Sunday, December 28, 2014

Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior (Book Review)

Hannah More might possibly be the most famous woman I'd never heard of.  She was a poet, a playwright, an ardent abolitionist and educational reformer and a contemporary of William Wilberforce, John Newton, David Garrick, and Dr. Johnson.  Her writing had a profound effect on British culture and influenced the "modern" thinking that produced the Victorian Era with all its reforms on manners and family life. 

Karen Swallow Prior's book is at once academic and approachable.  Each chapter highlights a different aspect of More's remarkable life. We learn about More's extraordinary talent at writing, about her successes in London society and her involvement with the Bluestocking Circle (a group of women writers and intellectuals).  Though Wilberforce is more well known for his tireless work toward abolition of slavery,  Prior contends that More's connections in London society and her wit and talents were just as influential.

Then there's More's involvement in the Clapham Sect, her championing of educational reform for women, her interest in animal welfare,  her contributions to the Sunday School movement, her work in missions. The list of her accomplishments is long and deep.  If she hadn't been maligned by one biographer and swept away in the post-Victorian backlash, her legacy could not have been buried.

This is simply one of the best books I read all year.  Prior's doctoral dissertation provided the research base, but her writing style propels the reader through the story. Each chapter turns up another aspect of More's life and Prior includes the unflattering aspects along with the good ones.  In doing so she presents More as wholly human, but with a fierce spirit that makes her one of my new heroes.

Note: Fierce Convictions is on Christianity Today's list of the best books of 2014. Well deserved.

I received a copy of this book from Book Look Bloggers in return for an honest review.

Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist
Karen Swallow Prior
Nelson Books, 2014