In January this year I read Seven Women and the Secret of their Greatness by Eric Metaxas. The brief biographies contained therein whet my appetite for more about the women Metaxas discusses. I particularly wanted to know more about Hannah More so was pleased when I recently came across the full biography of this 17th Century woman by Karen Swallow Prior. The book is called Fierce Convictions.
I’ve always loved biographies. They provoke envy, spark my imagination and inspire me to be more than I am. In Fierce Convictions Hannah More was a writer, a teacher, a dramatist, a Christian woman, and a reformer – roles I could either identify with or greatly admire. More used several of her skills throughout her life, and became more motivated by her firmly held convictions as she aged. Her skills and principles were used to promote the Christian faith and social reform. And the subsequent influence she had on society was all the more remarkable because she was a woman.
More’s first career was as a teacher. Pairing this skill with a desire to uplift and ‘moralise’ the poor More became famous for starting and running many ‘Sunday Schools’, schools held on Sundays for the benefit of educating the poor. At that time in English society poor people were not given access to education so More went against the norm. Probably the most important of More’s anti-establishment work was her involvement in the anti-slavery movement. She worked closely with William Wilberforce to campaign for Britain to outlaw slavery. She died just weeks after the anti-slavery bill was finally passed. As a woman More could not be a parliamentarian but she became one of the ‘Clapham Sect’ a group of influential members of society who all worked to bring an end to slavery.
More was a prolific writer, starting her writing career as a playwright and poet, and continuing throughout her life to produce material aimed at changing public sentiment. Her works were enormously popular, although their appeal faded as tastes changed. Karen Swallow Prior presents a fair, well researched and balanced view of More. And more than her subject’s successes and weaknesses, Prior presents a person who had integrity and was motivated consistently, and more than anything else, by her Christian convictions. Certainly a woman I could learn from.