- Utopia as a Tool for Change:A Review of Publications on Utopia in France (2016 and the First Semester of 2017)
Thomas More and His Utopia
"I prithee, honest friend, lend me thy hand / To help me up; as for my coming down, / Let me alone, I'll look to that myself," says Thomas More to his executioner while mounting the scaffold on July 6, 1535. We are reading from Sir Thomas More (act 5, scene 4), that complicated text that testifies to the collaborative nature of Elizabethan drama. Supposedly written by Anthony Munday and Henry Chettle, and benefiting from the contribution of Thomas Heywood, Thomas Dekker, and William Shakespeare, the play celebrates Thomas More's sense of humor—a facet that is sometimes forgotten but which Marie-Claire Phélippeau, in her new biography of the English humanist (Thomas More, 2016), intentionally highlights. Phélippeau must have felt the huge responsibility of publishing a biography of the saint in the year commemorating five hundred years since the publication of Thomas More's Utopia, mainly because it was not the first time that the life of the English humanist was being disclosed to the public: in fact, Phélippeau's was the twenty-first biography of Thomas More published in [End Page 624] France.1 Looking at the titles of some of the biographies previously published by French authors, one can understand the angles from which More has been presented: Le bienheureux Thomas More (The Blissful Thomas More, 1904), by Henri Bremond; Le Chancelier Décapité (The Beheaded Chancellor, 1935), by Edmond Privat; Un Résistant Catholique: Thomas More (A Catholic Resistant: Thomas More, 1948), by Léon Lemonnier; Un Intellectuel sans Vanité: Thomas More (An Intellectual Without Vanity: Thomas More, 1958), by Georges Hourdin; Thomas More ou la Sage Folie (Thomas More or the Wise Folly, 1971), by Germain Marc'hadour; Sir Thomas More, Humaniste et Martyr (Sir Thomas More, Humanist and Martyr, 1984), by Louis Bouyer; Thomas More, l'Homme Complet de la Renaissance (Thomas More, the Complete Man of the Renaissance, 2002), by Elisabeth-Marie Ganne; Thomas More. La Face Cachée des Tudors (Thomas More. The Hidden Face of the Tudors, 2012), by Bernard Cottret; and Thomas More (1478–1535): Au Risque de la Conscience (Thomas More [1478–1535]: At the Risk of the Conscience, 2012), by Jacques Mulliez.
A scholar, translator of Thomas More's works into French, specialist in the Renaissance, and editor in chief of Moreana—a quarterly academic journal dedicated to publishing articles on Thomas More, his work, his life, and his time—Phélippeau wrote this new biography with a true intellectual passion for More's work, offering a vivid picture of the man; emphasizing the way he actively engaged with his epoch, the city of London, and its inhabitants; describing his diplomatic missions, his friendship with Erasmus, his work in the service of Henry VIII, his genuine concern for the good of society and specially for justice, and his religious beliefs; and disclosing, at the same time, the importance of his writings besides Utopia. Articulating the facts of Thomas More's life with his work and his choices, Phélippeau contributes to a better understanding of this man of paradoxes, as the positive portrait that she offers the reader of the man of law, of letters, of the state, and of God never intends to mask the facet of the persecutor, who in the end was persecuted.
In 2016, a new edition of Thomas More's Utopia was published in France, even though the translation was not new at all. In fact, the Librio publishing house decided to republish a book that first came out in its present format in 2013, showcasing the translation Victor Stouvenel had published in 1842 (using as source text not the Latin text but a translation into English), the notes and amendments that Marcelle Botigeli had made in 1982, and the preface Claude Mazauric had written in 2013. The new edition of the best-known French text [End Page 625] of Utopia until the end of the twentieth century, in spite of the many errors and omissions identified by commentators, no doubt...