Featured Reviews, VOLUME 8

Karen Swallow Prior – Fierce Convictions [Feature Review]

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Thankfully, More did not waste her talents on the more salacious topics as did many of her peers but created works of poetry, drama, political treatises, a novel, and later, confrontational pieces for the abolition movement.


Not long after the sisters closed their Bristol school, More pursued her writing by following the well-worn path east to London where she mingled with the power brokers of the day. “More sparkled under the brilliant lights of London. She had a sharp pen and a sharp tongue. Both were well practiced and well received amid the literati.” It is to our benefit that ultimately, she did not succumb to the charm of London’s elite but instead “responded to her greater sense of calling to more serious work.”


After several years, she relocated to a small cottage west of London where she began friendships with two of the most influential men in her life: John Newton and William Wilberforce. Prior recounts, “More’s meeting with Newton marked one more significant stone on her path toward an increasingly evangelical—and personal—faith. It was Newton—his writings, his sermons, and his friendship—who convinced More to devote her life to promoting spiritual education and reformation across British society.” And in Wilberforce, “More found a counterpart. It was as if all she had done and accomplished so far in her life had been merely practice for this historic mission.” She and Wilberforce would fight to end slavery for nearly the entire length of their forty-seven year friendship.


Because “the abolition of the slave trade required of the empire what has been called ‘econocide,’” More and her contemporaries faced formidable opposition. Again, by weaving accounts of the abolitionist movement into the text, Prior’s  writing evokes both sympathy and admiration for Hannah More. It’s impossible to not appreciate and value this woman’s contribution to bringing closure to the most egregious practice in the history of modern civilization—particularly during an era when women were not permitted to hold positions of influence.


Hannah’s words were sometimes laced with sarcasm, as in this poem about boycotting West Indian sugar:


I own I am shocked at this purchase of slaves,

And fear those who buy them and sell them are knaves:

What I hear of their hardships, their tortures and groans,

Is almost enough to draw pity from stones.

I pity them greatly, but I must be mum.

For how could we do without sugar and rum?

Especially sugar, so needful we see,

What, give up our desserts, our coffee and tea?
(from Slavery Obscured)


And at other times, tweetably tight and prophetic: “It should be held as an eternal truth, that what is morally wrong can never be politically right.”


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