Published in 1903, a year after Butler's death, this novel is a thinly disguised account of his own childhood, and youth in the bosom of a Christian family. With irony, wit and, sometimes, rancour, he attacked contemporary values and beliefs.
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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