What Did I read? "Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hanna More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist" by Karen Swallow Prior.
Why I read it: One of my goals this year to read more biographies. There are numerous reasons I find myself enjoying biographies. I enjoy how I am challenged, encourage, inspired, by the lives of others. I am encouraged as I see the numerous ways in which God works through the lives of others. It also serves as a way to learn more about history. I am no history buff, and to be honest have never enjoyed most history books I have read, which I why I love biographies because they allow me to learn a little more about the events, circumstances, and cultures of the individual whose biography I am reading. So why did I chose to read, "Fierce Convictions?" Quite simply, last year it was recommend on a blog I follow and the kindle edition was only $2.99!
The Content: The book follows the life of Hannah More (duh) who lived in the United Kingdom from 1745-1833. Prior to beginning this biography I had never heard of Hannah More and found myself grateful for the opportunity to learn about the life that she lived. As the subtitle of the book suggests Hannah More was a poet, play-writer, and novelist. It was her gift and love of writing that she utilized as an abolitionist trying to bring down the slave trade in the United Kingdom- which happened shortly before her death. Hannah also used her writing to seek reform in the United Kingdom in areas such as the church, women's education, morality, and education of the poor. Hannah was born into a middle class family but through her witty and winsome personality, alongside her gifted writing ability, regularly found herself mingling with and speaking to the upper classes of society when we should visit London. A few names of people that Hannah spent quite a bit of time with that are well known would include William Wilberforce and John Newton. Here are a couple quotes from the book that capture just a little bit of who Hannah More was, "More was a woman of strong convictions, but she kept a plentiful table. She mixed comfortably and enthusiastically with rich and poor, churched and unchurched, and all in between. It was her habit to eat meals with the poor villagers during the years of the Sunday schools. At the same time, she maintained close friendships with bishops and lords." Another quote tells us of More's extensive use of her writing schools to impact people at all levels of society, "She had written plays produced by England's premier stage manager. She had written verses extolled by the country's most revered literary critic. She had turned from that world to the church and written serious treatises that had been praised by royalty and bishops. Yet few of such accomplishments would do what Hannah More did next: she gathered together all the talent and experiences she had gained thus far in life- her literary skills, her experience in the Sunday schools, her political savvy, and her social finesse- and poured them into a pamphlet for the poor. She never could have dreamed that stopping so low would eventually lead to her most influential and most highly praised work. She now piled her pen to advance reform about the common readers with not a book, but a pamphlet." The author of this book does a wonderful job of detailing in a riveting and well written biography on the life of Hannah More.
What I liked: In addition to this being a well written biography here are three things from the life of Hannah More that I appreciated. First, it was clear to all that Hannah More was a very gifted writer and that she had a winsome personality. That in and of itself is not something that is that uncommon. What was uncommon is the way in which Hannah sought to use what God had given her to help bring change to the areas in the world around her that needed to be changed. May we also seek ways to do that in our time and world. Second, Hannah held strong convictions but didn't hold those strong convictions in a way that was off putting, or unnecessarily offensive. In fact, Hannah was able to hold strongly to her convictions while simultaneously having good relationships with people who had beliefs and lifestyles vastly different than hers. I was longing for this to be more the case today than it seems to be at the present time. Third, I appreciated how Hannah More at times sought to find the middle ground in bringing about reform. While this rightly was not a part of her work as an abolitionist, in other areas she sought to find the middle ground between those who were strongly against any change and those who were seeking such drastic change that the likelihood of their success was minimal. Hannah decided that some reform was better than no reform and was willing to work in that middle ground in several instances. There is much more that I could write about as far as what I liked.
What I didn't like: The author does a good job of drawing out the realities that Hannah More was, like we all are, a product of her culture and this at times will come across in the life of Hannah More. Some might struggle with her views of women and education (which at the time was somewhat progressive) as well as her views on the limitations and the minimal education that would be offered to the lower class.
Who Should Read this Book: If you like biographies, and maybe even if you don't, you should read this one! You will be challenged, encouraged, and grateful to God for the ways in which He used the life of Hannah More to accomplish His purposes.
If you read or have read "Fierce Convictions" I would love to hear your thoughts!