The Human Frown

John Bayley

  • Samuel Butler: A Biography by Peter Raby
    Hogarth, 334 pp, £25.00, February 1991, ISBN 0 7012 0890 2

Samuel Butler might be seen as one of those liberators who escort readers and admirers into a new airy sort of cell, and turn the key with an air of bestowing on them perfect freedom and emancipation of mind. So effective a freedom fighter was he, at least on one front, that his message and his books may now seem not much more than literary curiosities. He settled down in his own lifetime to being a well-known brand of licensed English eccentric, rearranging evolution and Shakespeare’s sonnets, proving that the author of the Odyssey was a woman, crossing swords in Shavian style with Bernard Shaw. An admirable, indeed an indispensable, literary sub-species, but not the sort who leaves behind either little masterpieces or great works of art.

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