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August 22, 2017


The Way of All Flesh

by N@ncy




  1. This book is Samuel Butler’s autobiographical account
  2. of a harsh upbringing and troubled adulthood of a
  3. Victorian clerical family’s domestic life.
  4. It is the story of the near-destruction of a young man
  5. …by the stupidity of his parents.
  6. We read of the influence of
  7. …religion in 4 generations of English society.
  8. Ernest Pontifex: youth, adolescent, middle-age
  9. He grows older while his faith evolves with him.


Theme:  Anglicanism

  1. According to Butler….
  2. Anglicanism is arrogant.
  3. Its demands are  exemplified by
  4. Mr Pontifex (grandfather) and Theobold and Christina (partents of Ernest).
  5. The son Ernest will symbolize a break
  6. ….and a more rational approach to religion.
  7. Ernest’s view of religion has a positive outlook that encourages optimism.
  8. Ernest is the opposite of his father….Theobald.
  9. Ernest finds pleasure in counseling people
  10. …to embrace pleasure and reject suffering.


Strong point:  characterization

  1. The book feels dated….
  2. but it did hold my attention, at least in the beginning.
  3. We are introduced to the main characters.
  4. Ch 15 – very good b/c the characterization of Theoblad mainly by
  5. describing his tone when speaking (stern, irritable.
  6. with hand on door of sick parishioner’s room…
  7. he makes off as fast as he can). He lacks minister’s bedside manner.
  8. Ch 16 – very good b/c the characterisation of Christina
  9. …not as spiritually minded as expected of a pastor’s wife, but very socially ambitious!
  10. Ch 18 narrator:  Edward Overton  is second godfather to Ernest.
  11. He is a childhood friend of Theobald, the father.
  12. Alethea, Theo’s sister, is the godmother.
  13. Edward Overton and Alethea Pontifix are in love
  14. ….but never marry.
  15. Alethea  was the flower of the flock of the family Pontifex.
  16. She is a shining example of a ‘fairy godmother’ to Ernest.
  17. She made his life bearable.


Weak point: example ch 19

  1. Butler breaks the narrative about ‘people’ with an
  2. entire chapter on philosophical issues: be virtuous, tendency of happiness,
  3. kindness and selfishness of parents towards children and
  4. the mental stature as the main or mean part of man. (ch 20)
  5. It is a bit too much.


Weak point:   unbalanced

  1. Butler dwells on childhood and adolescent years
  2. chapters 1-24 (20%) – childhood
  3. chapters 27 – 44 (20%) adolescent
  4. Cambridge was over in a flash! ch 45-50!  (9%)
  5. I’m more interested in Ernest’s adult life.
  6. This starts in chapter 50. “… the turning point in his life had come.”
  7. Ernest is ordained as an Anglican clergyman.
  8. The number of chapters focusing on
  9. …childhood and schoolboy years could have been  shorter.

Strong point:  irony (ch 64)

  1. Ernest rejoices over the disgrace that has befallen him.
  2. He found a blessing in an unspeakable misfortune.
  3. His imprisonment has set him free!

Strong point: dramatic irony

  1. The loss of Ernest’s legacy which his grandfather left him
  2. …will not leave him financially destitute.
  3. There is a surprise waiting for Ernst that
  4. …he is unaware of
  5. But the readers are  in-the-know!



  1. Butler divides the story in 86 short chapters.
  2. This does keep the action moving and I kept reading.
  3. But each chapter was a ‘short thrust’ 
  4. ….instead of a long worked out scene.
  5. Butler  overwhelms the read with  all these chapters.
  6. This made a difficult book but even more difficult!
  7. But structure is not the reason I had difficulty with this book.
  8. Religious issues  and a waterfall of ecclesiastical allusions
  9. ….failed to interest me.
  10. I did #NotGiveUp
  11. Luckily the he last 33 chapters were the best chapters.
  12. Butler had truly saved the best for last.
  13. This book may not resonate with all readers
  14. but do try to get through the first 50 chapters.
  15. You will be rewarded for you perseverance!
  16. This book deserves its place on Modern Library’s Top 100 novel list!


Moments of sharp criticism by author:

  1. Ch 28: Butler warns schoolmasters (Dr. Skinner)
  2. that a little heavy-eyed boy might in the future be your chronicler.
  3. “…if I’m not careful, he will one day tell the world what manner of a man I was.’
  4. That is exactly what Sameul Butler has done!
  5. Ch 29: He hated Papa and did not like Mamma.
  6. He did not like Sunday. Catechism was awful.
  7. This book was understandably published posthumously!


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6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Aug 22 2017

    The Modern library isn’t recommending modern books 🙂 I do admire your perseverance, I’m not sure I could immerse myself in this environment.


    • Aug 22 2017

      Stats: read 46 of the 100 books….and really only liked 12
      Advice: Modern Library’s list Top 100 Novels….needs an update!
      Message: thanks for your comments, Claire!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Aug 22 2017

    I actually liked this book so much I’ve read it twice in my life – and I agree that it’s not “easy reading” by any stretch. Maybe I identified with young Ernest P. at the point in my life I first read it, though my upbringing was certainly not as harsh as his, I did often feel “at odds” with my parents about the direction of my life.

    Have you read Butler’s novel “Erewhon”? Quite a different feel and very interesting.


    • Aug 22 2017

      Thanks for you thoughts, Jay. I think the book did have it’s high-points… Butler waited to the end of the book to show me how well he can write.
      No, I’ve not read any other book by S. Butler. I’ll look into it!

      Liked by 1 person


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