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Samuel Butler Revalued

By (author) Thomas L. Jeffers
Format: Hardback
Publisher: Pennsylvania State University Press, Pennsylvania, United States
Published: 1st Oct 1990
Dimensions: w 150mm h 230mm d 10mm
Weight: 363g
ISBN-10: 0271002816
ISBN-13: 9780271002811
Barcode No: 9780271002811
Synopsis
This book is first an essay in reassessment and rediscovery: there has been no rigorously comprehensive study of Butler in over a generation. It is also an essay in comparative criticism, which places Butler between his early twentieth-century heirs and his eighteenth-century precursors. While Butler is remembered chiefly as a novelist, he defies generic classification. With a lucidity and elegance that singularly befit the author of The Way of All Flesh, Dr. Jeffers leads the reader to comprehend Butler in all his facets: as theologian, moralist, and educationist. Butler was a writer who, with remarkable success not only in the Pontifex saga and Erewhon, but also in The Fair Haven, Life and Habit, and The Notebooks, addressed himself to matters of enduring relevance. Butler has long been recognized as an early exponent of ideas which certain twentieth-century thinkers, from Bergson to Whitehead to Freud, either wittingly borrowed or unwittingly reconceived. This line of study has, however, given the unwarranted impression that Butler was a lonely seer, a studious eccentric who exhumed and galvanized the ideas of forgotten theorists like Lamarck and turned them against the deep-rooted intellectual establishment of the late Victorian Age. This is to mistake his social for his spiritual position. His writings teem with ideas which are continuous with pre-Victorian traditions of libertarianism in education, hedonism in ethics, and a half-pious, half-iconoclastic agnosticism in theology. Writers such as Locke, Hume, Dr. Johnson, Chesterfield, and Cobbett helped variously to create and apply the philosophical assumptions which Butler found at hand when he needed a grounding different from his father's Pauline Christianity and public school "hypothetics," just as he himself went on to develop assumptions which Shaw, Forster, Virginia Woolf, and others would have at hand in their different times of need.

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