The Way of All Flesh

Samuel Butler

Samuel Butler (1835-1902), a first-rate poet, novelist and metaphysician, was the principal antagonist of Victorianism and the Victorian (Evangelical) Church, and is remembered for his 1872-satirical, utopian fantasy, his masterpiece, “Erewhon” (an anonym for “Nowhere”, which is a play on the word “utopia” which, in Greek, means “no place”), but, most of all, he is remembered for his lesser work, The Way of All Flesh (WAF), which he dared not publish until shortly before his death. It is a patently autobiographical account of a “happy and God-fearing childhood”, which, in reality, was “misery and torment”.

The lead character, Ernest Pontifax, gives us an inside (and outside) view of Evangelical Victorianism in the 1800’s. His parents were “bullies, hypocrites, moral blackmailers, like most of their peers”. If you are interested in learning more about the oppressive customs at the height of Calvinistic religions, you will enjoy this book. If you have already put these stodgy mores behind you, you don’t need it. Butler detested his parents’ force-feeding of Christian orthodoxy upon him, as the letter of the tenets often defied the spirit and stifled independent thinking and logic. He came to view those of faith as having no more morals than those without it, turning him to logic, where he remained.