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Thomas More: A Biography [Paperback]

By Richard Marius (Author)
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Item description for Thomas More: A Biography by Richard Marius...

Over the centuries, biographers of Thomas More have always praised him and made him an example for their own times. He was a man for all seasons. This Tudor prelate and Lord Chancellor of England shared human qualities identifiable in all ages--pride, love, ambition, generosity, hypocrisy, and greed. He was less than common because he was witty and a great storyteller--the best between Chaucer and Shakespeare. Truly, he was a Renaissance man with the contradictions such praise imposes on a towering figure. In Richard Marius's authoritative and engaging portrait, Sir Thomas More, the martyr and brilliant public figure, is a lesson for our season.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Harvard University Press
Pages   562
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.25" Width: 5.55" Height: 1.5"
Weight:   1.45 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Mar 15, 1999
Publisher   Harvard University Press
Edition  Revised  
ISBN  0674885252  
ISBN13  9780674885257  

Availability  0 units.

More About Richard Marius

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Richard Marius was a historian, novelist, playwright, and a member of the Harvard faculty.

Richard Marius has an academic affiliation as follows - HARVARD UNIVERSITY-CAMBRIDGE.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > General
2Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Historical > British > General
3Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Historical > British
4Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Historical > General
5Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Leaders & Notable People > Religious
6Books > Subjects > History > Europe > England > 18th Century
7Books > Subjects > History > Europe > England > General
8Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Catholicism > Roman Catholicism

Reviews - What do customers think about Thomas More: A Biography?

A worthy biography of Sir Thomas More  Feb 15, 2004
This is a detailed, well-researched and thouroughly conventional biography of the life of Thomas More, Lord Chancellor under Henry VIII, Catholic apologist and saint, man of letters, London lawyer and model father.

In painting More's portrait, Richard Marius not only describes all aspects of his busy life, including his family life, but also strives to make us acquainted with some of the prominent figures of the time. Erasmus receives special attention and both his works and the correspondence between him and More is treated at great length. Luther is another important character, along with other Reformation figures.

The author describes meticulously the content of More's main works starting with his account of the life of Richard III and ending with the treatise on death he wrote when he was imprisoned in the Tower. Each book is analysed in depth both as to its philosophical, theological and political import and as a reflection of More's character and beliefs. In fact, the discussion of More's literary production takes up about half the book, so that "Thomas More: A Biography" could appropriately be renamed "Thomas More's Literary Career".

Another reviewer has torn into this biography, accusing Marius of "deconstructionism". At first I found that Marius's view of Thomas More was surprisingly free of many modern prejudices. Let us not forget that More is a man who should be thouroughly repellent to any liberal scholar: he persecuted heretics relentlessly. He seemes to have been what we now call a religious fanatic, a XVIth century version of Khomeini.

Now, except for the odd passage, there are no such cynical or condescending remarks as one often finds under the pen of many modern historians when discussing the Middle Ages or Catholicism in this biography. Sometimes I even suspected that Marius might be a crypto-Catholic, for he shows more than disinterested objectivity in his treatment of the causes that More passionately espoused. Sometimes he even vents his repulsion for some Protestant doctrines or the behavior of More's adversaries, describing for example the King at the time of his infatuation with Anne Boleyn as "a boar in rut" and the woman herself as "a strumpet".

But when I finished the book I was struck by the fact that it had left in my mind a rather negative image of Sir Thomas More. In any case, I didn't think he deserved to be considered as a saint by the Church. In his depiction of him, Marius seems to focus more on the somber aspects of his personality and he certainly doesn't dwell on the likeable or admirable ones.He goes even so far as to compare him with the hateful Torquemada.

Marius provides a general psychological explanation for More's course of action. It is not specially far-fetched or outrageous, just slightly Freudian: More, says Marius, was obsessed with death and fought against his own sexual drives, traits which were common enough among his contemporaries. Fortunately, Marius does not dwell heavily on his psychological theories and when he does attempt an explanation, refrains from using any pseudo-pschoanalytic jargon.

"Thomas More: A Biography" is specially valuable for the light it throws on the doctrinal issues that were at the center of the Reformation and I gained many an insight from Marius'clear and profound reflections. The only thing which I found lacking is a detailed description of political events, economic life(More lived in an age of three-digit inflation!)civilization and daily life in 16th century England but then the book might easily have been twice as long. To put it briefly, this biography is more a discussion of ideas than of events, which is understandable since More was a rather second-rate political figure (at least this is how he appears in this work).

What one will not find either in this book is evocative descriptions of XVIth century London or of King Henry's court. You will not be apprised here of the name of More's dog or find a description of the furniture of his house. Marius doesn't try to recreate the age with a wealth of details: he focuses on More, his books, and on the religious issues and controversies of the time.

The book is long and does contain a few lengthy and dull passages, especially in the beginning and when Marius goes in great detail into More's books and correspondence but the narrative gets more and more interesting toward the end. One aspect of the book which I found confusing is the author's inability to tell us what was the real state of public opinion in More's time. He often says that the English people were fiercely anticlerical but also states that they were overwhelmingly for Catherine of Aragon and against the Henry's divorce. To me this seems to be a blatant contradiction. Apparently, Marius has failed to make a distinction between the intelligentsia and the popular classes and between London and the rest of the country.

All in all, I still think that this is a worthy book. I don't think Marius could have been more sympathetic to More without sounding as a Catholic hagiographer. In addition to it and for people who want a more Catholic view of the period, I recommend Hilaire Belloc's books on the Reformation. People interested in a scholarly work about English Catholicism at the time of Thomas More should read The Stripping of the Altars.

Excellent, complex bio of an excellent, complex man.  Jul 1, 2003
Among the several recent More biographers, Marius is the best qualified, having served as an editor of the Yale Complete Works of Saint Thomas More. More was an exceedingly complex person whose personality is very, very difficult to capture. Of the three serious biographies of More written in the last 20 years (by Alistair Fox, Marius, and Peter Ackroyd) I found Marius's biography the most rewarding.

More remains a controversial figure: to Catholics he is a Saint, the patron saint of politicians and statemen. But then again, he was an enthusiastic prosecutor of heretics: more than 30 were burned under More's authority as Chancellor of England. The idea that the brilliant, virtuous More (now frozen in the form of Paul Scofield) could have done this is repellant to some. I believe this accounts for the bile heaped on Marius's book by some reviewers here. Frankly, criticisms of Marius's SCHOLARSHIP are just ridiculous; they say more about the commentor than the subject.

That said, Marius's bio is not perfect. It has ideas and makes excellent connections; but I found that reading all three of these bios gave me a better sense of Thomas More than any one. Yet as in Rashomon, just when one thinks one has the missing piece needed to know More, one gets the annoying sense that the pieces do not quite fit and one despairs of ever knowing him. He is that deep.

Still, if one will read only one More bio, I say read Marius's. (Unless, that is, you are looking for outright hagiography -- in which case, read Monti's book.)

Biography as novel  May 10, 2002
This is biography of Thomas More lacks scholarship, and contains a surprising number of passages in which Marius shows his lack of depth as an objective scholar with a broad range of learning in this field.

Do yourself a favor and read Peter Ackroyd's book.

Not a work of high scholarship  Apr 28, 2002
This biography often reads more like a novel. Although Marius can lay a claim to scholarship as the editor of More's Collected Works at Yale, his writings on historical figures lack for objectivity and attention to avoiding basic prejudices and popular suppositions.

Louis Martz, the great More scholar at Yale, was moved to write a "defense" of More's humanism and some of the basic facts of More's life, commonly known to all More scholars, subsequent to Marius' biography.

What is interesting is that Marius is equally poor is writing about Martin Luther, one of More's literary adversaries. So much so that in the recent reviews of the Luther biography, Marius is accused of the "catholic" view of Luther, when in fact Marius is a protestant.

I believe that the trouble arises when one does not stick to the scholarship and the facts, and allows oneself to put in imaginary thoughts and conversation and personal biases. Then you just have a work of fiction.

Better to stick to a readable and sound biography such as that of Peter Ackroyd.

Still the best biography of Thomas More  Jun 13, 2001
Marius presents More "worts and all" and he certainly did have some worts by moderern standards, such as advocating the burning of heretics. But as John Adams said, facts are stuborn things. More wrote and did things of which we cannot approve--as well as a great many things of immortal value. Unlike us, those in times past were frequently wrong and misguided. We must learn to admire More (and any other historical personage, such as Jefferson) despite their flaws.

Marius presents More in the intellectual context of the day. The reader will learn as much about the Reformation as More, and you will learn More than in all the other biographies combined.

By no means do I agree with all of Marius's judgements, but he gives you the facts and you can think for yourself. No More can a serious biogapher do.


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