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Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More? Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist Kindle Edition
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|Length: 306 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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For several years, I've been aware of Dr. Karen Swallow Prior, Professor of English at Liberty University, and I have been impressed and moved by many of the articles she has written for Christianity Today and Atlantic. When I read that Dr. Prior had written a biography about the life of Hannah More, I had to read it.
I purchased the Kindle edition of the book, and I was impressed. In my opinion, this is one of the best biographies I have ever read. Dr. Prior brings Hannah More to life in the pages of this book. The writing deftly avoids becoming either a fawning, saccharine hagiography or a dry-as-dust academic tome. Dr. Prior shows Hannah More as the extraordinary woman that she was, yet she also reveals and explains the flawed, rigid, sometimes intolerant, and sometimes snobbish aspects of More's character that make her as human as the rest of us. The text is engaging and satisfying; I was never bored with it, nor did I have to wade through abstruse sentences just to figure out the point Dr. Prior was making. She writes clearly and directly. She challenges me to think and never condescends, but neither does she aim to go over my head. In many ways reading this book was like engaging in an intelligent conversation with a knowledgeable, witty expert. I greatly enjoy those types of conversations and greatly admire an author who can pull it off in writing.
Having said all that, I also want to point out that this biography has a solid academic foundation. Part of the biography draws upon Dr. Prior's doctoral dissertation. Moreover, the book is well-referenced throughout. One of the joys of reading the Kindle edition is that I can easily jump to the reference, check it, and jump back to the text. I can also highlight and take notes, and I did both of these in abundance. This book was a joy to read, and it was also educational. It could, in my humble opinion, be used as an undergraduate text for a class on Hannah More or for a class on Christian social reformers.
So who was Hannah More? Well, Mrs. More (she never married, yet she went by Mrs. in her later life), was a highly talented, highly celebrated writer whose work was well-received in most quarters of literate society. She was a devout Christian in the Anglican Church, whose religious sense of duty and responsibility impelled her to become a social reformer who helped end slavery in the British Empire reform morals across Society, educate the poor, and improve animal welfare by attacking animal cruelty and ending such bloody "sports" as bull baiting and dogfighting. She was a "Bluestocking" intellectual before the term became one of derision. She was socially progressive in many ways for her time and in her culture, and through her writing and strength of character, she was able to overcome the strictures of British society that limited the roles that women could play in Society.
Yet Hannah More was by no means perfect. Her socially progressive stance on slavery was countered by her rigid conservatism about the poor (for example, she believed in teaching the poor to read, but not to write, and she had a very class-conscious snobbery about social standing). Some of More's views on the role of women in society would be viewed as shockingly intolerant even by conservative 21st century standards. And for all her strength of character, she fell into depression and temporarily withdrew from social contact during a period known as the "Blagdon Controversy" that lasted from 1800-1803. The controversy was not directly caused by More, but because she had started and financially supported the Blagdon school to educate the poor (an idea that was controversial in England at that time), she bore the brunt of the vitriolic criticism that erupted when a teacher at the school was accused of "Methodism" by jealous, reactionary Anglican clergy.
This biography of Hannah More is balanced, thoughtful, insightful, and educational. Dr. Karen Swallow Prior has done an outstanding job, and for this reason, I give the book 5 stars. I encourage anyone thinking about buying this book to go ahead and do so. It's worth the time it takes to read.
I remember encountering Hannah More briefly in reading Eric Metaxas's biography of William Wilberforce, so when I saw this biography about her and that it was forwarded by Metaxas, I knew I had to get a copy. It is a fascinating book. It's an eye-opening look at the culture of Britain from the late 1700s to early 1800s, and because of More's unique ability to go between classes, you get a picture of both London society and the poorer villages. The snippets of More's writing make me want to go find more of her poetry to read. What's included in here as examples is quite good, and I found it shocking that she was the best-selling author of her time in both tracts and a novel but that she is has fallen into such obscurity now! What was most impressive was her work to bring literacy to the poor in England at that time, and how revolutionary and counter-cultural that was. I had no idea that Sunday Schools started out as actual schools for the poor that were free and met on Sunday (the only day they didn't work). The effect these schools had on the villages More established near her home is nothing less than astounding. There were many other such things that Hannah More was involved in I found enthralling. This book is written more topically than chronologically, so some events in More's life do get brought up in multiple places and can sometimes feel a little repetitive, probably the book's greatest weakness. Don't go in expecting a story-type of biography. This reads a bit more scholarly than that, which is understandable since this is based on the author's dissertation. Thanks to that, though, it is obviously extensively researched. And you get a very fair picture of More, balancing both her faults and her shining accomplishments. If you want an example of a woman influencing her world for the glory of God with her talents and resources, Hannah More is an excellent study.