THOMAS MORE: A Biography by Richard Marius

THOMAS MORE: A Biography

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A thorough, balanced, but sometimes numbingly discursive life of ""a complex, haunted, and not altogether admirable man."" Marius, currently head of Harvard's Expository Writing Program, is a Reformation historian who started working on More as a graduate student at Yale and has edited several volumes of the Yale edition of More's complete works; he brings a quarter-century of experience to this job, and it shows. Most lives of More, from the fine one written in 1557 by his son-in-law, William Roper, down to the generally accepted standard biography by R. W. Chambers (1935), have been biased in his favor. Marius, by contrast, takes great pains to portray fairly this ""cruelly divided"" character, a monkish ascetic who rose to the heights of secular power (and loved it), an exemplary husband who never forgave himself for succumbing to sexual desire, a gentle father who wrote furiously abusive religious propaganda, a champion of freedom of conscience who burned heretics for following theirs. Marius' work is also distinguished by its effort to draw on More's immense (and generally depressing) oeuvre to understand his soul. Thus, while conceding the many witty touches in A Dialogue Concerning Heresies (1529), Marius notes how this polemical blast ""reveals the cast-iron rules-maker"" who wrote Utopia, a closed mind with ""an icy inflexibility and an unyielding resolve to make the worst of his opponents."" Marius' biggest problem is that he wants to tell the reader everything. When it comes to the obscure, ugly case of Richard Hunne, he spins out pages of tedious speculation. Every allusion is explicated: Marius summarizes The Praise of Folly, the political claims of Pope Gregory VII (1073-85), even the New Testament story of John the Baptist and Herod Antipas. More's behavior during his persecution by Henry VIII--cunning when there was still a chance to escape, quietly heroic when there was not--has always been a great story, and Marius does it justice. But his final assessment sees More, like his face in the brilliant Holbein portrait, as deeply ambivalent and perhaps unfathomable. Despite its prolixity, this is now the fullest, fairest, most carefully nuanced account of More available.

Pub Date: Oct. 29th, 1984
ISBN: 0674885252
Publisher: Knopf