Matt's Reviews > Erewhon

Erewhon by Samuel Butler
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's review
Apr 16, 11

bookshelves: classics, new-zealand
Recommended for: those interested in 1800s-era satire
Read from January 06 to April 16, 2011 — I own a copy, read count: 1

I decided to read Erewhon because we were going to New Zealand, and I thought it appropriate to have read some its (outdated) literature. (This being said, I still have a couple of others NZ books to read.)

Erewhon is the "second great satire of the nineteeth century" (following Gulliver's Travels). It follows Higgs as he travels to and meets the Erewhonians and their bizarre double-standards and lack of reason. It is meant as satire against Victorian culture. The only problem with this is that much can be lost on an unsuspecting and unknowing reader (I think in particular of The Musical Banks--something that did not resonate with me).

Butler humorously treats religion, education, technology, diet, crowd mentality, criminal justice, currency, health, pregnancy--all skewed through the light (dark?) of a culture that sees logic in a backward way, against typical western mindsets. He crafts grand mythologies and prophets, provenances for the strange ways. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on machines, vegetarianism, and unreason.

I will admit it took me a fair amount to slog through it (my ancient mass market paperback with minute and fading text may partially be to blame).

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Select quotes:

Diet:
-- "What is the offence of a lamb that we should rear it, and tend it, and lull it into security, for the express purpose of killing it? Its offence is the misfortune of being something which society wants to eat, and which cannot defend itself." (81)
-- "Birds, beasts, fishes, have as full a right to live as long as they can unmolested by man, as man has to live unmolested by his neighbours." (166)

Religion:
-- "I have since met with many very godly people who have had a great knowledge of divinity, but no sense of the Divine" (109)
-- "Mention but the word divinity, and our sense of the Divine is clouded." (109)
-- "whenever any one ventured to differ from him, he referred the matter to the unseen power with which he alone was in direct communication, and the unseen power invariably assured him that he was right." (166)

Politics:
-- "A man's business ... is to think as his neighbours do, for Heaven help him if he thinks good what they count bad." (136)

Lifestyle:
-- "you ought by this time to have outgrown the barbarous habits of your ancestors. If, as you believe, you know better than they, you should do better." (167)
-- "there is no genius who is also not a fool, and no fool who is not also a genius" (136)
-- "an art is like a living organism--better dead than dying" (88)

Technology:
-- "How many men at this hour are living in a state of bondage to the machines?" (150)
-- "it is the machines which act upon man and make him man, as much as man who has acted upon and made the machines" (160)
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Reading Progress

01/06/2011 page 12 "Starting this, a reminder of New Zealand. I meant to read it before we went, but afterward is okay too."
04/14/2011 page 171 "Nearly finished. Gotta admit, I've been barely slogging through."
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