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Erewhon or Over the Range

Samuel Butler

Erewhon, or Over the Range is a novel by Samuel Butler, published anonymously in 1872. The title is also the name of a country, supposedly discovered by the protagonist. In the novel, it is not revealed in which part of the world Erewhon is, but it is clear that it is a fictional country. Butler meant the title to be read as the word Nowhere backwards, even though the letters "h" and "w" are transposed. It is likely that he did this to protect himself from accusations of being unpatriotic, although Erewhon is obviously a satire of Victorian society.

The first few chapters of the novel, dealing with the discovery of Erewhon, are in fact based on Butler's own experiences in New Zealand where, as a young man, he worked as a sheep farmer for about four years (1860–1864) and explored parts of the interior of the South Island. (One of the country's largest sheep farms, located near where Butler lived, is named "Erewhon" in his honour. It is near Mesopotamia Station, another large sheep farm).

In the preface to the first edition of his book, Butler specified:

The author wishes it to be understood that Erewhon is pronounced as a word of three syllables, all short — thus, E-re-whon.

Nevertheless, the word is occasionally pronounced with two syllables as 'air - one'.

Content

The greater part of the book consists of a description of Erewhon. The nature of this nation is intended to be ambiguous. At first glance, Erewhon appears to be a utopia, yet it soon becomes clear that this is far from the case. Yet for all the failings of Erewhon, it is also clearly not a dystopia, an undesirable society such as that depicted by George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. As a satirical utopia, Erewhon has sometimes been compared to Gulliver's Travels (1726), a classic novel by Jonathan Swift; the image of utopia in this latter case also bears strong parallels with the self-view of the British Empire at the time. It should also be compared to William Morris' novel News from Nowhere.

Erewhon satirizes various aspects of Victorian society, including criminal punishment, religion and anthropocentrism. For example, according to Erewhonian law, offenders are treated as if they were ill whilst ill people are looked upon as criminals. Another feature of Erewhon is the absence of machines; this is due to the widely shared perception by the Erewhonians that they are potentially dangerous. This last aspect of Erewhon reveals the influence of Charles Darwin's evolution theory; Butler had read On the Origin of Species soon after it was published in 1859.

(From Wikipedia, description text under GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL))

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