Erewhon (1872)

First edition title page (BII ERE 1872.1)

The author wishes it to be understood that Erewhon is pronounced as a word of three syllables, all short — thus, E-re-whon. [from Butler’s preface to the first edition]

Samuel Butler’s most critically acclaimed novel, Erewhon, or Over the Range was published anonymously in 1872. Its setting is the fictional country of Erewhon, an anagram of ‘nowhere’, which is based on Butler’s experiences as a sheep farmer in New Zealand, during which he explored the interiors of the South Island. After narrating the discovery of the country by the protagonist Higgs, the novel focuses on the shortcomings of Erewhon’s systems, thereby placing itself in the genre of utopian satire. Its mockery of religious hypocrisy and the failings of law and order in Erewhon also drew parallels with the prevailing problems in contemporary Victorian society, as Butler saw them. Butler’s literary style is frequently compared to Jonathan Swift’s in Gulliver’s Travels.


Erewhon is also remembered for having been influenced by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. A section of the book entitled ‘The Book of the Machines’ introduces the notion of machines developing a kind of consciousness – an idea which was considered amusing at the time but later debated with much seriousness.

As writers such as George Bernard Shaw, E.M. Forster and Aldous Huxley publically recognised, Erewhon was an influential novel, particularly for later authors of dystopian and science fiction.

Read the book for free online

Back to Samuel Butler's Books