Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Writing Faith and Telling Tales: Literature, Politics, and Religion in the Work of Thomas More

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Writing Faith and Telling Tales: Literature, Politics, and Religion in the Work of Thomas More

Article excerpt

Writing Faith and Telling Tales: Literature, Politics, and Religion in the Work of Thomas More. By Thomas Betteridge. University of Notre Dame Press. 272pp, Pounds 29.95 ISBN 9780268022396 and 075941 (e-book). Published 29 November 2013

I must begin with a confession. Much of Thomas Betteridge's book remains a mystery to me. Its subject, Thomas More and his writings, has interested me for more years than I care to remember, and indeed at one stage I even considered writing a book about him myself. When I first became interested in More, his reputation could hardly have been higher. The standard biography remained that by R.W. Chambers, which presented More - the English statesman and philosopher executed on the orders of Henry VIII in 1535 and canonised 400 years later by Pius XI - in a favourable light. But much more important to the general public was Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons, first a play and then in 1966 a film in which Paul Sco-field, with that compelling voice of his, presented More in a most sympathetic light.

But even at the time some people worried that Bolt's More was anachronistic, since it was difficult to believe that someone who had spent so much of his time denouncing heretics, even by some accounts torturing them, could really be a defender of the right of everyone to live according to his conscience. Moreover, in the late 1960s and 1970s, More's reputation came under serious attack from Sir Geoffrey Elton, who in his efforts to present Thomas Cromwell as one of the most important figures of English history had somehow to explain away the fact that his hero had been greatly involved in the execution of the admirable person More had come to be seen as. Then came Richard Marius' 1984 biography in which it was argued that More's sexual hang-ups had turned him into a religious fanatic. More recently still came Hilary Mantel's Man Booker Prize-winning novel Wolf Hall. Her portrait of More, seen in the novel through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, is essentially a hatchet job; given the novel's huge success, it is one that has now been read by hundreds of thousands of people.

For an admirer of More such as myself this is a sad state of affairs, so I was hopeful that a scholarly book that aimed to put More's writings into a historical context could only be a good thing. …

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