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Erewhon, where illness and poverty are criminal offences…

April 9, 2013


Samuel Butler‘s 1872 novel Erewhon (an anagram of Nowhere -, i.e. U-topia) is a sinister dystopia in which the narrator arrives in a country where the government and the officials openly steal from everybody and are highly respected for their skills, while illness and poverty are considered criminal offences and are severely punished :


”My instructor came to visit me and told me that one of the leading merchants had sent me an invitation to consider myself his guest for as long a time as I chose.  “He is a delightful man,” continued the interpreter, “but has suffered terribly from kleptomania, and has only lately recovered from embezzling a large sum of money under singularly distressing circumstances; but he has quite got over it, and the doctors say that he has made a really wonderful recovery; you are sure to like him.


 “Embezzle a large sum of money under singularly distressing circumstances!” I exclaimed,“and ask me to go and stay with him!“

I told him that I did not at all like the sound of what had been proposed for me, and that I would have nothing to do with it.

The interpreter was much surprised by my answer, and said that I should be very foolish if I persisted in my refusal.


 I have some regard for my character“, I said impatiently, ”and I will have nothing to do with a man who is an embezzler of other people’s money, who are maybe  ill or poor—”


“Ill or poor!” interrupted the interpreter, with a face of great alarm.  “So that’s your notion of propriety!  You would consort with the basest criminals, and yet consider simple embezzlement an obstacle to friendly intercourse.  I cannot understand you.


Now, doesn‘t this anticipate with distrubing accuracy the mentality of our times?

(Just a falsely candid rhetorical exclamation, of course…)




From → Paraphernalia

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