Read The Way of All Flesh (The 100 Greatest Books Ever Written) by Samuel Butler Free Online
Book Title: The Way of All Flesh (The 100 Greatest Books Ever Written)|
The author of the book: Samuel Butler
Edition: The Easton Press
Date of issue: 1980
ISBN: No data
ISBN 13: No data
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 769 KB
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Reader ratings: 4.9
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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??
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Read information about the authorFor the author of Hudibras, see Samuel Butler.
Samuel Butler was an iconoclastic Victorian author who published a variety of works, including the Utopian satire Erewhon and the posthumous novel The Way of All Flesh, his two best-known works, but also extending to examinations of Christian orthodoxy, substantive studies of evolutionary thought, studies of Italian art, and works of literary history and criticism. Butler also made prose translations of The Iliad and The Odyssey which remain in use to this day.
See also: Samuel H. Butcher, Anglo-Irish classicist, who also undertook prose translations of Homer's works (in collaboration with Andrew Lang.