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The Way of All Flesh (English Library) Paperback – 23 Feb 2006

4.3 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Impression edition (23 Feb. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140430121
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140430127
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.5 x 20.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 509,969 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

I am the enfant terrible of literature and science. If I cannot, and I know I cannot, get the li....


Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Way before his time, Samuel Butler examines the relationship between parents and children, between man and his conscience, between the young and social mores. This sounds turgid but it is not. It is a little soap opera, based around the life of a young man who makes mistakes, his loss of innocence and the formation of his own judgement in spite of all he has been taught to believe, the story of us all in fact. Butler is the young man, the story was based on his own experience, and you feel the originality, the eccentricity of the man. He is ironic, he is courageous, he is his own man formed by the interaction of character and upbringing where both are human and fautly.

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.
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By A Customer on 4 April 2002
Format: Paperback
...this is an absolutely brilliant book, although undoubtedly highly flawed. However, though it has flaws it triumphantly rises above them.
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.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Few if any works of English literature paint a more painfully honest picture of the damage caused by parental selfishness, mistreatment and misunderstanding of children. For this alone Butler's classic novel deserves a five-star rating. But the book, unlike some Victorian novels, is, in addition, full of common sense wisdom that makes it strikingly relevant today. This Kindle edition is nicely put together with some pleasant art work at the start of a number of chapters.
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Format: Paperback
Not really a novel, more a series of notes and observations on life wrapped up in the story of a boy growing to manhood. Lots here to mine if you are, or intend to be, a writer.

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.
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