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