Samuel Butler (1835 – 1902)


 Samuel Butler was born on 4 December, 1835 in Nottinghamshire, England. After graduating at Cambridge, he started preparing for his ordination (per diventare prete) to the Anglican clergy, but soon began questioning his faith (iniziò a mettere in discussion la sua fede),as he wrote in The Fair Haven. The difficult relationship with his family, in particular with his father made him make up his mind (lo fecero decider) and, in 1840, he decided to sail for the British colony of  New Zealand  (Treaty of Waitangi between the British Crown and the Maori chiefs) on the ship Roman Emperor. He worked  as a sheep farmer on Mesopotamia Station, period described in the book in A First Year in Canterbury Settlement (1863). When he sold his farm he  made a generous profit and those years supplied him (gli fornirono) with the material for his masterpiece Erewhon (1872). Back home in  1864, he settled (si stabilì) for the rest of his life in a room  in Clifford’s Inn, near Fleet Street. Erewhom at first appeared anonymously: when he revealed his paternity he got fame (divenne famoso). His father left him a remarkable fortune and Butler started spending his summers in Italy where he went on working about art (Alps and Sanctuaries of Piedmont and the Canton Ticino, 1881 and Ex Voto, 1888).He wrote a sequel, of his masterpiece, Erewhon Revisited and a semi-autobiographical novel The Way of All Flesh which only appeared after his death because of his too heavy satirical attack on Victorian morality.

Erewhon is the description of a land and took inspiration from the year Butler spent in New Zealand . In the preface to the first edition of his book, the author specifies the pronunciation – three syllables, all short  E-re-whon (but the word is occasionally pronounced with two syllables as ‘air – one’). Butler meant the title to be read as the word Nowhere backwards. It is a satire of the Victorian society influenced by  Charles Darwin’s evolution theory ( On the Origin of Species, 1859).  It is not easy to define what kind of book it is . It is not a Utopia because the place is not idyllic, yet it is not a dystopia – it is  very different from novels such as George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. It can be compared with the  satirical utopian story of   Gulliver’s Travels (1726) by Jonathan Swift and to William Morris’ News from Nowhere for the strong parallels with the English  self-view (la visione che gli stessi inglesi avevano) of the British Empire at the time.

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