Samuel Butler (4 or 5 December 1835 – 18 June 1902) was an iconoclastic Victorian-era English author who published a variety of works. Two of his most famous pieces are the Utopian satire Erewhon and a semi-autobiographical novel published posthumously, The Way of All Flesh.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Inside This Book(Learn More)
Browse and search another edition of this book.
I have to disagree with Tony, I'm afraid. I thought Erewhon was very interesting and very amusing at times too. This was my first brush with Samuel Butler, so I did not really know what to expect, but despite the somewhat slow beginning (going into quite a bit of detail about how he reaches Erewhon), when he finally reached the lost civilisation, things really began to pick up. The situation in which the narrator finds himself is at first curious, but quickly becomes outright bizarre. The values of the Erewhonians seem alien to us (sickness is punished by imprisonment, crime is merely frowned upon, beauty and manners are equated with morality) so that we are presented with a people who are both detestable and fascinating. At the same time, however, the Victorians who first read Butler's book would have come to realise the parallels between Erewhonian culture that of Victorian Britain, and it is the satire of the novel that is really interesting. The absurd institutions mentioned - the Musical Banks, the Colleges of Unreason, the Museum of the Machines - and the hypocritical nature of the Erewhonian religion, all would have reminded readers of their own world. For instance, at the Colleges of Unreason, the hypothetical language is taught, and the reader wonders why people would learn a language that has no use outside of the colleges. Then they realise that the same could be said for languages like Latin and ancient Greek. These are languages that are irrelevant to today, but are still studied in higher seats of learning. In Erewhon, Butler created a satire of his own society that is both enlightening and entertaining. The characters are hardly very rounded and the story is not particularly filled out, but that hardly seems to matter. What Butler has to say is interesting, even now, and the way he says it is a delight to read. As E. M. Forster wrote concerning the author, "He wanted to write a serious book not too seriously". There were even times when his narrative had me giggling quitely to myself. I would very much recommend this book.Read more ›
This is an odd, engaging book, which uses its hero's travels through the land of Erewhon as the launching-place for a series of satirical volleys against the mid-to-late Victorian society in which the author dwelt.
The story's narrator, Higgs, is an adventurer with an entrepreneurial bent, seeking - just as the author himself had sought - to better his fortunes in a far-flung part of the British Empire. His quest leads him to seek to penetrate the high mountain range that looms over the sheepfold where he works, in search of land to farm or gold to mine. So it is that he sets off one day, accompanied by his untrustworthy `native guide'.
So far, so conventional, but this is merely the preface to the meat of Butler's book, Higgs's discovery of the land of Erewhon and the extraordinary people that inhabit it, people whose ideas, on closer examination turn out to be satirical reflections of the ideas Butler could see about him in Britain. Thus for Erewhonians, to be ill is a sin deserving of the severest punishment, while criminal and similar wrongs are seen as we see medical matters, ailments that can be ameliorated with the application of the appropriate treatment ... the treatment for Erewhonians being visits to the local `straightener'. In condemning the Erewhonian's unthinking and unreasonable attitude to physical infirmity, Butler equally condemns Victorian attitudes to moral weakness
An equally neat inversion is to be found in Erewhon's `musical banks', beautiful buildings where Erewhonians pick up a few pieces of the, ostensibly revered, musical currency in order to be able to show them off, paying the institution of the banks lip-service (or, rather, wallet-service) much as some Victorians paid lip-service to the institution of the Church. Later chapters of the book go on to attack the Universities of Unreason, the Erewhonians' notion of the world of the Unborn and notions of animal and even vegetable rights. One extended passage, ostensibly taken from The Erewhonian `Book of the Machines' is a witty and cunningly-argued warning against the inevitable `Rise of the Machines', using Darwinian logic and instances of what might now be seen as Dawkinsian `extended phenotypic effects'.
The product of such elements is a provocative and entertaining work. But it is far from perfect. Butler is too wrapped-up in the ideas he wishes to expound - some of which had already formed the basis for his earlier pamphlets and publications - to be over-concerned with character. The notional hero of the satire, Hicks, lacks the psychological depth of Swift's Gulliver: the chief motivations for his actions are the desire for cash and the desire for self-preservation, with a few hasty nods toward romantic interest. One certainly cannot imagine him experiencing any of the moments of self-revelation undergone by Gulliver. Other characters fare even worse, being drawn so sketchily that it is hard to remember anything about them beyond their names.
Again, Butler is so keen to satirise, that he often turns on his own ideas, layering one level of satire on another, so one is sometimes unsure whether he is writing of certain Erewhonian attitudes with approbation or contempt.
While it is clearly linked with Swift's `Gulliver's Travels', the work is perhaps more closely allied to Thomas More's Utopia. Not only are the stories' titles both references to `Nowhere', both tales are also involved more closely with the idea of ideas rather than with character. More's lack of characterisation can be excused on the grounds that his work predated the arrival of the modern novel, Butler has no such mitigation to advance. Nonetheless, the book is filled with original and entertaining notions, something enormously refreshing in an age which can feel stuffed with ideas that are merely received or recycled.Read more ›
Following in the tradition of Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels," the English novelist, essayist, and iconoclast Samuel Butler published "Erewhon" privately in 1872. The title is an anagram of "Nowhere," which is the literal translation of the word "Utopia," the title by which Thomas More's 1516 work has commonly become known. "Erewhon" is arguably the first anti-utopian or dystopian novel, anticipating the later and better known works such as Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" and George Orwell's "1984." Whereas More and other utopianists are primarily interested in attacking society's ills and making the world a better place, the anti-utopians engage primarily in either satire of the society in which they live or in making dire predictions about the dismal fate that awaits humanity. Butler is most decidedly in the former category, since he proves in not only "Erewhon" but also his more famous work, the semi-autobiographical novel, "The Way of All Flesh," that his main concern is in attacking the complacency and hypocrisy he saw infecting Victorian society. Like More's island of Utopia, Butler's Erewhon is a remote kingdom, not to be found on any map, which is discovered by the narrator of the novel (biographers of Butler have assumed it is modeled on a part of New Zealand, which anyone who has viewed the "Lord of the Rings" movies can attest has some spectacular landscapes). Cut off from the rest of the world, the citizens of Erewhon lives according to their own rules and dictates. Butler breaks from the tradition of creating an idealized world that goes back from More to Plato in favor of a more realistic society. In Butler's world there is still money, and both the rich and the poor still exist; there is even a monarchy in charge. It is when we notice strong parallels between Erewhon and the members of Victorian society that we start to see Butler's true purpose. Hypocrisy is rampant in Erewhom, where citizens think nothing of agreeing with things they do not believe in and their friends know that they are doing so. While the citizens pretend to worship deities that are the personification of lofty human qualities such as love, justice, and hope, they really worship a goddess, Ydrgun, and the Church of England is transformed into the sytem of "Musical Banks." As Butler hits his stride in this novel he creates a topsy-turvy world where illness is treated as a crime (there are no physicians in the country) and criminal behavior, such as theft, are seen as minor weaknesses in character. Unlike Francis Bacon's utopian work "The New Atlantis," where science was seen as the salvation of humanity that would correct all ills and provide all necessities, Butler's world has outlawed machinery because they might one day become the masters rather than the servants of humanity. Clearly Butler was no more enamored of the Industrial Revolution than he was of Victorian society. In many ways this is the section of "Erewhom" where Butler makes his most cogent arguments. It is also the point where the book's narrator, whose initial attitude of admiration turns to one of surprise, now beocmes one of condemnation as the eccentricities of the citizens of Erewhon are fully revealed. Ultimately, the shortcomings Butler sees in them are the same of which he accuses British society, politics, and religion. Because Butler is satirizing Victorian society his value to modern readers remains inferior to that of Huxley and Orwell, not to mention Edward Bellamy ("Looking Backward 2000-1887") and Yevgeny Zamyatin ("We"). However, in many ways "Erewhon" is a pivotal novel in the history of utopian literature, not only because of how it follows and breaks away from More's original work and how it sets the stage for what other forgotten writers of dystopian fiction, such as Alexander Bogdanov ("Red Star") and even Jack London ("The Iron Heel"). "Erewhon" remains one of those novels where its historical significance outweighs its literary appeal.Read more ›