After completing his education at Shrewsbury School and St. John's College, Cambridge, Samuel Butler quarreled with his father about his desire to become an artist rather than follow his father into the clergy. The result was that in 1859 he sailed for New Zealand to become a sheep farmer. When he returned to England in 1864, he had doubled his capital and published a popular memoir called "A First Year in Canterbury Settlement". Taking up residence in Clifford's Inn, Butler was now resolved to become a painter, writing only infrequent articles on religious and scientific topics. In 1872, EREWHON, his first work of fiction, appeared and, although published under a pseudonym, its success began to overshadow Butler's career as an artist. His next publication, "The Fair Haven", was a book of religious skepticism. Over the following years he became identified with ideas antithetical to Darwin and various aspects of religious thinking. He also wrote on his travels in Italy, on art, on Shakespeare, and produced lively translations of the ILIAD and the ODYSSEY, accompanied by his theory that the ancient poems were written by a woman. His final book, THE WAY OF ALL FLESH, is an autobiographical work that had occupied him on and off throughout his literary career but was finally published, posthumously, in 1903.
"...Butler's wildest jokes are nearer to present-day truths than many sober Victorian platitudes. His straighteners are our psychoanalysts and psychiatrists: his method of treating moral offences is that of our more intelligent penologists....In 'Erewhon' there are meanings within meanings; and each fresh mutation of life throws some new characteristic of 'Erewhon' into relief....If 'Erewhon' is not the best of Butler's books, it remains for many reasons the most important. It is the war of a kindly, straightforward spirit with sham, bigotry, humbug, pretension, cant, affectation, stupidity. Once set out on that campaign, Butler never retreated....If he does not always seem to fight on the side of the angels, it is perhaps because the angels have a horrid way of getting into bad company."
"In 'Erewhon' Butler found both a subject and himself....Yet it remains in many ways the queerest satire that has ever been written....When Butler describes the Musical Banks or the attitudes of Erewhonians towards disease, it is impossible to detect the least flicker of emotion either towards us and our ways or the Erewhonians and their ways. This makes 'Erewhon' a very queer book, for what can be more strange and disquieting than a humorist who is apparently never amused."
"When I produce plays in which Butler's fresh and future-piercing suggestions have an obvious share, I am met with nothing but vague cacklings about Ibsen and Nietzsche."
"Why did this book influence me? For one thing, I have the sort of mind which likes to be taken unawares. The frontal full-dress presentation of an opinion often repels me, but if it be insidiously slipped in sidewise I may receive it, and Butler is a master of the oblique....'Erewhon' also influenced me in its technique. I like the idea of fantasy, of muddling up the actual and the impossible until the reader isn't sure which is which, and I have sometimes tried to do it when writing myself."
From the Publisher
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. Suffice it, that when I left home it was with the intention of going to some new colony, and either finding, or even perhaps purchasing, waste crown land suitable for cattle or sheep farming, by which means I thought that I could better my fortunes more rapidly than in England.
Samuel Butler claims to have spent 10 years writing his first novel, which emerged as a masterpiece of social and religious satire. The delay was partly due to the fact that it was composed on Sundays while the rest of Butler's weeks were devoted to what he felt at the time was his true calling: painting. Borrowing the landscape of New Zealand and adopting ideas from articles Butler had written for magazines in response to Darwin's evolutionary theories, Butler created the strange race of Erewhonians who have forbidden the use of machines, who treat their sick like criminals and their criminals like sick people, who suppress originality and hold that the greatest scholarly achievement is proficiency in the study of unreason and "hypothetics."