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Penguin Classics Erewhon [Paperback]

Samuel Butler , Peter Mudford
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 25 2006 Penguin English Library
Setting out to make his fortune in a far-off country, a young traveller discovers the remote and beautiful land of Erewhon, and is given a home among its extraordinarily handsome citizens. But their visitor soon discovers that this seemingly ideal community has its faults - here crime is treated indulgently as a malady to be cured, while illness, poverty and misfortune are cruelly punished, and all machines have been superstitiously destroyed after a bizarre prophecy. Can he survive in a world where morality is turned upside down? Inspired by Samuel Butler's years in colonial New Zealand, and by his reading of Darwin's "Origin of Species", Erewhon (1872) is a highly original, irreverent and humorous satire on conventional virtues, religious hypocrisy and the unthinking acceptance of beliefs.

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About the Author

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) was the son of a clergyman. He was educated at Shrewsbury and St John's College Cambridge and, after a disagreement with his father about his choice of career, left England to become a sheep farmer in New Zealand, where he stayed until 1864. On his return to England, he took up residence in Clifford's Inn where he stayed until his death. He began to study painting and worked at it for ten years, exhibiting occasionally at the Royal Academy. In 1872 he anonymously published Erewhon which was based on the letters he wrote to his father from New Zealand. This was followed by The Fair Haven, an attack on the Resurrection, making clear the religious skepticism which had turned Butler against a career in the church. In the years that followed, Butler wrote several works attacking contemporary scientific ideas, in particular Darwin's theory of natural selection. In 1881 he began to write books on art and travel, the first of these being Alps and Sanctuaries of Piedmont and the Canton Ticino. Around this time, he was also experimenting with musical composition and collaborated with Festing Jones on the oratorio entitled Narcissus. An interest in Homer led him to write lively translations of The Iliad and The Odyssey and he formed the theory that these two works were written by a woman. Butler's partly autobiographical work The Way of All Flesh was the result of many years' labor and appeared posthumously in 1903.

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First Sentence
If the reader will excuse me, I will say nothing of my antecedents, nor of the circumstances which led me to leave my native country; the narrative would be tedious to him and painful to myself. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Lawrance M. Bernabo HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Samuel Butler's 'Erewhon' is a tale of a simple shepherd who travels too far in his foreign country, (unnamed, but based on New Zealand), only to find another, hidden Country where the sick are imprisoned and the criminal are 'healed'. This previously unknown society is described in detail as to its workings, and seems irrational in its execution.
People you will meet in the travels and travails of this poor lost fellow are of various interesting sorts; including the straighteners, who are doctors for the criminally ill. Our shepherd, visits the musical bank, the College of Unreason, and in detail describes how the people of Erewhon dress and act.
The book was written, in part, to be a criticism of Victorian England, but really stands as a literary classic. Certainly provides amusing entertainment, it is also an interesting look at society in general. Highly recomended for C.S. Lewis and Tolkien fans, this book is indispensable as is the sequel, 'EREWHON REVISITED'.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Nowhere in particular April 25 2002
By A.J.
Format:Paperback
Samuel Butler does a neat balancing act with "Erewhon," a novel that is equal parts fictitious travelogue, philosophical tract, social/political/religious satire, and adventure story complete with a romantic subplot. The protagonist, a young Englishman named Higgs who is unsatisfied with employment prospects in his home country, moves to a distant colonized land where he takes a job as a shepherd. Beyond a mountain range there lie some mysterious lands that he would like to explore, and, setting out one day with a timid guide who later abandons him, he eventually gets to the other side of the peaks and finds himself in an isolated country named Erewhon.
One of the first things Higgs notes is that Erewhon is a few hundred years behind the times technologically. They have no modern mechanical conveniences, and when Higgs is discovered to own a watch, it is confiscated and he is put in prison. Later released and placed into the custody of a rich man named Mr. Nosnibor, Higgs learns all about the bizarre customs and beliefs of the Erewhonians.
In Erewhon, sickness is punishable by law and criminal acts are treated medically by people called "straighteners"; so, stealing a pair of socks is analogous to feeling a bit under the weather. The Erewhon banking system is a facade, as their money is worthless. The Erewhonians believe in an ethereal prenatal world where babies are given the (preferred) option not to be born into the mortal world. Their institutions of higher education, the Colleges of Unreason, teach conformity and resist originality and progress.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Greatest Accident of My Life June 20 2000
Format:Paperback
I was browsing the library and just happened to come across Erewhon. The picture on the cover of the book looked nice and it seemed like a nice novel about imaginary travels. I was in the mood for something adventurous, so I took it home and read it. It turned out to be one of the best books of my life, making me feel as if I'm not totally alone in the world with my opinions. Samuel Butler had a wonderful way of taking the society he lived in and disguising it in a satire. Sometimes you have to really search, but you'll see that it's still there. I'm probably sounding very confusing, so I'll have to give an example. The Musical Banks represent the Christian Church. This took me a while to figure out. The Musical Banks are large decorative buildings with many frills and much impressive architechture. Inside there is singing. You take your money into this bank and give it to the attendant, who will, in turn, give you a second type of currency. This second currency is completely useless, but you must carry it around and go to the bank often to have any respectibility in society. Many things take a while to soak in completely, but once you do you will find yourself jumping up and down and screaming "I got it I got it!" Or maybe I'm just slow---either way- this is a really great book that's well written. It can get dull at points when Butler begins to babble, but for the most part it's very interesting. It's 2:00 AM or something so if what I'm writing doesn't make sense, you'll know why. I also recommend Butler's, "The Way of All Flesh."
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