Erewhon Mall takes its name from the satirical novel Erewhon, written by British novelist Samuel Butler (1835-1902). Erewhon, an anagram for “nowhere,” tells the story of a fictional country near New Zealand where it is a crime to become physically ill, yet conventional criminal activity and immoral behavior are considered medically treatable. The novel, written in 1872, was one of only two novels written by Butler that were popular in his lifetime, the other being Erewhon, Revisited, published in 1901.
Samuel Butler was born December 4, 1835 in Nottinghamshire, England where his father, Thomas, was the head of a parish. Samuel came from a line of clergymen, and it was his father’s plan for Samuel to continue the family tradition. Samuel attended Cambridge University, his father’s alma mater, from 1854 to 1858, graduating with a degree in Classics. Thomas continually pushed Samuel to pursue a profession as a member of the clergy. To further this goal, Butler spent the period from 1858 to 1859 living in a poor London parish. However, while in London, Samuel became inspired to approach his father with his growing doubts about his faith.
This created a rift between father and son that led in part to Samuel’s decision to travel to New Zealand and became a sheep farmer in 1859. While in New Zealand, Butler wrote an article for the Christchurch Press, entitled “Darwin Amongst the Machines,” which later became the basis for Erewhon. Reading Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1863 was an important event in Butler’s life, as many of his later writings were on the subject of natural selection.
In 1864, Butler returned to London, taking up residence at 15 Clifford’s Inn, where he would reside until his death in 1902. In 1867 Butler began a relationship with Eliza Savage, who would become Butler’s friend and chief critic. In fact, Butler would not submit a work for publication until first showing it to Savage. Savage approved of Erewhon in 1872 and the book soon became Butler’s first commercial success. The Fair Haven followed in 1874, but did not approach the popularity of Erewhon.
Butler’s most famous work, The Way of All Flesh was not published until after his death. He had given a draft of the novel, a satirical, semi-autobiographical account of Victorian family life, to Savage in 1874. His friend approved of the work, yet Butler remained unsatisfied with the novel and continued to work on it over the next ten years. Upon Savage’s death in 1885, Butler decided not to publish the work without his friend’s approval. Thus The Way of All Flesh was not published until 1903, when the book was discovered among Butler’s possessions after his death. The novel met with widespread acclaim, securing his place among Victorian writers. Erewhon Mall serves as a reminder of Butler’s work, and features three pin oak (Quercus palustris) trees and two quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) trees. The mall is part of the Greenstreets program, a joint project of Parks and the Department of Transportation begun in 1986 and revived in 1994. Its goal is to convert paved street properties, such as triangles and malls, into green spaces.