Monday, August 18, 2014

The Way of All Flesh - Samuel Butler

The Way of All Flesh
Oh, 100 Best Novels list, how you love Victorian-era British literature. Particularly that written by men. 

At least Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh is satirical, rather than an ode to the stiff society. 

The book chronicles the life and times of the Pontifex family. It is suspected to be largely autobiographical, which makes the whole thing that much more interesting in my mind. 

The book begins with a brief history of Ernest Pontifex's grandfather before spending a good chunk of time on the upbringing, courtship, and marriage of his parents. At first, before I realized Ernest would be the main protagonist of the book, I could not believe Butler was flying through the lives of his characters so quickly. Once I realized, however, that their son would be the subject, I greatly appreciated the time he took to set the scene. Doing so offered much more insight into the minds of the parents and why they acted as they did. 

The whole book goes at a quick pace, which I enjoy. Sometimes these classics can get bogged down in the details and lose my interest for pages at a time. Not so here. Butler kept me engaged and even laughing a bit at the absurdity of some of the Victorian ways. He accomplished his task then, I suppose.

The book does rag on religion, specifically Anglican Christianity, quite a bit, which I was mildly uncomfortable with. However, I recognized that the antagonism was directed more at the formal institution of the Church of England than the faith itself. Some of the points Butler was trying to make I agree with whole-heartedly. 

The satirical message of the book pokes a great deal of fun at the stiff Victorian lifestyle and the expectations within parent-child relationships. It's so interesting to see on display the differences between parenting then and parenting now. As annoying as I found Ernest's parents, they were my favorite characters. Butler spent so much time setting up their back story that I found myself connected to them. Their decisions and rational for said decisions were so ludicrous at times, and, yet, I found myself thoroughly enjoying any storyline in which they were involved.

I would rate the book as good, but not great. It was long-winded and a bit preachy at times. I suppose most satires fall to that particular temptation at one point or another. There have been a few books on the list that I have certainly enjoyed better at this point, but plenty that I have not enjoyed as well. 

Pages: 320
Date Completed: July 11, 2014

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