Samuel Butler And: The Way of All Flesh

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

CHAPTER VI
LOVES AND LIKINGS

GOOD as the Erewhon books are, Butler, as a novelist, stands or falls by The Way of All Flesh. The book, published only after his death, is in a sense his spiritual autobiography. He put into it, altering the form but keeping the substance as he interpreted it, the story of his own youth and subsequent emancipation. No doubt he made Ernest Pontifex, whose history the book relates, experience some extremes which he had not suffered in his own person. Ernest was made to go through with ordination, whereas Butler had the strength of mind to draw back. Ernest was sent to prison for an indecent assault on a virtuous woman--whereas it seems to be well established that Butler, at Ernest's age, knew a great deal too much to have been likely to fall into such a mistake. By way of compensation, Butler equipped Ernest with a fairy-godmother, who, when, like Butler, he had lost his money by speculation, left him (though he was not allowed to know it at once) very comfortably endowed. Butler's reversion to the Whitehall property was thus transformed for the purposes of the story, and Ernest was allowed to come into his money a good deal sooner than his creator got to the end of his own financial difficulties.

The Way of All Flesh is good from beginning to end; but I think a good many people will agree that the best part of it is the part that is not autobiographical, but relates to a time before Ernest Pontifex was born. The sketch of

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