1 August 2019 Susannah

Samuel Butler & ‘The Way of All Flesh’

According to Samuel Butler’s biographer, Peter Raby, The Way of All Flesh is “an uneven, extraordinary and unforgettable book, evoking strong emotions of recognition and horror, and shattering forever the sacred English totem, the idea of the family.”

Hailed by George Bernard Shaw as “one of the summits of human achievement”, The Way of all Flesh covers five generations of a family. Family sagas of the Victorian and Edwardian eras tended to show a family growing from rags to riches, making successful marriages and money, this book turns that plot inside out. It has to be one of the most ferocious novels ever written, and is a superb indictment of hypocrisy and the evils of fake piety. Its energy, bite and attacks on so many aspects of the 19thC meant that I could never view Victorianism in quite the same way again after reading it.

Today this tends to be a book which many people have heard of, but never read, and have certainly never watched in a film version. And yet it is a book which everyone ought to read, which is why I included it in my literary series. You may not ‘enjoy’ it, but I hope you feel its power and that it makes you stop and think.

I always love to hear what you think.

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Featured image credit- Samuel Butler, Family Prayers, 1864, [cropped] St John’s College, University of Cambridge, https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/family-prayers-139359

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