Samuel Butler And: The Way of All Flesh

By G. D. H. Cole | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
PARENTS AND CHILDREN

THE normal relations between parents and children have changed greatly since Butler wrote The Way of All Flesh--and still more since the period in which the earlier scenes of the story were cast. They have indeed changed so thoroughly that it is no longer easy to recapture in full the spirit of the relations which he attacked. That the picture given in the novel was taken, with some variations, largely from his own experience of boyhood and youth no one has ever disputed; but the truth of the picture has been called into question, in its application to Butler's own life. There is a book, written by someone who knew the family well,1 in which Canon Butler appears as a charming, benevolent old gentleman, who clearly would not have hurt a fly, much less played the tyrant over his son and done his best to thwart him and to ruin his career. Correspondingly, Samuel's reactions to his upbringing are made to seem the products of a perverse and morbid imagination. Canon Butler, we are given to understand, was not at all the sort of person his son made him out to be in The Way of All Flesh-- that is, if we are to take the Reverend Theobald Pontifex as having been meant as a portrait of Butler's father.

There are, it must be borne in mind, two "heavy fathers in Butler's novel--old Pontifex, Theobald's father, and Theobald himself. This was essential to Butler's conception;

____________________
1
Samuel Butler and His Family Relations, by Mrs. R. S. Garnett. (Dent, 1926.)

-37-

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