The Way of All Flesh
This book begun in 1873 and worked on until 1883, appeared the year after his death. It is a bitter indictment of the Butler family in particular and of the hypocrisy and subtle sadism of the Victorian middle-class family in general. To control young Ernest Pontifex, his clergyman father uses fanatical harshness, his mother guileful sentimentality. They rationalize their lies and betrayals as being for the good of their children. But beneath a self-righteous facade of bigoted Christianity, both are abysmal egoists. Like Butler, young Pontifex gives up a career in the church and, after a series of misadventures brought on by his innocence, gullibility, and longing for affection, finally achieves hapiness as a cynical and atheistic bachelor. Butler is at his best in this novel, particularly in the more polished first third. It is brilliant, witty, devastating portrait of parental hypocrisy, and all subsequent novels of family life are in debted to its honesty.
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