Samuel Butler and The Way of All Flesh

Samuel Butler and The Way of All Flesh

Samuel Butler and The Way of All Flesh

Samuel Butler and The Way of All Flesh

Excerpt

In Samuel Butler novel, The Way of All Flesh , is cited an essay which the "hero," Ernest Pontifex, is supposed to have contributed to an undergraduate magazine. It contains these words, "It happens that a faithful rendering of contemporary life is the very quality which gives its most permanent interest to any work of fiction, whether in literature or painting." I do not know whether this sentiment was derived from some undergraduate effort of Butler's own, or was written for the purpose of being put into Ernest's mouth: in either case it expresses equally well one of the things that give The Way of All Flesh its assured place among English novels, and probably the thing on which Butler would have insisted most strongly if he had been asked to assess the value of his book. Yet "faithful rendering of contemporary life" is only one of the great qualities of Butler's novel, and there are still many who dispute the faithfulness of his presentation. A second quality of the book, plain on the surface, is its satire; and it is to be admitted that the satirist always in some degree distorts the original. What Butler would have denied is that his satire distorts more than any personal record free from all satire would have done. One can imagine--indeed, it is rather fun to imagine --the story of The Way of All Flesh written from a quite different point of view--say from that of Ernest Pontifex's (or Butler's) brother or sister. The picture would have been quite different from Butler's picture; but, had it been a most . . .

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