Karen Swallow Prior
The enthralling biography of the woman writer who helped end the slave trade, changed Britain's upper classes, and taught a nation how to read.
The history-changing reforms of Hannah More affected every level of 18th-Century British society through her keen intellect, literary achievements, collaborative spirit, strong Christian principles, and colorful personality. A woman without connections or status, More took the world of British letters by storm when she arrived in London from Bristol, becoming a best-selling author and acclaimed playwright and quickly befriending the author Samuel Johnson, the politician Horace Walpole, and the actor David Garrick. Yet she was also a leader in the Evangelical movement, using her cultural position and her pen to support the growth of education for the poor, the reform of morals and manners, and the abolition of Britain's slave trade.
"Fierce Convictions" weaves together world and personal history into a stirring story of life that intersected with Wesley and Whitefield's Great Awakening, the rise and influence of Evangelicalism, and convulsive effects of the French Revolution. A woman of exceptional intellectual gifts and literary talent, Hannah More was above all a person whose faith compelled her both to engage her culture and to transform it
While Hannah More is, indeed, a figure I've heard about before, I still didn't know much about her, and what I did know mostly consisted of a few passing sentences in secular books that gave the impression she was a strict, self-righteous fuddy-duddy.
After reading this book, I realize how completely unfair that is. Hannah More was an amazing woman, perhaps made all the more relatable by her flaws. It's almost beyond my powers of imagination to think of how this woman impacted history. I especially admired the fact that she had such incredible influence, and yet she somehow balanced her fervor with the traits of a godly woman. It's incredibly tragic that modern culture has all but forgotten this woman who was not only instrumental in outlawing the slave trade in England, but also was largely responsible for educating England's poor. I was fascinated by her relations with the famous and intellectual of her day, and how she used her writing to largely transform the ideas of society around her.
I always find it difficult to review biographies, because it is really hard for me to separate the actual book from its subject; in other words it's my gut reaction to rate a book higher when I admire the person the biography is about, and lower the rating when I dislike him/her. However, while Fierce Convictions has certainly given me an appreciation for Hannah More, the book itself did have a few flaws. For instance, while the first chapter was about her early life and the last about her death, it was rather hard to decipher the chronology of events in between (in fact, I don't ever remember there being given a set date of Miss More's birth) and parts of it were a bit dry and boring, although never so much so that I was tempted to stop reading.
Still, if I had one word to describe this book, it would be inspiring. I can't remember the last time I read a book that so encouraged and inspired me to use my faith for good out in the world. In fact, I'm pretty sure that Hannah More has joined the ranks of George Washington, Lady Jane Grey, Francis Marion, and William Wilberforce as some of my personal heroes. I truly thank Karen Swallow Prior for writing a biography that re-introduces us to a woman to whom we owe so much.
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.