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The Way of All Flesh Paperback – Sep 14 1998

3.5 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; New edition edition (Sept. 14 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375752498
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375752490
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2.3 x 20.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 417 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #520,381 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From the Publisher

Founded in 1906 by J.M. Dent, the Everyman Library has always tried to make the best books ever written available to the greatest number of people at the lowest possible price. Unique editorial features that help Everyman Paperback Classics stand out from the crowd include: a leading scholar or literary critic's introduction to the text, a biography of the author, a chronology of her or his life and times, a historical selection of criticism, and a concise plot summary. All books published since 1993 have also been completely restyled: all type has been reset, to offer a clarity and ease of reading unique among editions of the classics; a vibrant, full-color cover design now complements these great texts with beautiful contemporary works of art. But the best feature must be Everyman's uniquely low price. Each Everyman title offers these extensive materials at a price that competes with the most inexpensive editions on the market-but Everyman Paperbacks have durable binding, quality paper, and the highest editorial and scholarly standards. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

Reared on piety, repression and emotional blackmail, Ernest Pontifex follows the course prescribed for him towards Holy Orders. Yet rebellion at Cambridge, unwise theology, unwiser financial dealings, and finally prison free him from his parents' tyranny. Left with his health and career ruined, Ernest faces still more trials before fortune and his godfather rescue him from the brink. This savagely funny, iconoclastic odyssey from joyless duty to unbridled liberalism exposes the hypocrisy of nineteenth century family life. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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First Sentence
WHEN I was small boy at the beginning of the century I remember an old man who wore knee-breeches and worsted stockings, and who used to hobble about the street of our village with help of a stick. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I read this book after reading all the reviews on Amazon not knowing what to expect: Incredibly boring or amazing insightful? I have read many books written in that same time period. I believe this to be the most mature work to come out of England in the late 19th Century(although it was published later). I enjoy Dickens, Hardy, and Eliot very much, but Butler makes their works look like grocery store fiction. I can see how many people might be bored if they were expecting a great story. While the story is excellent, it is more a book about ideas. Butler uses his hero to voice his commentary on Victorian ideals. Most of it is still very relevant today, though. I think it will be most relevant for people that have been exposed to the religious right wing who still hold many Victorian values. I enjoyed the characters and the story was compelling. There are many beautiful passages. It was very funny at times and somewhat sarcastic. The narrator reminded me of Hemmingway born 50 years earlier in England. What impressed me the most was Butler's modern style of writing. Much less wordy than Dickens. Dickens would have taken 800 pages to express the same thoughts. I also felt a real kindred to the main character Ernest. This is ultimately a coming of age book which most people will be able to relate to in one way or another (unless you haven't grown up yet). I would recommend it to all serious readers.
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Format: Paperback
The main character, Ernest Pontifex,is a pathetic weakling, variously oppressed and exploited by his parents and acquaintances. He fails at everything and relies on others to get him out of difficulties. The other primary character, Ernest's godfather (another "voice" for the author) spends his time despising Ernest's parents and saving Ernest. Yet, since this is an autobiographical novel, the author would have you believe that Ernest is actually a brilliant iconoclast whose writings disturb Victorian society. Humbug! Butler demonizes his parents so heavyhandedly (all the characters are cardboard, etched with bile) and is so smug about it, that he, not they, comes across as the Monster. Of Human Bondage, by H. S. Maugham, touches on some similar themes and is a vastly superior work. Anything by George Eliot would also be a vastly better read from 19th C. English literature.
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Format: Hardcover
Somehow, "The Way of All Flesh" doesn't make it on to many lists of "the world's greatest novels." It certainly was not written with the superb artistry of Flaubert, true! But it soars high, high above the turgid inanities of Fyodor Dostoevsky.

There is a specific edition of this book which I love, and which can be found easily among used-book dealers. This edition was issued by The Heritage Press, and contains a remarkable introduction by Theodore Dreiser. The introduction is something which I have re-read many times. As a beginning, Dreiser recounts his interaction with an intelligent American engineer, aged about 40, who was looking for a book "with some meat to it." After long hesitation, and after compiling a list of some dozen books, Dreiser finally decided to recommend "The Way of All Flesh."
Six months later, he met the engineer by chance while strolling along a street in San Francisco, and the engineer immediately started praising the novel. "Now there is a book which is honest! I can't think of another book from its time which contains more honesty, and more direct dealing!"
And indeed, this may be the main thing working in favor of "The Way of All Flesh." Samuel Butler read Darwin, and became a believer in the theory of evolution. He was a penetrating observer of the cruelties of Victorian society, and of its hypocrisies. Few people will read this book without being able to remember this startlingly honest portrayal of a man who has just lost his wife, whom he did not love in the slightest:
"Theobald buried his face in his hands to conceal his want of emotion."
Oh, touche!
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Format: Paperback
"The Way of All Flesh" seems to be best known as the Victorian novel that thumbed its nose at Victorian novels. For this reason, it's frequently mentioned in talks of literary history, but I don't ever hear of anyone praising Samuel Butler's novel from an artistic perspective. Actually, I find the book more interesting for its story than for its place in the development of 19th and 20th century literature.
I tried to read this novel once and only got through the first 100 pages or so. I found it remarkably dull and dry, and the tone of the first-person narrator (Mr. Overton), who stops the action every 10 pages or so to offer personal asides that reveal more about him than about the characters he's writing about, I thought to be snide and irritating.
But I hate not finishing a book, so I picked it up again, this time understanding that it would be a dry read and prepared to appreciate it for its historical context. To my surprise, I found myself caught up in the story and thought the whole thing very funny. I can't believe I missed all the humour the first time through.
I hesitate to give this novel too much credit for deflating the pompous bubble of Victorian morality, because other authors writing at the same time as Butler were doing the same thing (Dickens for one can be incredibly caustic). But there is a maturity to Butler's writing that is not present in other Victorian writers. This novel feels much more modern than anything else written pre-1900, and even feels more modern than some books written after.
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