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The Way of All Flesh

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  8,362 ratings  ·  465 reviews
Written between 1873 and 1884 and published posthumously in 1903, The Way of All Flesh is regarded by some as the first twentieth-century novel. Samuel Butler's autobiographical account of a harsh upbringing and troubled adulthood shines an iconoclastic light on the hypocrisy of a Victorian clerical family's domestic life. It also foreshadows the crumbling of nineteenth-ce ...more
Paperback, 315 pages
Published August 11th 2004 by Dover Publications (first published 1903)
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Average rating 3.61  · 
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 ·  8,362 ratings  ·  465 reviews

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Feb 16, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Chavelli Sulikowska
May 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
Why is this novel not a better known classic? Granted it is slow and not much happens in terms of an excitable story. And the characters are not exactly endearing. It is altogether very ordinary. But this is the genius in it. I am sure this is why he is not up there on the lists with Hardy, Dickens, Austen or Eliot.

Butler does not over embellish his plot, nor create exuberant colourful characters. He is interested in exposing and probing into every day Victorian society. He is unapologetic in h
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
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 b
Moses Kilolo
Mar 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 03, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Feb 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
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

classic reverie
Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh was mentioned in a book I was reading some years ago and I marked it "to read" but my interest was again peaked last year while reading Christopher Morley's Parnassus on Wheels which is packed with novels and authors due to the main character there peddles used books. I have never read Butler and had no idea about this book except the title seemed risque but I found this story to be thought provoking look at family and religion which was published posthumousl ...more
Oct 28, 2018 rated it it was ok
Honestly, this was pretty aggravating. It suffers the most criminal defect: it's plain boring. The characters aren't unique enough to make me care.

It's narrated by Mr. Overton, who's friends with the Pontifex family. The first third is a dry breakdown of the past three or four generations of the Pontifex family and how they fit into their local community (or don't), and how Mr. Overton has a thing for Alethea Pontifex.

Didn't care.

The next two-thirds are about Ernest Pontifex, who is Alethea's n
MJ Nicholls
Another entertaining Victorian novel where the solution to existential and familial misery lies in inheriting a fortune from your long-dead auntie.
Sep 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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 pro ...more
Family drama set in Victorian times. Money seems to be the great denominator and the damage a family can do. Can't say any of the characters with the exception of Overton actually endeared themselves. from the Boxall/Guardian lists.
Simon Mcleish
Apr 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Alex Lee
Aug 24, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, 2014
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
Dec 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics
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
Mar 31, 2013 rated it it was ok
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.
Jun 21, 2013 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Courtney H.
Mar 06, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Apr 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
I read this because it was mentioned in E.M. Forster's A Room With A View, and I wanted to know why he had done so. It is known as a book that challenged not only the idea of the Victorian home and parenting, but also the Church of England, its practices and dogma in the face of evolutionary theory. These two on their own made the book interesting enough, but there is also a vague suggestion of the main character, Earnest Pontifex, having a not so acceptable sexuality (but as this was published ...more
May 15, 2009 rated it really liked it

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
Nov 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 06, 2015 rated it liked it
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
The Way of All Flesh is a sharp social commentary on the age the author lived through, told in the space of three generations of one family. It's brisk and farcical throughout yet along the way Butler sets out some painful confrontations between father and son. This psychological realism puts forward a depressing account of family life and the bourgeois pressures of keeping one’s "station" stable across the generations. Butler uses the learned voice of the protagonist's kindly, bachelor uncle to ...more
Patrice Sartor
Feb 16, 2013 marked it as gave-up-on
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
Jim Boswell
Feb 28, 2010 rated it liked it
This was an interesting book that I feel speaks a little to my life story. At times, I was able to identify quite well with some of the religious apprehension the protagonist, Earnest Pontifex, has throughout his life. It is comforting to read that people at the turn of the century had the same questions about life as we do today despite such different circumstances. While this is a thought-provoking read, it is a dense, rather dull read and I found myself reading something lighter simultaneousl ...more
Sep 19, 2011 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this a lot. The sarcasm is pretty heavy but I think it fits in pretty well with the attitudes of myself and peers.

I'd recommend this if you are interested in English culture (late 1800s?) _and_ enjoy hearing an author totally mock society. The first few chapters had me in stitches a few times, really funny stuff. Although there are a few fun turns, the story drags on for a while after that (as these books do) and then it has a happy ending (as these books do).
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For 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 a

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