Reviewed by Kimberly Campbell
When I graduated from high school in the mid-1990s I knew exactly what I wanted to do: teach. For the last two years of my high school career, I was given the opportunity to sit under one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. He taught history. He didn’t just teach history, because there are plenty of people who can teach history. For me, he made history come alive. I knew when I left my last class with him that I wanted to teach history to make students fall in love with the God who created the world, to see history as a plan of God to show His glory, and to show students how to take history and change their present world.
Dr. Prior, in her book Fierce Convictions, does this for me, and I hope, for you too. Fierce Convictions is a biography on the life of Mrs. Hannah More, a woman who loved God and set out to change the world she lived in. I was briefly introduced to Mrs. More in the movie Amazing Grace, about More’s friend William Wilberforce. This brief introduction would lend itself well to my excitement when I saw that Prior had written a book to share more of More’s life and her impact on the world.
Hannah More was a woman who sought to bring justice to her world. The world she saw and lived in had many injustices – just like our world today. Dr. Prior writes a compelling biography and displays More’s life, education, artistic and creative soul, and her heart for finding justice for the downtrodden and weary.
Prior, with her English background and her thorough study on More’s writings and life, immediately draws you in to More’s world. I found myself taking time to visualize the world she created in Fierce Convictions: the scenery, the homes, the dress, the theatre, and the interactions at dinner tables and in sitting rooms. More’s original poetry and other writings of her contemporaries are frequently cited throughout this biography. This not only shows Prior’s study and knowledge of her subject but also compels the reader to study further into More’s life.
One of the aspects of reading biographies that I love the most is when the author engages me with the person’s writings, journals, and work so I can study more for myself, and learn and apply the original work – not just what was said later about the person.
Before beginning to read this book, one of the questions in my mind was if this author was going to say that More was a feminist or how she refused to believe in the teachings of her day. How was she going against the flow? Feminism is such a strong belief – either way, however one means it – and I wanted to see what Prior had to say about More.
More was a single woman who lived in Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries. She was not of the wealthy class by any means, but, she had knowledge, creativity, and a persistent will for learning and freedom. This doesn’t mean that she was a feminist. Prior portrays her accurately as a woman, who along with her some of her contemporaries, wanted to teach women, educate them so they could impact society, give the gift of reading to those who couldn’t read, and strive to see that no one was enslaved just because of the color of his or her skin. Prior didn’t paint her in a radical feminist light, but as one who wanted to see society changed, using her talents, gifts, personality, and relationships to do so.
There were three main areas that Prior wanted to convey to her readers about the life of Hannah More. One was how her religious beliefs impacted her life in society. Another was her role as a female and how she wanted to educate the world around her. And finally was her belief and hard-fought role in the abolition of the slave trade. She spent adequate time on each of these roles and expounded upon them with More’s own writings and some of what her more-famous contemporaries had to say about her and her impact on society. Especially as a woman having political influence in the slave trade agenda, she was pushing the envelope for women in those days and had a remarkable impact on the political tracks around her.
I found myself identifying much with More’s weaknesses and her conundrums that she faced in life. She had an amazing impact on the lives of those younger than her. We see this in the school that she was a part of and an instructor in (a school she ran with her sisters). She wanted to teach others how to read – so they could better interpret the world around them. I walked away with inquisitive thoughts about how I want to raise my boys: yes, teaching them to read, but more importantly teaching them how to look upon their world with eyes that are fixed upon the gospel. I desire to shape their worldview with Christ at the center and everything else therefore held in relation to that.
More may have lived centuries before this biography about her was penned, but the world to which Prior wrote faces many of the same political and cultural battles. There is still slavery. There is still racism. There are still the uneducated who need help to engage society. There is still much of society that needs reforming, especially morally. More was someone who saw her gift of the pen and mind as something that could greatly change the world around her. She wasn’t one to sit and be still and not affect and influence. The millions of slaves who were freed during the time around her death should be eternally grateful for her work in remedying the political situation that had scarred many families and haunted many boats and the waters of the seas. We should be grateful for her work in education because we have many of the reforms of education today due to the work of those like Mrs. More who came before us. We see from More just one of the ways a woman who has her eyes set on making the Gospel of Christ famous can impact the world around her, no apologies necessary.
For readers of this biography, we can thank Dr. Prior for making More’s writings and life available to us in a readable, applicable and engaging work. She has opened a new world of letters, poems, and other writings to me, one who loves to read and be affected by people of the past.
As for how we can rightly apply any life-changing truth that can come from the reading of Fierce Convictions, there are many situations of slavery and abuse due to lack of education in our world today. We can share the truth of the Gospel to those in these circumstances, and be advocates for the truth. We can so pray and so live that one day, we might see the end of slavery, just as happened in Britain in the years following Mrs. More’s life.
Kimberly Campbell is a wife to a humble and talented man and mom to two rambunctious toddler boys. She lives in Marietta, Georgia and love to cook, teach her boys to love books,, run, and take road trips.
Editor’s Note: Don’t miss our Author Interview with Karen Swallow Prior here.
Buy the books
Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life Of Hannah More