With her sister Patty, she later went on to establish schools for impoverished children in rural England, teaching reading and the basics of the Christian faith. This venture was also met with much disdain and great opposition by many who preferred to constrain the poor to a life of servile labor. The siblings deeply understood that the gospel has more integrity when those who proclaim it don’t glibly say “be warm and well fed.” Hannah and Patty provided food and even an early form of micro-finance for English women. Hannah’s “genuine compassion for the poor was clear.” And ultimately, this work “helped teach her nation to read.”
Because Prior—who is also both an academic and a faith-based writer—seems to intuitively understand the deeper implications of Hannah’s many counter-cultural choices, she skillfully invites us as readers to appreciate the complexity of this woman’s life without descending into sentimentality. As I was reading, I wondered if Karen Swallow Prior has experienced some of the same challenges faced by Hannah More which would explain the tenderness, warmth, and admiration in her story telling. Perhaps the author not only appreciates More’s genius, but also recognizes the courage it must have taken to write on substantial topics in a manner that not only invites dialogue across ideological chasms but also forwards the work of the gospel—a rare gift which Prior accomplishes in her own work.
By the end of the book, I had a new heroine. Throughout her remarkable eighty-eight year life, Hannah More toppled restrictive gender and class barriers, confronted injustice, extended friendship and hospitality to rich and poor, and allowed the gospel to transform her. Again and again, she chose to follow her Fierce Convictions. I, for one, am deeply grateful to Hannah More but also to Karen Swallow Prior for bringing us this exquisite offering.