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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.

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