Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all time
The Way of All Flesh is one of the time-bombs of literature," said V. S. Pritchett. "One thinks of it lying in Samuel Butler's desk for thirty years, waiting to blow up the Victorian family and with it the whole great pillared and balustraded edifice of the Victorian novel."
Written between 1873 and 1884 but not published until 1903, a year after Butler's death, his marvelously uninhibited satire savages Victorian bourgeois values as personified by multiple generations of the Pontifex family. A thinly veiled account of his own upbringing in the bosom of a God-fearing Christian family, Butler's scathingly funny depiction of the self-righteous hypocrisy underlying nineteenth-century domestic life was hailed by George Bernard Shaw as "one of the summits of human achievement."
"If the house caught on fire, the Victorian novel I would rescue from the flames would be The Way of All Flesh," wrote William Maxwell in The New Yorker. "It is read, I believe, mostly by the young, bent on making out a case against their elders, but Butler was fifty when he stopped working on it, and no reader much under that age is likely to appreciate the full beauty of its horrors. . . . Every contemporary novelist with a developed sense of irony is probably in some measure, directly or indirectly, indebted to Butler, who had the misfortune to be a twentieth-century man born in the year 1835.
About the Author
Butler was a writer, painter, and musician. He studied at Cambridge and then became a sheep farmer. He is best known for his biographical novel titled The Way of All Flesh.
On both sides of the Atlantic V.S. Pritchett has been acclaimed as one of the great masters of the short story. He is also distinguished as a critic and a traveller. Born in Suffolk in 1900, he left school at the age of sixteen to work in the leather trade in London. In the Twenties in Paris he worked as a shop assistant and as a shellac salesman, and took to journalism, first during the Irish Civil War and later in Spain. His first book", Marching Spain", the account of a long walk from Badajoz to Vigo, was published in 1928 and from then on travel was his recreation, inspiring evocations of places and peoples in "The Spanish Temper" (1954) and "London Perceived" (1962), both published by The Hogarth Press", Foreign Faces" (1964), "New York Proclaimed" (1965) and "Dublin" (1967). The author of biographies of Balzac and Turgenev, he gave the Clark Lectures on George Meredith in 1969. He was for many years a director of and contributor to the New Statesman. He contributed regularly to the "New Yorker" and the "New York Review of Books". His critical works include "The Living Novel" (1949), "The Myth Makers" (1979), "The Tale Bearers" (1980) and "A Man of Letters" (1985). His two volumes of autobiography", A Cab at the Door" (1968) and "Midnight Oil" (1971), are well known in Great Britain and abroad. His novels include "Nothing Like Leather" (1935), "Dead Man Leading" (1949) and "Mr Beluncle" (1959). The first volume of his Collected Stories appeared in 1982 and More Collected Stories in 1983. V.S. Pritchett died in 1997.