2008 Autobiography Finalist The Bishop’s Daughter, by Honor Moore

by Elizabeth Taylor ed | Mar-08-2009

Each day leading up to the March 12 announcement of the 2008 NBCC awards, we highlight one of the thirty finalists. Today, NBCC board member Elizabeth Taylor discusses Honor Moore’s The Bishop’s Daughter (W.W. Norton).

If this were only another tale about how a father’s secret reverberated through a family, it would be yet another entirely forgettable memoir. True, there is a bit of shock value in the idea of an Episcopalian leader, especially one internationally admired for his virtue, in a double-life, struggling privately with his sexuality, only to be outed by his eldest daughter.

But The Bishop’s Daughter is more than steamy memoir, as it is a daughter’s search to understand her parents—and herself. To read the book merely as an exposure of her father’s secret fails to capture its power as Honor Moore’s own coming of age story. It moves with subtlety, psychological insight, and style in a form that is biography, personal history, and memoir. She uses her imagination to unspool memories and reflections looping together sequences of images leading her to a revelation because, as she writes, “what is unresolved never loses its power.”

The relationship of father and daughter is, of course, central to the book. What elevates it beyond a narrowly focused, intimate memoir is that Moore has captured her father’s magnetism—his passion as an elegant reformer, on a mission to elevate the lives the poor in downtrodden, post-war urban America, his belief in self-fulfillment, his engagement in the question of faith and equality.

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