The Way of All Flesh (English Library) Paperback – 23 Feb 2006
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I am the enfant terrible of literature and science. If I cannot, and I know I cannot, get the li....
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Top Customer Reviews
I find this a joyful and hopeful book. The message to me was that there are no disasters in life except to lose our autonomy and live according to someone else's ideals.
It is a book I think should be read by every young person struggling to find their raison d'etre, hampered by the see saw between guilt and rejection which marks our independence from our parents.
Not dated at all. Great stuff for a thoughtful holiday read.
Still, the flaws exist and the potential reader should be warned of their existence. It's difficult to read, certainly, and extremely slow to get going. The story of the hero's ancestry undoubtedly adds depth to the book, but it also slows it down considerably so that in the early sections you may lose the will to read on.
This problem is compounded by Butler's style. Though he is much less prolix than most 19th century writers and writes good descriptive passages, the sparsity of dialogue makes the book more monotonous than it could have been, the whole story being told purely through the narrator's words, never those of the actual participants in the story. Having said that, the distance this creates between the reader and many of the characters is no doubt intentional on Butler's part, at least to some degree. It does however make you empathise less with Ernest, at least in the first half of the book.
Ernest's journey from conservatism to liberalism is heavily autobiographical, as are the portraits of his family. This should be borne in mind when looking at the conclusion of the book. Ernest (and Butler) end up alone - in a place where no one else is intellectually. Their positions are not always consistent, but that makes this work all the more truthful, for few of us really are, particularly those like Butler who struggled to reject the whole apparatus of recieved wisdom and think as if for the first time. If Ernest is damaged in the process, and never entirely escapes from the mind-set he was raised in, then he is in good company. Think of the ending of Huck Finn, where Huck returns to his old life.Read more ›
Whatever else this book is, it does not qualify as a novel because the plot is only an excuse for Butler to put out his views on dozens of moral, philosophical, scientific and artistic ideas and topics - The Way of All Flesh suggested by his brilliant choice of title. There were passages at which I laughed out loud, and others that superbly deconstruct some of life's familiar set pieces. Elsewhere Butler simply dissolves into a rant, or strays off the point.
The plot concerns Ernest, born the son of a priggish minister and his weak wife, his childhood at home, his schooling and education at Cambridge. He is ordained, imprisoned, married (to a bigamist drunkard), inherits and finally finds happiness as a writer. It's all too much, and the plot machinery doesn't engage properly in the second half of the book. The device of having the narrator act as a central character does a lot of damage to pace and credibility.
However, the plot is not really important. Instead Butler gives out a stream of witty and thoughtful consciousness. He is very, very good at exposing how the weak prey upon the weaker. Anyone who works in a major corporation, or similar, will recognise instantly the behaviour of Ernest's parents as they try to keep him in his place. And their letters to Ernest could easily be modern internal memos. Butler has a very sharp eye and ear for uncovering and delightfully exposing humbug. Unfortunately, he doesn't always know when enough is enough and a thorough editing would have made the text much sharper.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Ernest Pontifex' life and thoughts bear some not inconsiderable resemblance to my own. There are, therefore, bound to be moments both when I smile smugly to myself and when I... Read morePublished 1 month ago by JB
Love this book - would say it's a cross between Dickens, Jane Austen and Henry Fielding.Published 2 months ago by Purchaser
old fashioned story, bit slow but gives you good insight in family lifes in 19th century EnglandPublished 11 months ago by laros76
An impressive reading of a classic which would be a labour to read for oneself, as well as a crushing indictment of the way many children were brought up and schooled at this... Read morePublished 15 months ago by Jo Anderson
Now no more than a literary curiosity, as so often with scandalous books. He creates characters only to use as cock shies, His muddled attempts at a philosophy to live by seem... Read morePublished 20 months ago by T. Allen
Life is a complex of forces unplanned and in intended. Ernest gets through with a success his father failed to achieve.Published 23 months ago by arboroff
all human life is hear and well written with realistic overtones of human moral values in a changing climatePublished on 25 July 2014 by Bevil Pemberton