The novel Erewhon published by Samuel Butler in 1872 is said to be one of the first dystopian novels.

The middle section of the book reads as a satire on the English Judicial system. By making the Erewhonian judicial system almost an inverse of that prevailing in late Victorian times it highlights what Butler perceives to be injustice.

In the preface to the book, Butler states that Erewhon is Nowhere backwards, with WH transposed to make it pronounceable. Some of the key Erewhonian characters similarly have reversed names (e.g. Thims), although most characters do not.

The book's protagonist is taught the ways of the Erewhonian legal, political and financial systems by Nosnibor. This character is described as a "cured" embezzler, now a pillar of society. His "crimes" and "illnesses" are described at some length.

Is Nosnibor intended to be a satirical reference to a Robinson of the time? I'm not aware of any likely candidate amongst contemporary politicians and know nothing of possible candidate judges. Or did Butler merely pick a common English name?

1 Answer 1


R. Balfour Daniels considered the significance of the names in Butler’s Erewhon novels, and commented as follows on “Nosnibor”:

Then there are the unaltered letter-reversals such as Yram (Mary), the jailer's daughter with whom the hero has an affair, not revealed until many years later, and Senoj Nosnibor (Jones Robinson), the hero's host. There is little significance in these names except that the second, a combination of quite common names, may indicate the bourgeois origin of this wealthy Erewhonian.

R. Balfour Daniels (1969). ‘Names in the Fiction of Samuel Butler (1835–1902)’. The South Central Bulletin 29:4, p. 129.

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