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Spring 2021 catalog cover

The Penn Press list for spring 2021 includes hardcover releases, first-time paperbacks, and ebook editions intended for scholars, students, and serious general readers worldwide. Click here to explore our forthcoming books, grouped by subject area.

The Man Who Would Be Perfect
John Humphrey Noyes and the Utopian Impulse

Robert David Thomas

216 pages | 6 x 9
Ebook 2016 | ISBN 9781512807592 | Buy from De Gruyter $79.95 | €69.95 | £70.50
This book is available under special arrangement from our European publishing partner De Gruyter.
An Anniversary Collection volume

John Humphrey Noyes, founder of utopian communities in Putney, Vermont, and Oneida, New York, remain one of the most enigmatic reformers of the nineteenth century. The last biography, written over forty years ago, portrayed Noyes as a "Yankee Saint," a man of progressive ideas and religious vision. Yet he has also been called a "Vermont Casanova" whose elaborate theology of Perfection is simply justified the license he took with the women in his communities.

Robert David Thomas makes a convincing case that Noyes, though riven by conflict and full of contradictions, had his finger on the social and cultural problems that were bothering a great many Americans of his time. Studied out of context, Noyes must remain a mystery-radical yet conservative, shy yet arrogant, retiring, and passive yet forceful, even oppressive, in his leadership. But against the background of nineteenth-century American activism and religious enthusiasm, John Humphrey Noyes emerges as a man who overcame a tortured personal life and marshaled his inner resources to grapple with a confusing and rapidly changing social world.

Using modern theories of the ego, Thomas provides a psychologically consistent portrait of Noyes and therein a new perspective on the roots of nineteenth-century Perfectionism, utopian, reform, sexual ideology, and family theory. More than a conventional psycho-biography, this study assumes a sociological theme in its explanations of the social tensions of the era and the sources of "disorder" now so frequently mentioned in studies of the previous century.

Robert David Thomas taught at University School in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.

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