Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More “Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist” by Karen Swallow Prior

Takeaway: Not everyone important is known.

I have written before of the importance of good Christian biography as part of spiritual growth. (And by good, I mean actually biography, not hagiography, that looks at an honest portrayal of the real person.)

Karen Swallow Prior has written an excellent, eminently readable biography of Hannah More, a woman from history that I had never heard of before Prior’s work.

Hannah More lived in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. She was a poet, playwright, devotional writer, and activist. Her colleagues, William Wilberforce and John Newton, are much better known. But along with them, More played an active role in bringing attention to slavery and helping to move public opinion toward abolition. Unfortunately, she died just months before England outlawed the slave trade, but she deserves significant credit for her active role in abolishing slavery.

In addition to her work on abolition, she helped start schools for the poor and was behind low-cost reading material that gave the poor reading materials they could afford. She was against animal cruelty and helped start women’s societies (that eventually moved toward women’s voting.)

And as much as it seems old-fashioned today, she and Wilberforce were behind a movement that encouraged moral behavior. More has been referred to as one of the first Victorians. That seems condescending now, but that entire movement of moral behavior was at the root of popularizing human rights and the value of individuals. Without the Victorians, we would not have public schools, women’s rights, or widespread care of the poor.

More was still a person of her time, for all of her interest in reform. The schools that she started taught their students to read (in large part for evangelism) but did not teach them to write because that was above the station of the poor. In many ways, she was a proto-feminist but still believed in women’s roles in a way that few would agree with today. And many of her moral stands would be considered odd to our ears.

This is not a long biography, only 250 pages of main content. But it is a biography that I think is worth widespread reading. More, and many of her contemporaries, were starting to understand that evangelism was important after the Catholic/Protestant fights of the early reformation. And it was not long before the interest in evangelism, and foreign missions necessarily grew to include local missions, poverty alleviation, abolition, and other social causes. More did not see social ministries as competitive with evangelism but as a necessary partner with evangelism.

After reading Prior’s earlier literary memoir Booked, I have become online friends with her and have come to respect her work deeply. This biography far outshines Eric Metaxas’ biography of Wilberforce, and I hope encourages other good biographies to be written. (Metaxas wrote the forward for this Fierce Convictions.)

I also want to note, I hope positively, that this is the first good biography I have read from Thomas Nelson in a while. After a string of bad biographies from Thomas Nelson, I intentionally avoided the publisher. If it had not been for the fact that Prior was writing it, I probably would have skipped this one too. I am glad I did not.

The publisher has provided me with two copies of the book to give away. If you would like a copy, leave a comment below before the end of the week, and I will randomly pick two names to send copies. The two names have been chosen. 

Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More” Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist by Karen Swallow Prior Purchase Links: Hardcover, Kindle Edition, Audiobook


The publisher provided me with a PDF copy of the book for review.

0 thoughts on “Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More “Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist” by Karen Swallow Prior”

  1. I’m almost finished reading Henry Mayer’s “All on Fire”, the definitive biography of William Lloyd Garrison. Karen’s biography of Hannah More would be the perfect sequel.


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