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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Erewhon

Erewhon (ee-ree-whon). Utopian land set vaguely in the South Pacific region—possibly in New Zealand, but because of Erewhon’s vastness, some scholars have argued that it is more likely located in Australia. Early chapters show the struggle of the narrator, Higgs, to cross the unnamed mountain range between a coastal sheep pasture and the interior. He is in the company of Chowbok, an elderly Erewhonian. They travel on horseback to begin with, following the course of a river. After they spot the main range of mountains, with glaciers on their summits, the route becomes rockier, so they release their horses and continue on foot. Many gorges are unscalable or dead ends. After Chowbok deserts him, Higgs continues on alone. The difficult river crossings, dangerous precipices, snowy saddles, and magnificent views (often obscured by clouds) are described in great detail.

As Higgs descends toward the interior of the country, he sees the first evidence of another society: ten huge statues of semihuman forms. However, the people he encounters there are of normal human stature, handsome, and Mediterranean in their coloring. Their villages resemble those of northern Italy, where Samuel Butler spent many pleasant holidays.

As Higgs is taken, without force but on foot, from village to town, it becomes obvious that the vegetation of this land is similar to that of both New Zealand and the Mediterranean. However, the inhabitants’ language is different, and the society completely rejects machines. The first evidence of a difference in Erewhonian philosophy comes when Higgs’s pocket-watch is confiscated and placed in a museum of old and broken machines that houses fragments of steam engines, clocks, and other things that appear to be hundreds of years old. Higgs calculates that the society’s culture is technologically similar to that of Europe in the twelfth or thirteenth century.

Imprisoned for his possession of a watch, Higgs comes to realize that illness is regarded as a crime; even catching a cold can result in a prison sentence. However, over the years, the law has produced a healthy and athletic people. Here, Butler puts Darwin’s principle of the survival of the fittest into operation. On the other hand, criminal activities, such as embezzlement, are considered to be illnesses that should be treated.

Capital

Capital. Higgs is transported to Erewhon’s unnamed capital city in a small carriage drawn by a single horse. Butler avoids description of the countryside by having Higgs travel blindfolded. Higgs estimates that his journey covers no more than thirty or thirty-five miles a day for a period of a month—figures that suggest a total of one thousand miles, a distance equivalent to almost the entire length of New Zealand’s major islands. As Higgs gets closer to the metropolis, his blindfold is removed, and he sees towers, fortifications, and palaces. All the buildings Higgs describes are attractive and luxurious.

Nosnibor’s home

Nosnibor’s home. Palatial house of Senoj Nosnibor in which Higgs is lodged. The house is a mansion on raised ground on the outskirts of the city, with rooms set around a central courtyard in the Roman style and with ten acres of terraced gardens. Nosnibor’s name, like many in Erewhon, is an anagram of a familiar British name (Jones Robinson). “Erewhon” itself is an anagram of “nowhere.” Butler uses anagrams as a technique of satirizing contemporary society through inversion of conventions.

Musical Banks

Musical Banks. Important Erewhonian institution to which Higgs is taken by Zulora, the daughter of his host. Situated on a large central piazza, the building is an example of classical architecture, with pillars, towers and sculptures. Only its stained glass and choral singing seem unusual for a bank, but although money does change hands it soon becomes evident, to Higgs and to the reader, that this is Butler’s satire of the established church. The money obtained from the Musical Banks is...

(The entire section is 1,052 words.)