Monday, November 24, 2014

Fierce Convictions


Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More--Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist

I knew nothing about Hannah More before beginning "Fierce Convictions." I've followed the author- Karen Swallow Prior- on Twitter for a few years, and I've read and enjoyed some of her articles on Christianity Today. 
I knew I wanted to try her latest book, so I was excited when Booklook Bloggers offered it for review.  I was even more convinced when I saw that Eric Metaxas wrote the foreword. After reading his biography of Bonhoeffer, I'm willing to trust his endorsements. 
He goes so far as to say that although it would be wonderful to have another William Wilberforce, what we really need is a crop of Hannah More's. 
Now if that doesn't intrigue you, what will. 
Hannah More was a woman of character, who sought to capture hearts and stir them to action through her words. And she succeeded, over eighty-eight years of life. 

Let me presume that I'm writing this review to fellow laypeople, who haven't read a ton of biographies and who have never heard of Hannah More. 
Is this book readable? Oh yes. It starts with an scene of Hannah and her sisters, the five More girls, all playing in their father's schoolroom after class was dismissed. Hannah insists that they pretend they're riding up to London, to see "Bishops and booksellers." From the time she was a schoolgirl, she knew that Truth was worth seeking, literature was a vehicle for truth, and ideas made the world go round.

As she grew, these perceptions of hers would be refined, words would be her craft, and the pen would be her instrument. 
Her goal can be summed up in a phrase that is used often in Fierce Convictions, to "captivate the moral imagination."  Whether she was writing poetry, plays, novels, or "Cheap Repository Tracts," she wanted to help you see the real world, God's world, and to live in it with dignity and decency. 
As an avid reader, I was underlining all through the sections on Hannah's views of stories and songs and how they can stir up a soul. 
The kind of literature we need today won't be exactly like "The Rougish Miller," but we most definitely need something that feeds that "moral imagination" and guides us toward righteousness. 

Obviously, you're not going to absorb everything in a biography right away. There are dozens of names, dates, and places that all connect to our main character, and it becomes easier to follow as Hannah comes into her own. So many times people will say "Look at how God used so-and-so. What a life, lived for His glory!" I always find it amazing, when I read a biography about one of those great lives, how many other lives touched theirs, and how many experiences they lived through before we hailed them as heroic. I guess it reminds us that a life given over to God's glory will be composed of daily faithfulness. That's how Hannah tried to live, whether she was mingling with high society or riding horseback for miles. 

It's also clear that the seeds for her legacy were planted in her youth.
When the five More girls were between twenty and eight, with Hannah at thirteen, they began a school. At sixteen, Hannah was teaching classes of young girls. The sisters all possessed sterling character, sharp intellects, and sound fiscal sense. And they were just barely "young adults." 
As a woman, she became a dear friend to Samuel Johnson, John Newton, and William Wilberforce. 
All three would invest their talents and strength in the fight to abolish slavery. Hannah's character would be further refined by her work, as she acted with conviction and reservation, passion and temperance, kindness and plain-speaking. 

She clearly desired a holistic Christianity, and she saw the Gospel reaching into every area of conduct, and informing her response to every social issue. 
(Is this exactly what we need today?) 
Her campaign for humane treatment for animals, her work in schools for poor children,  the village insurance collectives she helped establish, and her boycott of slave-labored West Indian sugar all flowed from the same convictions. 

In the middle of all these accomplishments, Karen Swallow Prior shows the tensions that Hannah lived with as well. Some of the good work she wanted to do was prevented by the customs and class structure of the age. Do you teach a poor child to read when he's destined to stay a servant? 
Hannah did not have an answer to every question, but the amount of work she did and effort she expended in so many arenas is remarkable. 
"A woman of letters" seems like a small thing, but it wasn't. 

I especially like this description of her character, quoted in Fierce Convictions from an earlier biography: "... the most implicit faith and the most devoted zeal in Christianity could consist with the highest mental attainments; and the most devoted piety was no obstacle to cheerfulness and humor."

This one's going on my history shelf next to Amazing Grace by Metaxas. Thank you to Booklook Bloggers for my review copy. My review doesn't do it justice, but I hope you're encouraged to try Fierce Convictions. 

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