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Erewhon by Samuel Butler

Erewhon (1872)

by Samuel Butler

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,622276,687 (3.23)97
  1. 30
    Utopia by Thomas More (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: Both books are satirical accounts of supposedly perfect societies, found by a strange voyage.
  2. 00
    Illness as Metaphor by Susan Sontag (bertilak)

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English (25)  Italian (2)  All languages (27)
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
Thinly plotted satire. The novel is dominated by philosophical musings, posed as description of an isolated society. It is worth reading alone for the three chapters on machines and their place in evolutionary history (yes, machines and evolution!), but it also covers topics such as religion, moral education and penal systems. Some of the discussions are far ahead of their time. Largely underrated, Erewhon has encouraged me to read more about Samuel Butler and some of his non-fiction works.

To give some background on the author, Samuel Butler was an iconoclastic polymath, widely read and widely travelled for his time. He studied Mathematics at Cambridge, ended up graduating in Classics; translated The Iliad and The Odyssey; memorised all Shakespeare's sonnets; studied the Bible in preparation for entering the clergy, instead became a sheep farmer in New Zealand; studied art, was a skilled artist himself; loved Handel, composed music in some of his spare time; criticised Darwin, yet held him in high regard while propounding his own theories. As a novelist, almost as an aside, Erewhon influenced Aldous Huxley (Brave New World, Island), while The Way of All Flesh attracted the praise of three of my favourite authors: E. M. Forster, George Orwell and Theodore Dreiser. ( )
  jigarpatel | Feb 27, 2019 |
Give this a shot if you're interested. If you like Victoriana, as a whole, you may find the style charming. But I suspect most modern readers would get the greatest value from the chapters near the end, on the rise of the machines, because they are by far the best part. 4 stars just for that bit.
Proper Review @ Booklikes
  krazykiwi | Aug 22, 2016 |
There is a lot that is still relevant and many point that will make you think. While it may have been written as a study / satire of Victorian life and morals there are may points that will make you think - eg. getting rid of the machines because they will eventually evolve to superceed us has echoes in Issac Asimov's works. The whole extreme vegetarian thing that a professor takes to extremes in order to bring to a head the stupid punishments for eating meat and the rationalisations that got the Erewhonians there in the first place - this would be a great book club or school essay book.
On the down side several chapters JUST DRAG! ( )
  SashaM | Apr 20, 2016 |
Samuel Butler’s Erewhon, first published in 1872, is a natural descendant of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia [even down to the title making clear that the land in question doesn’t exist (‘Erewhon’ being an anagram of ‘nowhere’)] and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.

Related in the first person, Butler’s protagonist Higgs seeks his fortune in one of Britain’s then numerous far flung dependencies, where after a few years learning his trade as a shepherd he decides to strike out on his own, venturing into the previously unexplored hinterland. Butler himself lived and worked for several years in New Zealand, and the narrative gives many hints that this was the model for the unspecified territory of the book. After some hair raising adventures he manages to penetrate into previously unknown lands, though he is initially dismayed to find them populated by a foreign race of inordinately beautiful people.

The alien race is as amazed at the prospect of this bold stranger suddenly appearing among them as he is to find the land inhabited. Over the next few months he came to know the people and was introduced to the higher echelons of its society. He learns that the land is called Erewhon. Initially engaged by the society that the Erewhonians have developed, he gradually becomes disillusioned at what he sees as a moral inversion within their prevailing social mores.

Butler handles the opening chapters of the book, from Higgs’s decision to find his fortune overseas to his discovery of the Erewhonians, very capably. The novel seems to be an engaging adventure story, and the struggles that the hero faces as he strives to make his way further inland are genuinely exciting. Similarly, the initial chapters recounting his meeting with the Erewhonians, and the amusing mutual confusions that arise between them, work well.

Unfortunately, though, he fell into the frequent trap of labouring the point to the extent of alienating his reader. The Erewhonians have a completely different outlook on life, viewing sickness as a crime with an inclination to punish the sufferer rather than offering them sympathy and support. Though an amusing idea, and a clever mechanism to allow Butler to expound his own views, this soon became simply irritating, like a Monty Python sketch that has gone on far too long.

To the modern reader, Butler’s use of anagrams or even plain reversals of names becomes rather tedious. One of the first women whom Higgs comes to know is called Yram (i.e. ‘Mary’ backwards), while one of the principal characters among the Erewhonians is a businessman call Nosnibor Senoj – which is ‘Robinson Jones’ backwards.

The story is far from being without merit, though, and it is perhaps unfair to subject it to the scrutiny afforded by jaded twenty-first century cynicism. A principal tenet of the Erewhonians is their intense dislike of machinery (Higgs’s wrist watch causes them considerable dismay). While we might initially think of them as similar to the Amish community, this trait also prefigures the Butlerian Jihad against computers that lay behind Frank Herbert’s Dune sequence.

I was glad that I had read it, though I don’t think it will leave me sufficiently enthused to read any of his other works any time soon. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Apr 13, 2016 |
2.5 stars. Some parts were clever and amusing, but very dated. I found many parts very dull.

Full review to follow ( )
  JenPrim | Jan 15, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (29 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Butler, Samuelprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Amis, KingsleyAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Byfield, GrahamIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Drudi Dembi, LuciaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Elwin, MalcolmIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Krafft, MelodyIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mudford, PeterEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First words
If the reader will excuse me, I will say nothing of my antecedents, nor of the circumstances which led me to leave my native country; the narrative would be tedious to him and painful to myself.
The author wishes it to be understood that Erewhon is pronounced as a word of three syllables, all short - thus, E-re-whon. (Preface to the First Edition)
My publisher wishes me to say a few words about the genesis of the work, a revised and enlarged edition of which he is herewith laying before the public. (Preface to the Revised Edition)
Having been enabled by the kindness of the public to get through an unusually large edition of Erewhon in a very short time, I have taken the opportunity of a second edition to make some necessary corrections, and to add a few passages where it struck me that they would be appropriately introduced; the passages are few, and it is my fixed intention never to touch the work again. (Preface to the Second Edition)
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Haiku summary
New Zealand's mountains
Hide Utopia: no machines.
Escape if you can.

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140430571, Paperback)

Setting out to make his fortune in a far-off country, a young traveller discovers the remote and beautiful land of Erewhon, and is given a home among its extraordinarily handsome citizens. But their visitor soon discovers that this seemingly ideal community has its faults - here crime is treated indulgently as a malady to be cured, while illness, poverty and misfortune are cruelly punished, and all machines have been superstitiously destroyed after a bizarre prophecy. Can he survive in a world where morality is turned upside down? Inspired by Samuel Butler's years in colonial New Zealand, and by his reading of Darwin's "Origin of Species", Erewhon (1872) is a highly original, irreverent and humorous satire on conventional virtues, religious hypocrisy and the unthinking acceptance of beliefs.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:34 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

While on a journey, a traveler discovers a community in which machines are forbidden and the infirm are treated as criminals.

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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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