An Engaged Woman by Joseph Stuchal

Book Review

An Engaged Woman

Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist
by Karen Swallow Prior
Nelson Books, 2014
(302 pages, $24.99, hardcover)

reviewed by Joseph Stuchal

Most scholars of the Romantic period know Hannah More—if they know her at all—as a writer of cheap tracts that attacked the social evils plaguing the lower classes of society. But as Karen Swallow Prior illustrates in her new biography, she was far more than a mere writer of romantic ballads and stories. More, who began her career as a schoolteacher for girls, became a successful and famous playwright, poet, abolitionist, education reformer, and novelist—among other things.
Why, then, has posterity all but forgotten the once-famed author? The answer is complex, but, as Prior explains, More is often overlooked because of one other vocation she took very seriously: Christianity. Her commitment to the faith all but destroyed her theater career, as she became disenchanted with writing for a venue that not only undercut her values but also questioned her fitness for the enterprise. As Prior notes, "the world of the theater was not generally kind to those of conservative and religious leanings. During the negotiations with her publisher Cadwell for the book rights to The Fatal Falsehood, the publisher remarked, 'You are too good a Christian to be a dramatic author'" (96). Indeed, one could easily broaden the comment to apply to More's situation in scholarly circles: she was too good a Christian to be an author whom scholars today will read and take seriously.

Fortunately, Prior takes More and her achievements very seriously, and the result is a solid biography that offers scholars and lay readers alike some much-needed insight into the "first literary female" Samuel Taylor Coleridge ever met (246).

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