Thomas More “Utopia” – the end

If the Utopian system is the best in the world, what stops people from implementing it everywhere? Pride, answers Hythloday, which wraps itself around human heart like a serpent, pride which makes one never satisfied with what one has unless somebody else has less. This diatribe against pride ends his narrative.More (or “More”) at this point comments that he found many interesting things in his story, but also many absurd, such as their communal living and moneyless economy, their methods of waging war, their religion and their social customs (well, what is left to admire, then?) But he doesn’t want to argue with Hythloday because he sees he’s already tired so they go to supper with More expressing his hope to continue the debate in some indefinite future.

After that, there is yet a letter to Peter Giles, appended to the second edition of Utopia. In this letter, More addresses the charges of a “friend” of Giles (real or imaginary, we don’t know) who after reading the book couldn’t decide if it was true or a fable. He thanks him profusely, saying that criticism from somebody who has read the book carefully means so much for him than perfunctory compliments. Then he does something quite ingenious: if I had written fiction, i would have made up the names which would have signalled to the educated people that it is a fictitious place (which is precisely what More did). But of course they are senseless and I couldn;t have made them up. Moreover, there were many other witnesses apart from you and me, serious and trustworthy people, so any sceptic can seek them out – or even Hythloday himself. I hear he is alive and well in Portugal.

So that marks the end of Utopia reading for me. I must admit it was rather heavy-going at times, especially since much of More’s in-jokes and philosophical allusions are meant for the audience of Renaissance humanists who have been brought up on classical literature and so flew over my head. (As a justification, in the meantime we’ve had 500 years of literature and philosophy a cultured person is supposed to be acquainted with.) The game More plays with fact-or-fiction and the complicated narrative structure, distancing himself from Hythloday, is quite engrossing and a bit like mise-en-abyme. Utopia is, as many critics pointed out, quite a dreadful place despite all Hythloday’s praises – but then, so is 16-th c. Europe. What kind of dreadfulness do you find more appealing?

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