The Way of All Flesh Study Guide

The Way of All Flesh

The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler

The Way of All Flesh is the story of Ernest Pontifex, son of an upwardly mobile but hypocritical and domineering family living in the Victorian Period. Ernest struggles with his father's influence over him and with forming his own identity independent of his family's. The story is narrated by his godfather, Overton, a charitable man who disavows the hypocrisy of the Victorian Era. The novel is a sharp rebuke to Victorian morality and ethics.

Pontifex family. First generation

  • "Old" John Pontifex (16 August 1727– 8 February 1812)
  • Ruth Pontifex (13 October 1727– 10 January 1811; wife of Old Pontifex; married 1750).

Second generation

  • George Pontifex (c.1765–1838; son of Old John and Ruth Pontifex; married c.1797 to unnamed woman who died 1805).

Third generation

  • Eliza (1798-18??; George Pontifex's eldest child; never marries)
  • Maria (1799-18??; George Pontifex's second child; never marries)
  • John (ca.1801–18??; George Pontifex's third child; marries&has unnamed son early 1837)
  • Theobald (1802–1881; George Pontifex's fourth child; marries Christina Allaby July 1831; has 3 children)
  • Alethea Pontifex (1805–1850; George Pontifex's fifth child; loves Overton but never marries him).
  • Christina Pontifex (née Allaby; wife of Theobald Pontifex; married July 1831; died ca.1863).

Fourth generation

  • Ernest Pontifex, the central character (born 6 September 1835; eldest child of Theobald and Christina Pontifex).
  • Ellen Pontifex (born ca.1831; housemaid of Theobald and Christina; likely pregnant by John the coachman&married him 15 August 1851; separated; married bigamously to Ernest late 1850s; annulled 1862).
  • Joseph (born 1836; second child of Theobald&Christina; married between 1875&1876).
  • Charlotte (born 1837; third child of Theobald&Christina; married between 1876&1882).

Fifth generation

  • Alice (born September 1860; illegitimate daughter of Ellen and Ernest; married Jack Rollings (born 1855)); marries at age 38 and has son.
  • Georgie (born late 1861; illegitimate son of Ernest and Ellen); marries and has children.


  • Dr Skinner (Ernest's teacher).
  • John (Theobald&Christina's family coachman. Gets Ellen pregnant; marries her 15 August 1851. Later separated due to her drunkenness).
  • Mr Overton, the narrator (born 1802, loves Alethea Pontifex but never marries her; trustee of her estate; godfather to Ernest).

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