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The Way of All Flesh

3.61 of 5 stars 3.61  ·  rating details  ·  5,267 ratings  ·  269 reviews
This novel is largely autobiographical, detailing the familial strife which characterized Butler's life and often figures in his work. Ernest, the novel's hero, has an unhappy schooling and little success in romance; his sadness is exacerbated by his father, Theobald Pontifex, a bullying clergyman. An unfortunate marriage makes a happy adult life appear impossible, until E ...more
Published November 16th 2000 by Adamant Media Corporation (first published 1903)
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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 ...more
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
There's a poem by Kahlil Gibran which goes like this:

"Your children are not your children.They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.They come through you but not from you,And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts.You may house their bodies but not their souls,For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.You may strive to be like t
Anne Hawn Smith
I've read this book at least 5 times and I always come back to it. It has seemed to have something unique to say to me no matter what age I am when I read it. I first read it in my Freshman year of college and there were very few of us who really liked it. I couldn't understand why at the time, but I think I do now.

The book is very introspective and if you are looking for some kind of action or plot, this isn't the book for you. The main action takes place in the character's minds. Butler takes
The Way of All Flesh is the anti-Victorian novel. In the clergyman’s house the daughters play cards to determine which of them will get to marry the single suitor lured in through the front door (view spoiler), there is no weeping round the death bed (view spoiler) ...more
I think I would've mistakenly thought this book overly pedantic had I read it ten years ago. But now I find it quite wise. Butler seemed to sense a number of the larger changes that were on the horizon in this autobiographical coming of age story. He saw the individual gaining a new economic footing as the old, rigid class system of England began to dissipate during the mid 19th Century. And at different times it almost feels like you're reading a work of sociology, not an impeccably written wor ...more
I mean, yes it was a harsh upbringing, Butler, but did you have to take it out on us, the readers? I would have gladly taken a beating for you if you had just shortened the book by about 400 goddamned pages.

Were you supposed to be Ernest? So after all that, you abandoned your own kids to explore the world? Ugh. True, you married a prostitute, so you scored a few points there with me, and you forgave your batshit mother, but you abandoned your own kids after suffering through a shitty childhood.
Marvin chester
Flesh is what governs the soul. Much of the book contains a scathing, satirical appraisal and condemnation of church, clergy, christianity, and the hypocrisy, dogma and deliberate self-delusion of religion. Pretty outrageous for 1884.

"the story that Christ died, came to life again and was carried from earth through clouds into the heavens could not be accepted ... He (Ernest) would probably have seen it years ago if he had not been hoodwinked by people who were paid for hoodwinking him." p.293

Sep 20, 2010 Veronica rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Veronica by: Modern Library's 100 Best Novels
What a pleasant surprise this book turned out to be. I must admit I wasn’t looking forward to reading a book written in the 1800′s and published in 1903 about repression and family life in mid-1800′s England.

This is a book to be read with focus as much could be lost without careful reading. One can certainly not steamroll through this novel without missing out on great humor from its marvelous author, Samuel Butler. Each page requires longer than usual time for reading, however, the payback is w
Moses Kilolo
After reading Theodore Dreiser's introduction to this book, I put it back to the library shelf and consciously staid away for well over two months. I had my reasons, but one of them was not that I didn't want to 'sink my mental teeth' into this, one of the finest and simple yet complex literary pieces. My main reason was Dreiser himself. It stands that one of the books that had a most profound effect on me was Sister Carrie, one among Dreiser's masterpieces. If he, - Mr. Dreiser, at whatever tim ...more
Simon Mcleish
Originally published on my blog here in April 1999.

Samuel Butler's posthumously published novel has been described as the first twentieth century novel (it was in fact completed in the 1880s though not published until the early 1900s). In its iconoclasm, it certainly marks a break with the mainstream of the nineteenth century, and foreshadows the way that the twentieth century has seen criticism and questioning of just about every conventional value.

Butler's style and language are, to my mind, f
Witty, sarcastic attack on the institutions of Victorian England published in 1903 (but written decades earlier). Most of the humor still holds up, and I really enjoyed most of the book. I don't seek out novels of that period as a rule, because I generally dislike their prolixity and find their themes dated and uninteresting. This is an exception. It's on the 5 side of 4 stars.


I found the description of how alcohol destroys one poverty-stricken female character to be annoying,
Slight spoiler

I first read this years ago and it affected me deeply- and the best parts still do, though I now find it a very uneven work. As I see it (after recently rereading his Erewhon books) is that Butler was a divided character: he was a good writer who could tell an entertaining story, but he was also a bitter man who wanted to be didactic - and he couldn't manage to do it without the narrative grinding to a halt at intervals. This is a very good book which could be edited into a great
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
When this book came up as the October selection for the Classics Book Club (a "real life" book club here in Toronto rather than an online one, run by Chris of Eclectic Indulgence), I was pretty pleased because it meant getting around to reading a book I've had on my shelf for about fifteen years. The reason I had this - which, let's face it, isn't one of the more famous Classics you've heard of - is rather silly but I'll tell you all the same. I grew up watching A Room With a View - I've proba ...more
Greg Deane
Butler's narrator rarely asserts his identity, and it would be easy to miss his name, Overton. But in fact he is a very valuable actor in the life of his godson, who is ever present as a safety net ready to save his godson, Ernest Pontifex, by lending him money that comes out of the inheritance due to him from his well-disposed aunt. Old John Pontifex, a simple man who earned a private fortune, bequeaths both a capacity for accumulating wealth and for enjoying the things he earns. But these capa ...more
Patrice Sartor
Feb 16, 2013 Patrice Sartor marked it as gave-up-on  ·  review of another edition
I hereby vow to myself to never again pick up random titles in the Classics section of a used bookstore simply because I have a credit at the store that is burning a hole in my pocket, and because I live 30 minutes away and do not wish to return any time soon.

That's how I picked this up, some years ago, and after only a few pages have decreed it not something I wish to read. If that makes me less of an intellectual, I embrace my shallowness.

If this was a movie, and I watched it in my home theate
This novel had me at the description of the wallpaper (a mass of roses, in want of bees). Of course a child would imagine bees flitting from flower to flower, or crawling down the wall! There is a delight in the verbal descriptions of visual things, as well as the unfolding of the story of the Pontifex family and their generational flaws. Sure, there are PLENTY of digressions and tangents, but you get that with this particular era of writing. Although some might consider it stuffy (you have to d ...more
At its best the humor in this book really reminded me of Middlemarch, which is high praise. I really love the Victorian use of understatement to highlight absurdity and Butler is frequently masterful in this regard. It was sometimes embarrassing to be reading this on the train, because I'd be giggling so much.

That said, where this book falls short, even at its best, is that while Eliot seemed genuinely fond of most of her characters, Butler's comedy is almost always the comedy of contempt. He se
I liked it as much as I liked Erewhon. I didn't like Erewhon. This one started OK, but after the first third I lost interest. I think by that time you knew what was going to happen in the entire book, and that's pretty much what happened very few surprises. I never cared about anyone in the book. No one with a child seemed to care about them in the least. Oh, and the narrator seemed creepy to me.
Το "Way of all Flesh" του Σάμιουελ Μπάτλερ είναι σίγουρα ένα βιβλίο που επιδέχεται πολλές ερμηνείες και είμαι σίγουρος πως δεν είμαι ικανός να το καταλάβω σε βάθος μα αυτό που με άγγιξε από αυτό το βιβλίο ήταν πρώτα από όλα το ανελέητο καυστικό "χιούμορ" ή μάλλον καλύτερα η ειρωνεία του για όλους και για όλα. Η ιστορία αυτη έχει να κάνει με τρεις γενιές της οικογένειας Πόντιφεξ, τον Τζορτζ, τον γιο του Θίομπαλντ και το γιο του τελευταίου Έρνεστ που είναι και ο πρωταγνωνιστής αυτής της ιστορίας δ ...more
Every now and then, the narrator of this long, long story refers to impending doom in the life of our hero. The anticipation of this event is what kept me going through this book. Unfortunately, the anticipation proved too much - the tragedy though bad was hardly satisfying and our hero made it through not too badly.

All in all, I found The Way of All Flesh long and dreary, strung together by various dei ex machina. It was tough to understand let alone identify with the lead character (perhaps th
Leo Zeilig
Intentionally I haven't read any reviews on goodread for Butler's only novel. I found the book fascinating and exceptionally modern. The narrator, a powerful force from the start, is only revealed later in the story as the protagonist's peculiar champion. I was delighted by the attack on the church, written without restraint but then disappointed by the conservative, class-bound conclusions that confirm Victorian values rather than seriously challenge them. A novel of contradictions, but that de ...more
This one sort of recalled Of Human Bondage, another autobiographical novel where the protagonist bottoms out for a good chunk of the middle portion before finally (and predictably) ascending to a state of success/contentment.

I think I'm finally figuring out that these early 20th-century bildungsromans aren't my cup of tea. Even when engagingly written, like this or Maugham's, and even when presenting philosophies with which I agree, they remain too sterile and (usually) bloated for me to greatl
Alex Lee
Butler may not have adhered to any school of thought but I found in this a strange quasi-mixture of both existentialist and naturalist thinking. The damnest thing that Butler has done is to trace lineal history, as some kind of psychoanalytic background, in order to create a mesh that would explain the particularity of the main character Ernest's upbringing.

In fact, the climax of the work, if there is indeed one, comes in pretty late when Ernest is forced into prison and nearly dies because he i
Mike Moore
Yet another semi-autobiographical novel detailing the life of a young boy of uncertain genius and the disadvantages of his upbringing: his boorish and insensitive parents, the pointless inadequacy of his education, the awkwardness of his sexual awakening, blah blah blah.

Coming hot on the heals of other versions of this story (Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Sons and Lovers), I think I can be forgiven for a bit of eye rolling at themes that have long since passed into the realm of cliche.
I wasn't familiar with Samuel Butler prior to borrowing this book from the library, but it makes me want to dig up some of his plays. This book is an autobiography that tells the story of the Pontifex family culminating on the focus of Ernest. Butler spends the entire book mocking Victorian Era behaviors for their hypocrisy. Ernest has spent his life with some intolerable characters {namely his totally weird and self-absorbed parents}, and Butler examines what that has done to the outcome of his ...more
Courtney H.
The Way of All Flesh is a scathing indictment on Victorian middle-class society, its religion, and its religious practices. The ideas contained in the novel are worth considering, and the narrator is certainly gives thoughtful voice to many of the extremes of the time. And one cannot fault Butler for wanting to indict his parents, who subjected him to the same sort of physical, mental, and emotional assaults that Ernest endured. The problem was that Butler couched his ideas in a novel, and used ...more

I enjoyed Butler’s semi-autobiographical novel far more than Sons And Lovers. (And much more than A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man. Was there some requirement that turn-of-the-century novelists from the British isles write such a work?) Although written some 30 years earlier, I found it much more accessible to the modern reader. Framing the entire story as a second-hand account from someone who was occasionally involved in the plot but in general was told about things long after the fact
David Alexander
Reading Samuel Butler's autobiographical novel The Way of All Flesh, I was immediately confronted very early by a somewhat antagonistic view not just of Victorian society and Victorian Christianity, but of extrapolations from it to judgments about Christianity in general. However, at the same time I was confronted by a humane, humorous and reflective voice. I should clarify that Butler's position toward Christianity in the novel is complex and not like "new atheists" in tone or venom. For instan ...more
The Way of All Flesh Samuel Butler (1903) #12

May 21, 2006

This was one of those books that took forever to read. I have been pretty busy as of late, but there was something about this one that made it a slow reader.
Finished in 1884, this book was published posthumously in 1903, which in my opinion disqualifies this book from being in the Modern Library list (although we have seen other examples of disqualifiers with other books, so I will look the other way for the time being). I feel that twen
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[For the author of Hudibras, see .]

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, a
More about Samuel Butler...
Erewhon (Erewhon , #1) Erewhon Revisited (Erewhon , #2) Erewhon, Erewhon Revisited The Note Books of Samuel Butler The Odyssey of Homer

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“Sensible people get the greater part of their own dying done during their own lifetime” 25 likes
“Young people have a marvelous faculty of either dying or adapting themselves to circumstances. Even if they are unhappy - very unhappy - it is astonishing how easily they can be prevented from finding it out, or at any rate from attributing it to any other cause than their own sinfulness.

To parents who wish to lead a quiet life I would say: Tell your children that they are naughty - much naughtier than most children. Point to the young people of some acquaintances as models of perfection and impress your own children with a deep sense of their own inferiority. You carry so many more guns than they do that they cannot fight you. This is called moral influence, and it will enable you to bounce them as much as you please. They think you know and they will not have yet caught you lying often enough to suspect that you are not the unworldly and scrupulously truthful person which you represent yourself to be; nor yet will they know how great a coward you are, nor how soon you will run away if they fight you with persistency and judgment. You keep the dice and throw them both for your children and yourself. Load them then, for you can easily manage to stop your children from examining them. Tell them how singularly indulgent you are; insist on the incalculable benefit you conferred upon them, firstly in bringing them into the world at all, but more particularly in bringing them into it as your own children rather than anyone else's... You hold all the trump cards, or if you do not you can filch them; if you play them with anything like judgment you will find yourselves heads of happy, united, God-fearing families... True, your children will probably find out all about it some day, but not until too late to be of much service to them or inconvenience to yourself.”
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