The Bishop’s Daughter

Today’s New York Times Book Review includes an extended review by Kathryn Harrison of Honor Moore’s The Bishop’s Daughter. Here are some highlights:

A young man, heir to a fortune so vast he considers it his “cross of gold,” comes home from Guadalcanal a decorated hero, bearing scars from a bullet that just missed his heart. God has saved him, he believes, for a purpose. The vocation he heard at Yale has grown loud enough to drown out the objections of his family. Ordained an Episcopal priest in 1949, he begins his career in a blighted New Jersey parish, eventually climbing to a position so exalted that at his death in 2003 he is remembered as “a prince of the church,” “a saint.”

Already many people, whether or not they’ve read “The Bishop’s Daughter,” know it as the book in which Honor Moore outs her famous father, a man celebrated as a paragon of virtue, a priest whose vestments seemed to set him apart from passions that sully ordinary men. But Paul Moore Jr.’s bisexuality — a fact previously known only to family and a few friends — was an important and decidedly not sublimated aspect of his essential self. There is no way to write a book about him, or about being his daughter, that fails to consider its place in his life and its impact on his family.

. . .

As Moore describes her father, who retired in 1989 as the Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of New York, Paul Moore was always conscious of, and in conflict with, his own sexual nature, considered deviant and sinful during the decades he served his church. He suffered his transgressions with the understanding that his fallen human state offered him the one experience he could share with his God, who had been crucified for man’s sins. Standing nearly 6-foot-5, regarding the world from pulpits that granted him national and sometimes international attention, Bishop Moore was a gifted preacher who projected a palpable sympathy by placing himself among “the sinful brotherhood of mankind, so that his heart vibrated in unison with theirs, and received their pain into itself.”

That description was written not by Honor Moore but by Nathaniel Hawthorne, about another renowned, if fictional, minister whose sexual transgressions remained a hidden source of anguish and spiritual power. It’s unlikely Moore imagined “The Scarlet Letter” as prefiguring her story of her father and the adulterous temptations to which he succumbed. But both books explore the repressive hysteria peculiar to American sexual mores, as well as the split between public and private selves; and Hawthorne’s Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, whose virtue cannot be teased apart from his sins, is a useful model for approaching the complex, flawed and extraordinary Paul Moore. And like “The Scarlet Letter,” whose exultant climax is Dimmesdale’s disclosure of a secret sexual sin, “The Bishop’s Daughter” is an eloquent argument for speaking even the most difficult truths.

. . .

“If only they knew the truth,” Paul Moore said in his daughter’s therapist’s office, “thinking of people who praised his life,” “his body moving in large waves of sobbing.” “It is inconceivable,” Hawthorne wrote of Dimmesdale, “the agony with which this public veneration tortured him!” The remarkable and loving accomplishment of “The Bishop’s Daughter” is that in revealing Paul Moore as he could never disclose himself, in showing him humbled and suffering, Honor Moore does not diminish but enlarges him.

Read it all here. We have previously written about this Book here , here and here.

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