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Erewhon Paperback – August 28, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Samuel Butler (1835 –1902) was an iconoclastic Victorian author who published a variety of works. Two of his most famous pieces are the Utopian satire Erewhon and the posthumous novel The Way of All Flesh. He is also known for examining Christian orthodoxy, substantive studies of evolutionary thought, studies of Italian art, and works of literary history and criticism. Butler also made prose translations of The Iliad and The Odyssey which remain in use to this day. Butler belonged to no school, and spawned no followers during his lifetime. A serious but amateur student of the subjects he undertook, especially religious orthodoxy and evolutionary thought, his controversial assertions effectively shut him out from both of the opposing factions of Church and science which played such a large role in late Victorian cultural life. His influence on literature, such as it was, came through The Way of All Flesh, which Butler completed in the 1880s but left unpublished in order to protect his family. Whether in his satire and fiction, his studies on the evidences of Christianity, his works on evolutionary thought or in his miscellaneous other writings, however, a consistent theme runs through Butler's work, stemming largely from his personal struggle with the stifling of his own nature by his parents, which led him on to seek more general principles of growth, development and purpose: "What concerned him was to establish his nature, his aspirations and their fulfillment upon a philosophic basis, to identify them with the nature, the aspirations, the fulfillment of all humanity – and more than that – with the fulfillment of the universe . . . His struggle became generalized, symbolic, tremendous." The form that this search took was principally philosophic and – given the interests of the day – biological: “Satirist, novelist, artist and critic that he was, he was primarily a philosopher,” and in particular a philosopher who sought the biological foundations for his work: “His biology was a bridge to a philosophy of life which sought a scientific basis for religion and endowed a naturalistically conceived universe with a soul.” Indeed, "philosophical writer" was ultimately the self-description Butler himself chose as most fitting to his work. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 220 pages
  • Publisher: Book Jungle (August 28, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1438500882
  • ISBN-13: 978-1438500881
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 0.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,554,880 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Doug Vaughn HALL OF FAME on December 14, 1999
Format: Paperback
I have just reread Samuel Butler's Erewhon, a book described by Lewis Mumford as having 'a sunny malice'. Personally I don't find anything malicious in this tale. He does stand just about every taken for granted convention of Victorian society (and the world still) on its head, and has great fun doing it, but the end result is to force the reader to think long and hard about much that is usually accepted without thinking.
In Erewhon, criminals are considered to be ill and are 'treated' by 'straightners' who make them well, whereas those who have physical illnesses (or suffer bad luck) are considered criminal and are tried and punished. Thus an embezzler will be treated for his 'illness' and the party who was robbed will be tried in the Court of Misplaced Confidence. The consistency with which Butler carries through with this conceit is impressive and consistently entertaining, and this is only one of the 'curious' conventions of Erewhonian society.
My favorite part of the novel is the section that purports to be a classic text from the College of Unreason, 'The Book of the Machines'. Modeled on Darwin's writings, this text explains how machines are on an evolutionary track that will surpass and then come to dominate their human creators. The detail of the argument is impressive (the discussion of 'vestigial organs' in machines is hysterical and accurate), and no matter how far fetched it must have seemed in 1872 when the book was published, it seems much less a satire and more a serious fear today.
This is a book of great intelligence and wicked humor. As a simultaneous mind stretching exercise and laugh generating experience I can think of few novels of any age that are its peer.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A.J. on April 25, 2002
Format: Paperback
Samuel Butler does a neat balancing act with "Erewhon," a novel that is equal parts fictitious travelogue, philosophical tract, social/political/religious satire, and adventure story complete with a romantic subplot. The protagonist, a young Englishman named Higgs who is unsatisfied with employment prospects in his home country, moves to a distant colonized land where he takes a job as a shepherd. Beyond a mountain range there lie some mysterious lands that he would like to explore, and, setting out one day with a timid guide who later abandons him, he eventually gets to the other side of the peaks and finds himself in an isolated country named Erewhon.
One of the first things Higgs notes is that Erewhon is a few hundred years behind the times technologically. They have no modern mechanical conveniences, and when Higgs is discovered to own a watch, it is confiscated and he is put in prison. Later released and placed into the custody of a rich man named Mr. Nosnibor, Higgs learns all about the bizarre customs and beliefs of the Erewhonians.
In Erewhon, sickness is punishable by law and criminal acts are treated medically by people called "straighteners"; so, stealing a pair of socks is analogous to feeling a bit under the weather. The Erewhon banking system is a facade, as their money is worthless. The Erewhonians believe in an ethereal prenatal world where babies are given the (preferred) option not to be born into the mortal world. Their institutions of higher education, the Colleges of Unreason, teach conformity and resist originality and progress.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Lawrance Bernabo HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on October 26, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Following in the tradition of Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels," the English novelist, essayist, and iconoclast Samuel Butler published "Erewhon" privately in 1872. The title is an anagram of "Nowhere," which is the literal translation of the word "Utopia," the title by which Thomas More's 1516 work has commonly become known. "Erewhon" is arguably the first anti-utopian or dystopian novel, anticipating the later and better known works such as Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" and George Orwell's "1984." Whereas More and other utopianists are primarily interested in attacking society's ills and making the world a better place, the anti-utopians engage primarily in either satire of the society in which they live or in making dire predictions about the dismal fate that awaits humanity. Butler is most decidedly in the former category, since he proves in not only "Erewhon" but also his more famous work, the semi-autobiographical novel, "The Way of All Flesh," that his main concern is in attacking the complacency and hypocrisy he saw infecting Victorian society.
Like More's island of Utopia, Butler's Erewhon is a remote kingdom, not to be found on any map, which is discovered by the narrator of the novel (biographers of Butler have assumed it is modeled on a part of New Zealand, which anyone who has viewed the "Lord of the Rings" movies can attest has some spectacular landscapes). Cut off from the rest of the world, the citizens of Erewhon lives according to their own rules and dictates. Butler breaks from the tradition of creating an idealized world that goes back from More to Plato in favor of a more realistic society.
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