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Encyclopedia > Richard Marius

Richard Curry Marius (1933-1999) was a Reformation scholar, a novelist of the American South, a speechwriter, and a teacher of writing and English literature at Harvard University. Marius was widely published, leaving behind two major biographies of Thomas More and Martin Luther, four novels set in his native Tennessee, several books on writing, and a host of scholarly articles for academic journals and mainstream book reviews. The Protestant Reformation was a movement which began in the 16th century as a series of attempts to reform the Roman Catholic Church, but ended in division and the establishment of new institutions, most importantly Lutheranism, Reformed churches, and Anabaptists. ... The U.S. Southern states or The South, known during the American Civil War era as Dixie, is a distinctive region of the United States with its own unique historical perspective, customs, musical styles, and cuisine. ... The term English literature refers to literature written in the English language, or literature composed in English by writers who are not necessarily from England; Joseph Conrad was Polish, Robert Burns was Scottish, James Joyce was Irish, Edgar Allan Poe was American, Salman Rushdie is Indian. ... Harvard University is a private university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, and a member of the Ivy League. ... Portrait of Sir Thomas More, by Hans Holbein the Younger (1527). ... Luther at age 46 (Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1529) The Luther seal Martin Luther (November 10, 1483–February 18, 1546) was a German theologian, an Augustinian monk, and an ecclesiastical reformer whose teachings inspired the Reformation and deeply influenced the doctrines and culture of the Lutheran and Protestant traditions. ... State nickname: Volunteer State Other U.S. States Capital Nashville Largest city Memphis Governor Phil Bredesen (D) Senators Bill Frist (R) Lamar Alexander (R) Official languages English Area 109,247 km² (36th)  - Land 106,846 km²  - Water 2,400 km² (2. ...

Working from a small cluttered office atop Harvard's Widener Library and an equally cluttered study in his home in Belmont, Massachusetts, Marius was a charismatic raconteur, a provocative political activist, and a devoted wearer of bowties. He was also an enthusiastic cyclist, biking to Cambridge, Massachusetts from his home in Belmont and taking frequent bike trips in the French countryside until his health failed in 1998. Over the years, he mentored many Harvard students who went on to be scholars, journalists, and other kinds of professional writers. The Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library, commonly known as Widener Library, is the primary building of the library system of Harvard University. ... Belmont is a town located in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. ... Cambridge City Hall Cambridge is a city in the Greater Boston area of Massachusetts, United States. ...



Marius began life as a farmboy in Eastern Tennessee, evolved into a fiery figure of 1960's political activism, and ended as a respected Reformation historian on the Harvard faculty. Through it all, he had a complicated and lifelong engagement with Christianity, wrestling with matters of faith - and its loss - both in his scholarship and in his novels. History Main article: History of Christianity See also: Timeline of Christianity The history of Christianity is difficult to extricate from that of the European West (and several other culture-regions) in general. ...


Marius was born in Dixie Lee Junction, Tennessee, on July 29, 1933, and grew up on a 20-acre Loudon County [1] farm along with a sister and two brothers. His father was an immigrant from Greece who earned a chemical engineering degree in Belgium before settling in the United States, where he managed the foundry at the Lenoir Car Works of Southern Railway. His mother was a former reporter for the Knoxville News Sentinel in the 1920's and 1930's.


Marius' mother, Eunice, was a devout Southern Baptist and fundamentalist Christian whose religious faith had a particularly strong influence over him. His love of literature and poetic imagery may have been formed by her habit of reading to her children every day from the King James version of the Bible every day. Moreover, after Marius' older brother was born with Down Syndrome, his mother told Marius how she had prayed that if her next son were born healthy, he would devout himself to Christ. Richard Marius was born healthy. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is a United States cooperative ministry agency serving missionary Baptist churches around the world. ... Fundamentalist Christianity is a fundamentalist movement, especially within American Protestantism. ... The King James Version (KJV) is an English translation of the Holy Bible, commissioned for the benefit of the Church of England at the behest of King James I of England. ... Christ is the English representation of the Greek word Χριστός (transliterated as Khristós), which means anointed. ...

As a young man, Marius shared his mother's fundamentalism, attending daily Christian services and carrying a Bible with him in college. He even felt a calling to be a minister, earning a divinity degree. But he grew increasingly skeptical of religion and lost his faith in his 20's, even though he would devote much of the rest of his life to studying Reformation-era Christianity. Marius would later attribute his loss of faith in part to his intellectual engagement with W.T. Stace, an English-born philosopher who wrote, for example, that:

The problem of evil assumes the existence of a world-purpose. What, we are really asking, is the purpose of suffering? It seems purposeless. Our question of the why of evil assumes the view that the world has a purpose, and what we want to know is how suffering fits into and advances this purpose. The modern view is that suffering has no purpose because nothing that happens has any purpose: the world is run by causes, not by purposes.

As Marius evolved toward atheism, he developed what would become a lifelong distaste for of the fundamentalist political actions of the religious right. But toward the end of his life, he began attending services again, first at Memorial Church in Harvard Yard and later at a Unitarian church. Sensei-98 states: The term Religious Right, is a very broad label applied to a number of political and religious movements and groups. ... Harvard Yard is a grassy area of about 25 acres (10 hectares), adjacent to Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which constitutes the oldest part and the center of the campus of Harvard University. ... Historic Unitarianism believed in the oneness of God as opposed to traditional Christian belief in the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). ...


Marius earned a B.S. in journalism in 1954 from the University of Tennessee, where he first gained recognition for his writing skills. Attending college classes in the morning, he worked in the afternoons as a reporter for the Lenoir City News, writing a column called "Rambling with Richard." In 1955, he married Gail Smith; they would have two children, Richard and Fred, before later divorcing. Marius then enrolled in a divinity program at the Southern Baptist Seminary in New Orleans despite an increasing crisis of faith. He took a year off, spending 1956-57 in Europe as a Rotary Fellow in history at the University of Strasbourg, then returned to another Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, from which he graduated with a B.D. in 1958. Immediately afterward, he moved to New Haven, Connecticut to begin graduate work in Reformation history at Yale University, earning a M.A. in 1959 and a Ph.D. in 1962. The University of Tennessee (UT), sometimes called the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UT Knoxville or UTK), is the primary institution of the statewide land-grant University of Tennessee system, Tennessees flagship public university. ... New Orleans is the largest city in the state of Louisiana, United States of America. ... The University Palace in Strasbourg, and a monument to one of the universitys students, Johann Wolfgang Goethe The University of Strasbourg in Strasbourg, Alsace, France, is divided into three separate institutions. ... Louisville (usually pronounced ; see Pronunciation below) is Kentuckys largest city and the 16th largest city in the United States. ... City nickname: The Elm City Location in the state of Connecticut Founded April 24, 1638 County New Haven County Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. ... Yale University is a private university in New Haven, Connecticut. ...

Tennessee activism

After teaching history at Gettysburg College from 1962-1964, Marius returned to his home state to take a position on the faculty of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Gettysburg College Gettysburg College is a private four-year liberal arts college of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, founded in 1832, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, adjacent to the famous battlefield. ... Alternate uses: Knoxville (disambiguation) Knoxville is a city located in Knox County, Tennessee, United States. ...

While a history professor, Marius became an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War and an early organizer of protests against the conflict, as well as against the Ku Klux Klan. Most notably, he co-organized a protest at a 1970 Billy Graham evaneglistic crusade rally in the university's football stadium at which President Richard Nixon appeared shortly after the Kent State shootings. He also joined three other junior faculty members that year in suing the university when its chancellor refused to allow the black comedian and anti-war activist Dick Gregory to speak on campus. The Vietnam War or Second Indochina War was a conflict between the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRVN, or North Vietnam), allied with the National Liberation Front (NLF, or Viet Cong) against the Republic of Vietnam (RVN, or South Vietnam), and its allies—notably the United States military in support of... Members of the second Ku Klux Klan at a rally during the 1920s. ... Billy Graham The Rev. ... Richard Milhous Nixon (January 9, 1913 – April 22, 1994) was the thirty-seventh President of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974. ... Mary Ann Vecchio kneels over the body of Jeffrey Miller The Kent State shootings, also known as May 4 or The Kent State Massacre, occurred at Kent State University in the city of Kent, Ohio, and involved the shooting of students by the Ohio National Guard on Monday, May 4... Richard Dick Claxton Gregory, born October 12, 1932 in St. ...

His sometimes provocative statements about the war led to threats against him and his family, prompting him to purchase a Smith & Wesson revolver, which he said he sometimes slept with during particularly intense periods. During this same period, Marius wrote his first novel, "The Coming of Rain," which was published in 1969. The following year, he married Lanier Smythe, an art historian who later became chair of humanities at Boston's Suffolk University; they had a son named John. A Modern Smith & Wesson Revolver (Model 629) Smith & Wesson is Americas largest manufacturer of handguns, located in Springfield, Massachusetts. ... Alternative meanings: Boston (disambiguation) The 18th-century Old State House in Boston is surrounded by tall buildings of the 19th and 20th centuries. ... Suffolk University is a private college in Boston, Massachusetts, located in the citys historic Beacon Hill neighborhood. ...


In 1978, Marius joined Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences, where he was the director of the Expository Writing Program from 1978 to 1994. Marius would spent the last 20 years of his life at Harvard, producing most of his major work there. However, he maintained his ties to the University of Tennessee, founding an annual summer writing conference in Knoxville.

In addition to his work as director of the writing program, his scholarly research on Thomas More and Martin Luther, and his fiction writing, Marius taught a series of courses for the university's Department of English and American Literature and Language. He taught a lecture course on William Shakespeare's history plays and a freshman-only seminar on Southern writers, focusing on Mark Twain and William Faulkner. He also served as a tutor and thesis advisor to numerous students. Wikipedia does not yet have an article with this exact name. ... Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910), better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was a famous and popular American humorist, novelist, writer and lecturer. ... William Faulkner, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1954 William Cuthbert Faulkner (September 25, 1897 – July 6, 1962) was a Nobel Prize-winning novelist from Mississippi. ...

Marius also played a broader role in campus life. He coached the students charged with delivering annual commencement addresses each year and helped Harvard's presidents develop their commencement speeches. He also for years wrote the university's citations for the honorary degrees awarded to luminaries at commencement exercises. In 1993, Marius was awarded the Harvard Foundation Medal for his efforts to improve racial relations. He served as a faculty advisor to the Signet Society, a creative arts club, and he and his wife spent a semester during the 1996-97 academic year as acting masters of Adams House, a dormitory for upperclassmen.


After being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1998, Marius retired from teaching in order to focus on completing his final novel, "An Affair of Honor," amid the rigors of chemotherapy. He succeeded, turning in the final manuscript several months before he died in his home on November 5, 1999. His ashes were buried below Author's Ridge in Sleepy Hollow Cemetary in Concord, Massachusetts, near the graves of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau]], and Louisa Mae Alcott. Seal of Concord, MA Concord is a town located in Middlesex County, Massachusetts. ... Ralph Waldo Emerson Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803 – April 27, 1882) was a famous American essayist and one of Americas most influential thinkers and writers. ...

Al Gore-Israel controversy

In 1995, Vice President Al Gore personally offered Marius a White House speechwriting position heading into the 1996 presidential campaign. Marius had previously written, without pay, several speeches for his fellow Tennessee native, including a 1993 Madison Square Garden oration for the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and parts of Gore's 1994 Harvard commencement address attacking the "culture of cynicism." Marius accepted the offer to join the White House, took a 18-month leave of absence from Harvard, rented out his home, and prepared to move to Washington, DC. But Gore rescinded the offer after New Republic editor-in-chief Martin Peretz pressured the vice president to reverse Marius' hiring. Albert Arnold Gore Jr. ... Madison Square Garden, often abbreviated as MSG, has been the name of four arenas in New York City, United States. ... SS men burning houses The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, sometimes called the Warsaw Uprising 1943, was a Jewish insurrection in Polands Warsaw Ghetto against Nazi Germany during World War II. The main resistance lasted from April 19, 1943 to May 16 that year and was finally crushed by SS-Gruppenf... Aerial photo (looking NW) of the Washington Monument and the White House in Washington, DC. Washington, D.C., officially the District of Columbia (also known as D.C.; Washington; the Nations Capital; the District; and, historically, the Federal City) is the capital city and administrative district of the United... New Republic can be: The New Republic, an American magazine. ... Martin Peretz (also Marty Peretz) is a Harvard lecturer who is the owner and editor-in-chief of The New Republic, which he purchased in 1975. ...

In a favorable 1992 review of the book "A Season of Stones: Living in a Palestinian Village" by Helen Winternitz, a Jewish author, Marius had written this in Harvard's alumni magazine:

"Many Israelis, the Holocaust fresh in their memory, believe that that horror gives them the right to inflict horror on others. Winternitz's account of the brutality of the Shin Bet, the Israeli secret police, is eerily similar to the stories of the Gestapo ... --arbitrary arrests in the middle of the night, imprisonment without trial, beatings, refined tortures, murder, punishment of the families of suspects."

Peretz, a passionate supporter of Israel, sent Gore a copy of the 1992 review, accusing Marius of anti-Semitism. He told Gore, his former student when Peretz was a lecturer in political science at Harvard in the 1960's and Gore was an undergraduate there, to reverse the hiring. Gore complied. According to press accounts, a Gore staffer called Marius and asked him to announce that he had changed his mind about accepting the position. Marius declined to pretend that the decision had been his. Marius told reporters that his Gestapo-Shin Bet comparison may have been "a little bit extreme," but he refused to disavow it, insisting that he was criticizing only the harsh tactics of the secret police and otherwise supported the state of Israel. Marius said he "never had an anti-Semitic thought in his life" and that he was "just floored" by the turn of events: "I'm just sorry about it because I believe I could have helped the vice president." Shabak emblem Defender who shall not be seen The Shabak (in Hebrew, שבכ   Shabak?} an acronym of Sherut ha-Bitachon ha-Klali שירות ביטחון כללי) known abroad as the Shin Bet or the GSS (General Security Service), is the Internal General Security Service of Israel. ... The Deaths Head emblem, often used as the insignia of the Gestapo The Gestapo â–¶(?) (acronym of Geheime Staatspolizei; secret state police) was the official secret police of Nazi Germany. ... The Eternal Jew: 1937 German poster. ...

Many observers have said that Peretz's charge of anti-Semitism on the part of Marius - who castigated figures such as Martin Luther for their anti-Semitic writings in his scholarly work - was false. Marius claimed that Peretz had seen Marius as a rival ever since 1993, when Gore largely chose to use Marius' image-rich Holocaust speech for the Warsaw Uprising event, keeping only a paragraph from an alternate, statistics-laden speech Peretz had submitted to Gore. University of Tennessee historian Milton Klein, whose European relatives were murdered during the Holocaust in Hungary, said that he and Marius had often argued about the Israel-Palestine issue during their 26 years of friendship, but Marius had never said a single thing that indicated any anti-Semitic feelings. In "Gore: A Political Life," ABC News correspondent Bob Zelnick wrote that Marius had no history of anti-Semitism and that "most [of Gore's staff] felt that Marius had been wronged and that the vice president had acted to keep Peretz happy rather than to protect his office."


Marius wrote four novels based in Eastern Tennessee from roughly 1850 to 1950. Three - "The Coming of Rain" (1969), "After the War" (1992), and "An Affair of Honor" (2001) form a loose trilogy. His second novel, "Bound for the Promised Land" (1976), is a stand-alone work.

"The Coming of Rain," was Marius' first novel and established Bourbon County, the fictional landscape in which most of his fiction would be set. Set in the traumatic period following the American Civil War, the book followed the lives of a set of small town characters in the border state. Joyce Carol Oates reviewed the novel for The New York Times Book Review, calling it "a slender, tragic, perhaps beautiful story of the ruins of dreams." The Book-of-the-Month Club made the novel a main selection. Marius later converted it into a stageplay, which was produced by the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in 1998. The American Civil War (1861–1865) was fought in North America within the United States of America, between twenty-three mostly northern states of the Union and the Confederate States of America, a coalition of eleven southern states that declared their independence and claimed the right of secession from the... Joyce Carol Oates (born June 16, 1938 in Lockport, New York) is an American writer of novels, short stories, plays, poetry, and non-fiction. ...

"Bound for the Promised Land," also begins in East Tennessee but quickly migrates West. Set in the 1850's amid the Gold Rush, it follows a character who joins a wagon train that sets out through Indian Country for California. Gold rush ad A gold rush is a period of feverish migration of workers into the area of a dramatic discovery of commercial quantities of gold. ...

His third novel, "After the War," returned to Bourbon County in the post-World War I period. Drawing on the biographical experiences of his parents, the novel concerned a Greek immigrant who moves to Tennessee after fighting in the Great War for Belgium. The protagonist marries a woman who becomes increasingly fundamentalist and is haunted by the ghosts of three friends who died in the war. Marius told friends that he wanted to title the novel "Once in Arcadia," but his publisher believed that too few readers would understand the reference to the classical Greek refuge. Arcadia or Arkadía (Greek Αρκαδία; see also List of traditional Greek place names) is a region of Greece in the Peloponnesus. ...

Marius completed his last and most autobiographical novel, "An Affair of Honor," several months before his death. It was published posthumously in 2001. Set in Bourbon County in 1953, the novel examines the post-World War II transition of the South through the prism of a young preacher of failing faith who witnesses a man kill his unfaithful wife according to the code of the hills, and the resulting murder trial.


One of the pre-eminent Reformation scholars of his generation, Marius' two major scholarly works were biographies of Thomas More (1983) and of Martin Luther (1999).

Both books were widely praised. The More volume was finalist for a National Book Award, and both biographies were History Book Club main selections. (While a professor of history at the University of Tennessee in 1974, Marius had also published an earlier short biography of More.) Marius also translated from Latin and edited a version of More's Utopia and edited several volumes of the The Yale Edition of the Complete Works of St. Thomas More. De Optimo Reipublicae Statu deque Nova Insula Utopia (translated On the Best State of a Republic and on the New Island of Utopia) or more simply Utopia is a 1516 book by Sir Thomas More. ...

Both books were also controversial because they stripped their subjects of the sanctity ascribed to them by admirers, instead presenting them as human beings struggling with their beliefs, fears, ambitions, strengths and weaknesses. Marius also judged his subjects from a modern perspective, criticizing More for religious fanataicism and intolerance because he persecuted heretics, and criticizing Luther for his anti-Semitic writings, for example.

In the final year of his life, Marius traded bitter and sometimes personal academic attacks with Heiko Oberman, a rival Reformation historian at the University of Arizona, who had written his own biography of Luther. Oberman attacked Marius for having analyzed Luther's personality from the modern psychological perspective of a man who feared death, insisting that Luther should be considered only on terms of his own time -- as a man who feared the Devil. The University of Arizona (UA) is a land-grant institution of higher learning located in Tucson, Arizona. ... The Devil is the name given to a supernatural entity who, in most Western religions, is the central embodiment of evil. ...

Writing teacher

Marius served as director of Harvard's Expository Writing Program for 16 years. The only class that all undergraduates are required to take, Expos introduces Harvard freshmen to college-level writing. Marius developed the program's style, curriculum, and hired much of its teaching staff, and he wrote two books about writing. "A Writer's Companion," now in its fifth edition, and "A Short Guide to Writing About History," now in its fourth edition, are both widely used as textbooks for instructional writing programs. With Harvey Wiener, Marius also co-wrote the "McCraw-Hill College Handbook."

As a teacher of writing, Marius emphasized clarity and directness. He asked his students to revise their drafts repeatedly, each time trying to communicate more simply and with fewer and shorter words. He also advised outlining before beginning writing, and getting to the point quickly by setting up tensions in the opening paragraph which will be resolved by the end.

In his introduction to the third edition of "A Writer's Companion," Marius wrote: "I don't care much for sappy personal writing, where writers tell me what they feel about things rather than what they know about things."

Bibliography highlights


  • An Affair of Honor. New York: Knopf, 2001.
  • After the War. New York: Knopf, 1992.
  • Bound for the Promised Land. New York: Knopf, 1976.
  • The Coming of Rain. New York: Knopf, 1969.



  • Wrestling with God: The Meditations of Richard Marius. Nancy Grisham Anderson, editor. Knoxville: Univ Tennessee Press, 2006.
  • Martin Luther: The Christian between God and Death. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1999.
  • A Short Guide to Writing About History. New York: HarperCollins, 1989; 2nd ed., 1994.; 3rd ed. New York: Longman, 1998; 4th ed., 2001; 5th ed., 2004.
  • A Writer's Companion. New York: Knopf, 1985; 2nd ed. New York: McGraw, 1991; 3rd ed., 1994; 4th ed., 1998.
  • The McGraw-Hill College Handbook (with Harvey Wiener). New York: McGraw, 1985; 2nd ed., 1988; 3rd ed., 1991; 4th ed., 1994.
  • Thomas More: A Biography. New York: Knopf, 1984; London: J. M. Dent, 1984; New York: Vintage Books, 1985.
  • Luther. New York: Lippincott, 1974; London: Quartet Books, 1975.


  • The Columbia Book of Civil War Poetry (with Keith Frome). New York: Columbia UP, 1994.
  • Utopia and A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation by Thomas More. London: J. M. Dent, 1993.
  • Letter to Bugenhagen. Supplication of Souls. Letter Against Frith (with Frank Manley et al). New Haven: Yale UP, 1990. Vol. 7 of The Complete Works of St. Thomas More. 15 vols. 1963-97.
  • A Dialogue Concerning Heresies (with Thomas M. C. Lawler and Germain Marc'hadour). New Haven: Yale UP, 1981. Vol. 6 of The Complete Works of St. Thomas More. 15 vols. 1963-97.
  • The Confutation of Tyndale's Answer (with Louis Schuster et al). New Haven: Yale UP, 1973. Vol. 8 of The Complete Works of St. Thomas More. 15 vols. 1963-97.

External links

  • Posthumous profile in Metro Pulse, a Knoxville weekly newspaper [2]
  • Harvard University Gazette obituary [3]
  • March 2003 issue of "Southern Quarterly," with several essays and reminiscences about Richard Marius and his work [4]
  • A more comprehensive bibliography, including paperback citations, foreign translations, articles, essays, and published interviews, but lacking some recent editions [5]



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