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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Casabianca in TWAF

In TWAF Theobald drills Ernest about the poem Casabianca:

"Then he (Ernest) thought of Casabianca. He had been examined in that poem by his father not long before. 'When only would he leave his position? To whom did he call? Did he get an answer? Why? How many times did he call upon his father? What happened to him? What was the noblest life that perished there? Do you think so? Why do you think so?'" (Chapter 29)

Casabianca is a 19th century poem by Felicia Hemans and it tells the story of young boy who refuses to leave a burning ship without the command of his father. His father, unbeknownst to the young boy, is already dead. The "young faithful heart" is eventually killed by an explosion but is honored for his loyalty to his father.

Butler, however, blames the father for the son's death.
"It never occurred to him that the moral of the poem was that young people cannot begin too soon to exercise discretion in the obedience they pay to their Papa and Mamma."

Had the boy used discretion, he would not have died. Butler further uses Ernest to show the consequences of having not used discretion in one's obedience to his parents. One consequence is that Ernest would not have been as gullible, believing everything he is told. Ernest is unstable and vacillates between goals because he is tossed to and fro by every new wind of doctrine to which he is introduced.

Another consequence is that he would have been a better father. Ernest gives his children away to a more stable family during their formative years because he fears he will be the same type of father to them that Theobald was to him. Had he used discretion toward his parents in his youth, he would not been so much like his father during his younger years.
The painting above is "The Destruction of L'Orient" (1825-27) by George Arnald.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The resemblance of parents to their children

Accidents which occur for the first time, and belong to the period since a man's last birth, are not, as a general rule, so permanent in their effects, though of course they may sometimes be so. (chapter 63)

One concept Butler explores in TWAF is that inherited traits a child receives from his father, however undesired, are difficult to overcome.

George Pontifex is a successful businessman that wants his son Theobald to enter the Church. Though "he had the greatest horror, he would exclaim, of driving any young man into a profession which he did not like," he strongly urges, if not forces, Theobald to become a parson by threatening to withhold his money. Theobald submits to his father, one reason being he had no inclination to any other profession. Theobold does not feel that being a member of the clergy is for him and is not a particularly good speaker, but he continues to perform his duty to the laity.

When Theobald marries and has his own children, he expects their complete submission and believes that all signs of self-will must be rooted out early on. Like his father, he chooses the Church for his son Ernest's profession, and Ernest, like his father, has no true interest in this profession but submits to his father. Ernest does display, however, an interest in music that Theobald finds appalling and discourages. Theobald also uses his money to try to control the actions, though his is ultimately unsuccessful.

Ernest resembles his father in many ways. He is gullible like his father and believes everything others tell him. He is not particularly fond of his siblings. But Ernest also has people that have a positive influence on him and encourage him in his interests. His Aunt Althea encourages his interest in music suggesting he build an organ on which he can play while at school. Overton more closely resembles a father to Ernest but doesn't interfere with any of Ernest plans. He allows Ernest to make mistakes and learns from them, occasionally supplying Ernest with money so that he may break from his parents. Althea's designation of him as her heir allows Ernest to become wealthy and financially independent. These influences save Ernest from following the same path as his father.

Painting above is "Looking out for Dad" by J. Baldwin.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Butler in TWAF

Every man's work, whether it be literature or music or pictures or architecture or anything else, is always a portrait of himself, and the more he tries to conceal himself the more clearly will his character appear in spite of him. I may very likely be condemning myself, all the time that I am writing this book, for I know that whether I like it or no I am portraying myself more surely than I am portraying any of the characters whom I set before the reader. (chapter 14)

Butler functions in the novel as Overton, who vacillates between an all-knowing narrator and an active character who mentors Ernest, who is Butler as he ages from a youth to a middle aged man. Though Butler finished the novel around 1885, he entrusted the manuscript to his literary executor to be published after his death. One reason is that he was sure that the novel would be accepted in Victorian society. Another reason is he feared the backlash of those portrayed in the novel.

The tone of the novel shows Butler as a bitter man, who repeatedly makes snide remarks about various Victorian customs, such as those involving marriage or religion. For example, Ernest writes a tract while at Cambridge poking fun at the hygiene Simeonites and encourages them in a "freer use of the tub." (chapter 47) He later paints Towneley as fortunate for having been orphaned at the age of 2 and not having to deal with parents, who do nothing but brainwash their children. (chapter 48)

Pictured above: Portrait of Charles Dickens

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Autobiographical Nature of The Way of All Flesh

Samuel Butler was the son of very religious parents, and their piety was repugnant to him. He did not embrace the Church like his father, who was a parson. He drew heavily on his life as a parson's son in order to write TWAF. In the novel, Butler, who is Ernest Pontifex, is the son of Theobald and Christina Pontifex. Theobald was made by his father to enter the Church. Though he did not enjoy the endeavor, Theobald acquiesced to his father's demand as he did in every situation. He later expects the same from his children. He was forced into a marriage to a woman he did not truly loved but "became as fond of his wife as it was in his nature to be of any living thing." (chapter 16) He was even less fond of his children.

Christina "won" the right from her sisters to pursue Theobald through a card game. She too did not truly love Theobald but embraced him as husband because he was within her grasp. She loved the idea becoming a parson's wife because it offered the opportunity to become a bishop's wife. She hoped to have influence over the laity, including their dietary observances. She loves her children but loves her husband more and wants him to have everything he desires, particularly the complete subordination of his children.

Ernest is the eldest son of Theobald and Christina. He is expected to follow his father into the Church but has an affinity for music, particularly that of Handel (of whom Butler was fond). This preference repulses his father, but the interest in music was encouraged by an aunt who lived near Ernest while he was away at school. Ernest, like his father, does not wish to enter the Church, but continues with his Cambridge education and obtains his degree and a living as a curate. However, much happens afterwards, which causes Ernest to break ties with his father and his father's money, which Butler was never able to do in reality. Unlike his father, Ernest meets people along the way that cause him to question his upbringing as well as his beliefs.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Samuel Butler

The parents of Samuel Butler (1835-1902) wanted him to enter the ministry but religious doubt caused him to leave England upon graduation from Cambridge and settle in New Zealand to become a sheep farmer. He eventually returned to England six years later (1864), and focused on painting and writing, producing the utopian novel Erewhon and Life and Habit, a work that embraces Darwin's theory of evolution, though Butler disagreed with the element of luck.

Butler began working on The Way of All Flesh in 1873 and continued to revise it for the next twelve years, though he refused to publish it while living. The book, quite autobiographical, is a strong condemnation of Victorian values and protrays Ernest Pontifex's revolt against his parents' plans for him. Ernest is successful in his attempt to determine his own course in life and, like his creator, becomes a writer.


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