Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Samuel Butler, Victorian Against the Grain

Samuel Butler, Victorian Against the Grain: A Critical Overview

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 416
  • Book Info
    Samuel Butler, Victorian Against the Grain
    Book Description:

    Samuel Butler (1835-1902), Victorian satirist, critic, and visual artist, possessed one of the most original and inquiring imaginations of his age. The author of two satires,Erewhon(1872) andThe Way of All Flesh(1903), Butler's intellectually adventurous explorations along the cultural frontiers of his time appeared in volume after eccentric volume. Author of four works on evolution, he was one of the most prolific evolutionary speculators of his time. He was an innovative travel writer and art historian who used the creative insights of his own painting, photography, and local knowledge to invent, in works likeAlps and Sanctuaries(1881), a vibrant Italian culture that contrasted with the spiritually frigid experience of his High Church upbringing.

    Despite his range and achievement, there remains surprisingly little contemporary analytical commentary on Butler's work.Samuel Butler, Victorian against the Grainis an interdisciplinary collection of essays that provides a critical overview of Butler's career, one which places his multifaceted body of work within the cultural framework of the Victorian age. The essays, taken together, discuss the formation of Victorian England's ultimate polymath, an artistic and intellectual ventriloquist who assumed an extraordinary range of roles - as satirist, novelist, evolutionist, natural theologian, travel writer, art historian, biographer, classicist, painter, and photographer.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8905-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
    James G. Paradis
  4. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-18)

    Samuel Butler (1835–1902), Victorian satirist, critic, and visual artist, possessed one of the most original and inquiring imaginations of his age. Author of two culture-probing satires,Erewhon(1872) andThe Way of All Flesh(1903), Butler’s intellectually adventurous explorations along the cultural frontiers of his times appeared in volume after eccentric volume. Evolutionary free-thinker, he rejected natural selection and traditional natural theology alike in a series of evolutionary studies – includingLife and Habit(1877),Evolution, Old and New(1879),Unconscious Memory(1880), andLuck or Cunning?(1886) – that placed evolutionary thinking within a new historical framework and that asserted,...


    • 1 From Canterbury Settlement to Erewhon: Butler and Antipodean Counterpoint
      (pp. 21-44)

      During his four years as a New Zealand sheep farmer, Samuel Butler drew a sketch of his new property, marking its features with medieval mock-heroic captions. The backdrop is a rugged range of ‘ye mountaynes’ (their peaks shown as from 7,000 to 11,000 feet), covered in ‘snowe,’ broken by ‘ye horryble glaciers,’ ‘ye vexatious gullies which are painfulle in ye traversynge,’ and ‘ye terraces caused by ye gt. dryfte.’ In the foreground are three modest shacks, ‘mi hutte,’ ‘ye sodde hutte,’ and ‘Caton hys olde hutte.’ Prominent in the left front of the view is the square of ‘ye garden,...

    • 2 Butler, Memory, and the Future
      (pp. 45-57)

      Samuel Butler everywhere challenges assumptions with a mixture of frankness and irony that invites the reader into alliance, but an alliance that is of its nature fitful and sometimes mortifying. We may rush to agree with his brilliant inversion of what we expect only to find that we are the butt of his jest. His wayward originality can seem captious, and yet from the array of positions he adopts emerge insights that have staying power. In this essay I explore his thoughts on how change comes about and the degree to which future forms of life rely on unconscious memories...

    • 3 The Ironies of Biblical Criticism: From Samuel Butler’s ‘Resurrection’ Essay and The Fair Haven to Erewhon Revisited
      (pp. 58-88)

      ‘A country is sometimes not without honour save from its own prophet,’ wrote Samuel Butler, characteristically calling both parties into doubt and undermining a truism. Despite this perception, Butler himself often donned the prophet’s robes long enough to display dishonour in high places. Basil Willey summed up Butler’s career in this way: ‘The showing-up of orthodox Christian theology was only an incidental motif inErewhon, but it remained Butler’s central preoccupation until about 1877, when it began to be superseded by the showing-up of Darwin.’¹ This disjunction and chronological succession is not altogether accurate. Describing, inThe Way of All...


    • 4 ‘The written symbol extends infinitely’: Samuel Butler and the Writing of Evolutionary Theory
      (pp. 91-112)

      In the notice announcing the reissue of Samuel Butler’s works under the imprimatur of Fifield, the publisher quoted George Bernard Shaw’s assessment of Butler as ‘the greatest English writer of the latter half of the 19thcentury.’ However, Shaw prefaced that judgment with a qualifier: ‘in his own department.’ But what was Butler’s ‘department’? Shaw’s preference for the singularity of ‘department’ was challenged by the publisher’s account of Butler’s polymath identities: ‘novelist, philosopher, satirist and classicist.’ Fifield’s notice helps to frame, initially, a question about how to read and evaluate Butler’s writings on evolutionary theory, for these writings have proven...

    • 5 ‘A Conspiracy of One’: Butler, Natural Theology, and Victorian Popularization
      (pp. 113-142)

      As a mournful nation tried to come to grips with the death of Charles Darwin on 19 April 1882, Samuel Butler continued to nurse his personal grudge against the renowned evolutionist. In his Note-Books he recorded his criticism of the many notices of Darwin’s death that depicted him as an innovative scientific genius. An entry for April 1882 presented Darwin’s success as being due to the social stability of the mid-Victorian period, which allowed the world to reconsider the potentially dangerous ideas of the Enlightenment. Moreover, Darwin had the advantage of being a rich man who ‘played his cards socially...

    • 6 Evolutionary Psychology and The Way of All Flesh
      (pp. 143-169)

      Where should the history of a life begin? Whilst Sterne famously took his starting point back to the (mis)conception of his hero, Tristram Shandy, the favoured entry point for the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century novel remained that indeterminate period when youth verges on adulthood. In the Victorian period, when forms of historical understanding and explanation became paramount, the novel frequently took a step backwards to include the domain of childhood. To understand a life one had to understand its history, its antecedents.The Mill on the Floss(1860), for example, offers an entry point to Maggie Tulliver’s life through an...

    • 7 Samuel Butler as Late-Victorian Bachelor: Regulating and Representing the Homoerotic
      (pp. 170-194)

      Samuel Butler fashioned himself and was comprehended by his contemporaries within the late-Victorian category of the bachelor. At Heatherley’s Art School, reports Henry Festing Jones, the ‘lady students’ on the lookout for a husband recognized that their well-to-do, handsome schoolmate was not a candidate, but rather called Butler ‘the incarnate bachelor.’¹ Butler himself saw Melchisedec as a ‘really happy man’ in being an ‘incarnate bachelor.’² And to praise the ideal wisdom dispensed by Overton, his mentor, about marriage, Ernest says to him, ‘You are an incarnate bachelor.’³

      ‘Incarnate’ means embodied, and its repeated use by Butler and those who knew...

    • 8 Mind Matters: Butler and Late Nineteenth-Century Psychology
      (pp. 195-220)

      Samuel Butler is a writer known for his oppositional strategies, and as such has frequently been referred to as an ‘exile’ or ‘Ishmael.’¹ But few who have explored his work in any depth would say that he was not a man of his time – a writer, in fact, of remarkably informed (however oppositionally informed) opinions in a wide range of cultural and scientific areas. This paradoxical position was particularly evident in Butler’s engagement with the rapidly developing field of psychology in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Butler’s name in the history of science is associated with the debates...

  9. PART THREE: ON THE MARGIN,1887–1902

    • 9 Samuel Butler, Local Identity, and the Periodizing of Northern Italian Art: The Travel Writer-Painter’s View of Art History
      (pp. 223-250)

      Samuel Butler’sAlps and Sanctuaries of Piedmont and the Canton Ticinois an animated, often charming diary of a Victorian travel writer-painter’s several summers of holiday rambling about Switzerland and Northern Italy. Published in 1881, it is a potpourri of Butler’s reflections on life, art, architecture, and religion in local settings far from Europe’s art capitals, copiously illustrated with engravings of his own extensive sketching in the countryside. At the volume’s centre, however, Butler offers the reader an essay on art academies, both ancient and modern, and their effects on the production of art, titled ‘Considerations on the Decline of...

    • 10 Samuel Butler’s Photography: Observation and the Dynamic Past
      (pp. 251-286)

      I want to consider how we might view Samuel Butler’s photography in relation to the visual rhetorics of the last decade of the nineteenth century, as inflected through Butler’s very individual, idiosyncratic, and brilliant view of the world. Mine is the view of a visual historian and anthropologist rather than a literary scholar and is concerned with how Butler’s photographic work emerges not only from his particular, often contradictory, world view, but also from the clearly articulated dictates of the concept of ‘observation’ and description at the end of the nineteenth century. Just as it is impossible to contain Butler...

    • 11 Butler’s Narcissus: ‘A Tame Oratorio’
      (pp. 287-316)

      George Frideric Handel sat atop Samuel Butler’s Parnassus of creative geniuses, ranking not only above all other composers but also beyond the reach of the best artists and authors. Far from shrinking in awe from Handel’s greatness, however, Butler approached him as a fellow musician and was quick to point out perceived weaknesses and flaws in Handel’s scores. His greatest personal tribute to the composer was to make his music a model for his own musical composition. Butler’s two completed oratorios in the Handelian style,Narcissus(1888) andUlysses(1904, published posthumously), written and composed in collaboration with Henry Festing...

    • 12 Why Homer Was (Not) a Woman: The Reception of The Authoress of the Odyssey
      (pp. 317-342)

      In November 1968 Moses Finley, one of the most influential twentieth-century historians of antiquity, reviewed a reprinted edition of Samuel Butler’sThe Authoress of the Odysseyin theNew York Review of Books.¹ First published some seventy years earlier, in 1897,The Authoresswas best known for its notorious claim that theOdysseyhad not been written by a blind old man, also known as ‘Homer,’ but by a young Sicilian girl who had lived around 1050 BCE and who had depicted herself in the epic as the Princess Nausicaa, the daughter of King Alcinous of Phaeacia, the island where...

    • 13 Butler after Butler: The Man of Letters as Outsider
      (pp. 343-370)

      In a Note-Book entry of 1899, ‘Analysis of the sales of my books,’ written toward the end of his career, Samuel Butler charted the evidence of his dwindling Victorian readership (NB 5:205).¹ As the list descends through fourteen works, all self-published between 1872 and 1898, the net losses mount, and Butler’s audience diminishes to zero. ‘It will be noted,’ he observes dryly, ‘that my public appears to be a declining one. I attribute this to the long course of practical boycott to which I have been subjected for so many years – or if not boycott – of sneer, snarl, and misrepresentation....

  10. Chronology
    (pp. 371-374)
  11. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 375-392)
  12. Contributors
    (pp. 393-396)
  13. Credits
    (pp. 397-398)
  14. Index
    (pp. 399-423)