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The Way of All Flesh

by Butler, Samuel

Condition: Good

New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1957. Hardcover. Good. Salomon, Louis B. 399 pages; Great Illustrated Classics edition - "with illustrations of the author, his environment and the setting of the book, together with an introduction and captions by Louis B. Salomon" Ernest Pontifex, son of a bullying clergyman, leads a life of disarray. Ernest struggles with orthodoxy, lives in the slums, is thrown into prison, and marries the vulgar Ellen. Saved by the discovery that Ellen is already married, Ernest receives an inheritance, and is able to devote his life to literature, finally winning some success. ex-library with usual markings, heavy edge wear, corners bumped, threadbare at spine tips and edges;

The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler is a semi-autobiographical novel that attacks Victorian-era hypocrisy. The story traces the history of the Pontifex family from the early eighteenth century until about 1880 and focuses, for the most part, on the life of young Ernest Pontifex, the novel’s protagonist. Yet Ernest isn’t born until 1835, in the book’s 17th chapter. Butler uses the first 16 chapters to provide a psychological portrait of the Pontifex family background as a means of allowing readers to understand what factors have gone into forming Ernest’s personality and the longevity of the chains of tradition he must break. Upon publication in 1903, the book seemed very much of its time, an early 20th century groundbreaker alongside the work of Sigmund Freud and Pablo Picasso. The Way of All Flesh seemed to celebrate the end of the Victorian age just as it was decidedly over. But in fact, Butler had written the book decades earlier, between 1873 and 1884, though he deemed it too shocking for publication during his lifetime. As a result, Richard Alexander Streatfeild, a friend of Butler’s, arranged the publication — as the author requested of him — a year after his death. Streatfeild proved to be a good friend indeed as The Way of All Flesh was ranked twelfth on the Modern Library’s list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. Read more: Identifying first editions of The Way of All Flesh


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