture management and colonial life. Butler also explored Canterbury and travelled to the Southern Alps, and describes vividly the landscapes, flora and fauna of South Island. This classic source for New Zealand history also sheds light on Butler's later work.

    God the Known and God the Unknown

    God the Known and God the Unknown
    Published in 1917, this volume is based on a series of articles published by Butler in the 1870s and revised by him prior to his death. Here Butler sets forth his conception of the divine, as a evolutionary force that encompasses all living things and tends toward ever-greater unity and self-awareness.

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  • When I was a small boy at the beginning of the century I remember an old man who wore knee-breeches and worsted stockings, and who used to hobble about the street of our village with the...

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