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The Way of All Flesh Paperback – January 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


Autobiographical novel by Samuel Butler, published posthumously in 1903 though written almost two decades earlier. Beginning with the life of John Pontifex, a carpenter, the novel traces four generations of the Pontifex family, each of which perpetuates the frustration and unhappiness of its predecessor largely as a result of parental repression. Only Ernest Pontifex, the great-grandson of John, is able to break the cycle. After being ordained a minister, serving a prison term because of a naive misunderstanding, and unwittingly entering into a bigamous marriage with the family's sluttish servant girl, Ernest providentially inherits enough money from a favorite aunt to change his life and become a writer. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From the Publisher

Founded in 1906 by J.M. Dent, the Everyman Library has always tried to make the best books ever written available to the greatest number of people at the lowest possible price. Unique editorial features that help Everyman Paperback Classics stand out from the crowd include: a leading scholar or literary critic's introduction to the text, a biography of the author, a chronology of her or his life and times, a historical selection of criticism, and a concise plot summary. All books published since 1993 have also been completely restyled: all type has been reset, to offer a clarity and ease of reading unique among editions of the classics; a vibrant, full-color cover design now complements these great texts with beautiful contemporary works of art. But the best feature must be Everyman's uniquely low price. Each Everyman title offers these extensive materials at a price that competes with the most inexpensive editions on the market-but Everyman Paperbacks have durable binding, quality paper, and the highest editorial and scholarly standards. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher:; Reprint edition (January 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1420942654
  • ISBN-13: 978-1420942651
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,590,197 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

106 of 108 people found the following review helpful By brewster22 on September 30, 2003
Format: Paperback
"The Way of All Flesh" seems to be best known as the Victorian novel that thumbed its nose at Victorian novels. For this reason, it's frequently mentioned in talks of literary history, but I don't ever hear of anyone praising Samuel Butler's novel from an artistic perspective. Actually, I find the book more interesting for its story than for its place in the development of 19th and 20th century literature.
I tried to read this novel once and only got through the first 100 pages or so. I found it remarkably dull and dry, and the tone of the first-person narrator (Mr. Overton), who stops the action every 10 pages or so to offer personal asides that reveal more about him than about the characters he's writing about, I thought to be snide and irritating.
But I hate not finishing a book, so I picked it up again, this time understanding that it would be a dry read and prepared to appreciate it for its historical context. To my surprise, I found myself caught up in the story and thought the whole thing very funny. I can't believe I missed all the humour the first time through.
I hesitate to give this novel too much credit for deflating the pompous bubble of Victorian morality, because other authors writing at the same time as Butler were doing the same thing (Dickens for one can be incredibly caustic). But there is a maturity to Butler's writing that is not present in other Victorian writers. This novel feels much more modern than anything else written pre-1900, and even feels more modern than some books written after.
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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Gregory N. Hullender on October 29, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Way of All Flesh covers six generations of strife in the Pontifex family, and spans a period from 1750 to 1880. However, the bulk of the story concerns the life of Ernest Pontifex, from about age 5 up to age 28, and describes his unsatisfactory relations with his parents, his school, his church, his wife, and his friends. Sometimes we feel sorry for Ernest, because many of his problems are caused by unbelievably cruel or thoughtless people, and sometimes we're furious with him, because he himself is the author of at least half of his troubles, but either way his misfortunes make him stronger and move him steadily along the path to maturity. Throughout, the book remains an easy read, although the writing is very witty and often rewards close examination.
Even today, 100 years after the book's publication, a reader finds many things to identify with. Anyone who felt unjustly treated by his or her parents or teachers will find much to sympathize with here. Anyone who has wrestled with the conflict between Reason and Faith will find much to think about here. Given how much change the last century has seen, it's surprising how many of the issues still seem fresh and relevant, and the book definitely makes you think about them. It is easy to see how many people have described reading The Way of All Flesh as a turning point in their lives.
A point worth keeping in mind: the characters are all described from Ernest's point of view. Several clues tell us that Ernest exaggerates the cruelty of various characters - some of whom seem evil beyond belief, and I think it's quite clear that, at these points, we're supposed to smile at Ernest - not shake our heads at the author. This is most obvious with Ernest's schoolmaster, Dr.
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Birck on January 8, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I won't comment on the Kindle edition-vs-the hard copy of this book, but on the book itself. Having heard of it forever, when the Kindle version came out, free, I went for it, and was amazed. It was written in the 1860's, but not published until Butler's death in 1903 or 1905, and the reader can see why. It's a semi-autobiographical novel about a young man growing up in rural surroundings in nineteenth-century England. His father, the local curate, and all the other "pillars" of English society are shown to be hopelessly pompous, ignorant hypocrites, while still believable as characters. When he finally comes into some money,independently, his entire wretched family pitches in to convince him, first, that he is unworthy of such good fortune, and, second, that he should give it all to them. Butler's writing style is to leave most of the dialogue indirect, so there aren't a lot of quotation marks in the book, but that gives him plenty of room to offer snide comments on the proceedings. The resulting style is like a three-way cross between Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Anthony Burgess.
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43 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Paul M. Burns on September 25, 2002
Format: Paperback
I read this book after reading all the reviews on Amazon not knowing what to expect: Incredibly boring or amazing insightful? I have read many books written in that same time period. I believe this to be the most mature work to come out of England in the late 19th Century(although it was published later). I enjoy Dickens, Hardy, and Eliot very much, but Butler makes their works look like grocery store fiction. I can see how many people might be bored if they were expecting a great story. While the story is excellent, it is more a book about ideas. Butler uses his hero to voice his commentary on Victorian ideals. Most of it is still very relevant today, though. I think it will be most relevant for people that have been exposed to the religious right wing who still hold many Victorian values. I enjoyed the characters and the story was compelling. There are many beautiful passages. It was very funny at times and somewhat sarcastic. The narrator reminded me of Hemmingway born 50 years earlier in England. What impressed me the most was Butler's modern style of writing. Much less wordy than Dickens. Dickens would have taken 800 pages to express the same thoughts. I also felt a real kindred to the main character Ernest. This is ultimately a coming of age book which most people will be able to relate to in one way or another (unless you haven't grown up yet). I would recommend it to all serious readers.
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