Hannah More Essay - Critical Essays

More, Hannah


Hannah More 1745-1833

English nonfiction writer, playwright, poet, essayist, and novelist.

The following entry provides an overview of More's life and works. For additional information on her career, see NCLC, Volume 27.

A significant voice on behalf of many social causes, More was one of the most popular female writers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. While she initially gained prominence through her plays and poetry, after 1779, More abandoned those genres and began producing anti-Enlightenment polemics and religious essays dedicated to the education and improvement of her contemporaries and the poor. She is best known for her brief expository prose or tracts directed at the working class, collected in three volumes and entitled the Cheap Repository (1795-98). These tracts, like her other works, reflect a concern with the betterment of society.

Biographical Information

More was born on February 2, 1745, the fourth in a family of five girls. Her father, Jacob More, was headmaster of a charity school, and her mother Mary Grace was the daughter of a farmer. More and her sisters were educated at their father's school, where they studied mathematics, reading, and Latin. More could read before the age of four, and proved so adept in mathematics that she outperformed the boys in the school, prompting her father to suspend her instruction for fear of overeducating her in a subject he considered more suitable for males. In 1757, More's older sister Mary opened a boarding school for girls in nearby Bristol, and More was enrolled as one of the first pupils, studying history and literature. At the age of sixteen, she wrote her first play, The Search After Happiness (first published in 1773). After completing her studies at the school, More became an instructor; she served there until 1767 when she became engaged to William Turner, a wealthy landowner. When More broke off her engagement after six years of postponements and failed appearances on Turner's part, she received a settlement to compensate her. Financially secure, More was able to travel to London, where she became associated with the Bluestockings, a group of writers and intellectuals whose meetings provided a forum for men and women to discuss literature and the arts. The group encouraged More in her writing career and introduced her to such prominent writers as Samuel Johnson and Elizabeth Montagu. When her friend and patron, the actor and producer David Garrick, died in 1779, More withdrew from the theater amid charges of plagiarism by another of Garrick's protégés. She began to see theater in opposition to her religious beliefs, and turned instead to writing moral tracts and poems in keeping with her devotion to Anglican Evangelicalism. In 1785, More moved to a cottage near Bristol and rarely visited the capital again. Her writing became increasingly didactic and she devoted herself to religion and to causes such as women's education and the abolition of slavery. In 1808, More published the enormously successful novel Cœlebs in Search of a Wife, and continued to produce religious essays and tracts until she became ill in 1825. She died on September 7, 1833.

Major Works

More first achieved success in the theater with such dramas as The Search After Happiness, The Inflexible Captive (1774), and Percy (1778). However, despite her success, she stopped writing plays and turned to the production of religious tales and essays, such as Thoughts on the Importance of the Manners of the Great to General Society (1788) and An Estimate of the Religion of the Fashionable World (1791), in which she chastised the members of the middle and upper classes for frivolity and appealed to them to set an example in morals and manners that the lower class might follow. The works became phenomenally successful with the middle and upper classes, who failed to recognize themselves as the targets of her criticism.

More's career as a political writer began when she was asked by the Bishop of London to write a reply to Thomas Paine's Rights of Man. The result was a pamphlet—attributed to “Will Chip, a country carpenter”—entitled Village Politics, Addressed to All the Mechanics, Journeymen, and Day Labourers in Great Britain (1792), wherein two workingmen engage in a dialogue that rejects the principles of the Enlightenment and suggests that governmental affairs should be of no concern to the working class. The success of the pamphlet and a later ballad, The Riot; or Half a Loaf Is Better Than No Bread (1795), prompted religious leaders to propose that More take on the education of the lower class through a series of tracts. Designed to educate the poor and counter the rhetoric associated with the French Revolution, the tracts contained moral lessons in addition to their messages of political orthodoxy. The tracts were first issued individually, but later were combined and published as the Cheap Repository. In 1808, More produced her only novel, Cœlebs in Search of a Wife. Although she considered the novel form decadent, she was determined to take advantage of the genre's popularity for didactic purposes, and the resulting work prescribes proper roles for the women of her day.

Critical Reception

More's body of religious polemics, the Cheap Repository, is of great interest to literary and political historians alike. According to Sam Pickering (1975), however, the tracts are “relentlessly didactic and psychologically simplistic.” Pickering additionally acknowledges that the tracts anticipate the nineteenth-century short story genre. Similarly, Irena Dobrzycka (1980) believes that More was ahead of her time with her fictional representations of the working class in both industrial and rural settings, in this case anticipating the social problem novel later perfected by Benjamin Disraeli and Charles Dickens. The primary aim of the Cheap Repository is also the subject of debate by modern scholars. Susan Pedersen (1986) disputes the common critical notion that its primary intent was “to give religious sanction to the existing social order.” Rather, claims Pedersen, the Cheap Repository represented “a broad evangelical assault on late eighteenth-century popular culture” and was more concerned with the morals of the poor than their politics. Gary Kelly (1987) presents the other side of the controversy, insisting that the tracts in the Cheap Repository “consistently argue that the poverty and misery of the labouring poor are caused not by ‘things as they are’ but by their own idleness, folly, bad management, and mistaken attempts to emulate their betters.” Biographer Charles Howard Ford (1996) suggests that More herself was ambivalent about her primary purpose in all of her writing—even in her early work as a dramatist. According to Ford, “she was torn between the maintenance of aristocratic and patriarchal values for acceptability and the advocacy of moral reforms that rewarded the godly, regardless of sex.” Thus, significant contradictions are apparent in More's works. While they reinforce male supremacy they also forward More's progressive agenda for women's education, and they justify the social and economic position of the upper class even as they criticize the behavior of its individual members. This conflict, in connection with More's continual focus on improving the lives of her contemporaries through her writing, ensures continued readership and debate on More and her career.

Principal Works

The Search After Happiness: A Pastoral Drama (play) 1773

The Inflexible Captive: A Tragedy (play) 1774

Sir Eldred of the Bower and the Bleeding Rock: Two Legendary Tales (poetry) 1776

Essays on Various Subjects, Principally Designed for Young Ladies (essays) 1777

Ode to Dragon, Mr. Garrick's House-Dog, at Hampton (poetry) 1777

Percy: A Tragedy (play) 1778

The Fatal Falsehood: A Tragedy (play) 1779

Sacred Dramas: Chiefly Intended for Young Persons, the Subjects Taken from the Bible (plays) 1782

Florio: A Tale for Fine Gentlemen and Fine Ladies and The Bas Bleu; or, Conversation: Two Poems (poetry) 1786

Slavery: A Poem (poetry) 1788

Thoughts on the Importance of the Manners of the Great to General Society (essay) 1788

Bishop Bonner's Ghost (poetry) 1789

An Estimate of the Religion of the Fashionable World (essay) 1791

Village Politics, Addressed to All the Mechanics, Journeymen, and Day Labourers in Great Britain (tract) 1792

The Gin-Shop; or, a Peep into a Prison (ballad) 1795

The Riot; or Half a Loaf Is Better Than No Bread (ballad) 1795

The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain (tract) 1795

*Cheap Repository. 3 vols. (tracts) 1795-98

Betty Brown, the St. Giles's Orange Girl (tract) 1796

The Entertaining, Moral, and Religious Repository. 2 vols. (tracts) 1798-99

Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education with a View of the Principles and Conduct Prevalent Among Women of Rank and Fortune. 2 vols. (essays) 1799

Hints Towards Forming the Character of a Young Princess. 2 vols. (essay) 1805

Cœlebs in Search of a Wife. Comprehending Observations on Domestic Habits and Manners, Religion and Morals. 2 vols. (novel) 1808

Practical Piety; or, The Influence of the Religion of the Heart on the Conduct of Life. 2 vols. (essay) 1811

Christian Morals. 2 vols. (essay) 1813

The Twelfth of August; or, The Feast of Freedom (essay) 1819; republished as The Feast of Freedom; or, The Abolition of Domestic Slavery in Ceylon, 1827

Memoirs of the Life and Correspondence of Mrs. Hannah More. 2 vols. (letters) 1837

The Letters of Hannah More (letters) 1925

*This work is commonly referred to as Cheap Repository Tracts.


Sam Pickering (essay date winter 1975)

SOURCE: Pickering, Sam. “The Cheap Repository Tracts and the Short Story.” Studies in Short Fiction 12, no. 1 (winter 1975): 15-21.

[In the following essay, Pickering claims that More's tracts were forerunners of the nineteenth-century short story.]

In a letter to Henry Brevoort in 1824, Washington Irving said that he had written sketches and short tales rather than long works because he chose “to take a line of writing peculiar to myself, rather than fall into the manner or school of any other writer.”1 Like all claims of originality, Irving's declaration should be taken with a grain of salt. Shake any literary history and several possible...

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Irena Dobrzycka (essay date 1980)

SOURCE: Dobrzycka, Irena. “Hannah More—Forerunner of the English Social Novel.” Kwartalnik Neofilogiczny 27, no. 2 (1980): 133-41.

[In the following essay, Dobrzycka argues that More introduced a concern for the condition of the poor and the working class into British literature, anticipating the nineteenth-century social problem novel associated with Charles Dickens and Benjamin Disraeli.]

In her admirable work on the reflection of the English industrial scene in English literature, in the years 1750-1850, Ivanka Kovacević introduced two samples of the writings of Hannah More: Village Politics, a Dialogue and the story of a child-miner, The Lancashire...

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Susan Pedersen (essay date January 1986)

SOURCE: Pedersen, Susan. “Hannah More Meets Simple Simon: Tracts, Chapbooks, and Popular Culture in Late Eighteenth-Century England.” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 1 (January 1986): 84-113.

[In the following essay, Pedersen contends that More was attempting to counter the preponderance of unsuitable reading material for the poor through her tract writing, rather than trying to protect the prevailing social and political orders from possible revolution, as is often claimed by critics.]

During the winter of scarcity of 1794, Hannah More wrote “a few moral stories,” drew up a plan for publication and distribution, and sent the package around to her...

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Mitzi Myers (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: Myers, Mitzi. “Hannah More's Tracts for the Times: Social Fiction and Female Ideology.” In Fetter'd or Free? British Women Novelists, 1670-1815, edited by Mary Anne Schofield and Cecilia Macheski, pp. 264-84. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1986.

[In the following essay, Myers analyzes the feminist implications of More's Cheap Repository tracts, stating that “didactic women like More shaped a new ideal of educated and responsible womanhood.”]

Remarking “the extreme activity of mind which showed itself in the later eighteenth century among women,” Virginia Woolf urged the importance of a change, “which, if I were rewriting history, I should...

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Gary Kelly (essay date 1987)

SOURCE: Kelly, Gary. “Revolution, Reaction, and the Expropriation of Popular Culture: Hannah More's Cheap Repository.Man and Nature 6 (1987): 147-55.

[In the following essay, Kelly describes More's use of the conventions associated with popular chapbooks to forward her Evangelical agenda, including the notion that poverty was caused by the laziness and bad judgment of the poor.]

In March 1790 Hannah More, author, retired schoolmistress, Evangelical, and leader of the Sunday school movement, wrote to her sister:

Things are getting worse and worse in France. A lady of quality the other day in Paris, rung her bell, and...

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Ellen Donkin (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: Donkin, Ellen. “The Paper War of Hannah Cowley and Hannah More.” In Curtain Calls: British and American Women and the Theater, 1660-1820, edited by Mary Anne Schofield and Cecilia Macheski, pp. 143-62. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1991.

[In the following essay, Donkin discusses the charges of plagiarism leveled against More by the playwright Hannah Cowley and suggests that the real problem between the two women was precipitated by the death of their mentor, David Garrick, and the mismanagement of their plays by his successors.]

In January of 1779 David Garrick died, leaving in his wake a group of women playwrights who suddenly found themselves without a...

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Claire Grogan (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: Grogan, Claire. “Mary Wollstonecraft and Hannah More: Politics, Feminism and Modern Critics.” Lumen 13 (1994): 99-108.

[In the following essay, Grogan disagrees with scholars who cite the numerous similarities in the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft and More, claiming that such comparisons ignore the authors' differences in the area of gender politics.]

Miss Berry's diary entry for Tuesday 2 April 1799 reads:

In the many hours I have spent alone this last week, I have been able … to go entirely through Hannah More, and Mrs Woolstonecroft [sic] immediately after her. It is amazing, or rather it is not amazing, but...

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Dorice Williams Elliott (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: Elliott, Dorice Williams. “‘The Care of the Poor is Her Profession’: Hannah More and Women's Philanthropic Work.” Nineteenth-Century Contexts 19, no. 2 (1995): 179-204.

[In the following essay, Elliott maintains that More's writing was an attempt to encourage reform among the aristocracy as well as to provide uplifting lessons for the poor.]

In an 1841 letter to William Ellery Channing, critic and historian Lucy Aikin noted that the practice of visiting the poor had now become “a fashion and a rage” among English women, thanks in large part to a novel published in 1808 by Hannah More, the famous Evangelical writer, philanthropist, and educator...

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Patricia Demers (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: Demers, Patricia. “Poetics of Beneficence: Practice and Patronage.” In The World of Hannah More, pp. 48-75. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1996.

[In the following essay, Demers explores More's role as a poet and as a literary patron of Ann Yearsley, a working-class poet from Bristol, England.]

Hannah More and William Blake were writing poetry at the same time; yet they appear to live in totally different worlds. In contrast to the prophecies and visions of Blake exploring woman's socio-sexual dilemma and the more general corruption of human potentiality, the intellectual matrix of More's couplets is still deeply influenced by Augustan poetics...

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Charles Howard Ford (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: Ford, Charles Howard. “The Ambivalent Moralist.” In Hannah More: A Critical Biography, pp. 1-43. New York: Peter Lang, 1996.

[In the following excerpt, Ford surveys More's ambivalent attitude toward the aristocracy and male supremacy as revealed in her early essays and dramas.]

Literary critics and historians usually dismiss the early works of Hannah More as conventional or as derivative. It is true that the early plays and poems of More reflect the general concern for moral regeneration and national identity in Georgian Britain. Hannah More, like most writers, celebrated the godly, self-disciplined layperson who looked out for the common good rather than...

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Robert Hole (essay date 2000)

SOURCE: Hole, Robert. “Hannah More on Literature and Propaganda, 1788-1799.” History 85, no. 280 (2000): 613-33.

[In the following essay, based on a 1997 paper presented to the Southampton Branch of the Historical Association, Hole outlines More's contributions to the emerging field of propaganda literature in the late eighteenth century.]


In the 1790s the word propaganda began to be used in a new way, distinct from both its seventeenth-century and twentieth-century usages, to mean ‘any association, systematic scheme, or concerted movement for the propagation of a particular doctrine or practice’.1 It is no coincidence that this happened at a time when political debate in Britain was becoming theoretical in a way that it had rarely been before. Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) sought to define a conservative set of values which was challenged in a large number of responses of which Thomas Paine's Rights of Man (1791-2) and Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) are now the best-known examples. While Burke, Paine, Price, Priestley, Wollstonecraft, Godwin and others were discussing the issues on an intellectual level, a great deal of popular propaganda was churned out, especially in the critical winter from November 1792 to January 1793. Some of these popular pamphlets were in favour of the revolution, others opposed to it; some were relatively intelligent but many very crude. The activities of John Bowles at the more intelligent end of the spectrum, of John Reeves and the Association for the Preservation of Liberty and Property against Republicans and Levellers, and of the Reverend William Jones as the author of the John Bull papers formed the core of conservative propaganda at this time.2

The best-known author of popular counter-revolutionary propaganda in the later 1790s, however, was Hannah More. Indeed, it is as a propagandist, rather than as a poet or playwright, that More should be best remembered. Although her early works, before she turned her pen to propaganda, were well regarded within her circle, they are not admired today.3 Some were little more than ‘in-jokes’ or flattery between friends, the real interest of which died with the members of the circle.4 Only one of her plays achieved any success and that was due not to its literary or dramatic merit but to the skill and reputation of her friend and patron David Garrick.5 Her conversion to the anti-slavery cause first led her in the direction of propagandist writing; her evangelicalism resulted in her didactic books. But it was her opposition to the threat she believed the ideas of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution posed that led her to popular propaganda that was directed first to the poor, then to women of the rising middle class. Her urgent campaign against the way women were represented in literature, especially in the radical novel, led her both to her most successful and vigorous polemic and also to her greatest literary disaster, and thereafter into a slow but terminal decline.6

It is possible to define propaganda so broadly that the term could be used to include all the contributions to any controversial debate; in her introduction to a modern copy of More's Remarks on a Speech of M. Dupont, Claudia L. Johnson comments, ‘unlike Village Politics (1793) and the Cheap Repository Tracts (1795-98), On Religion and Public Education is “straight” propaganda: it is not contrived in a bluffy vernacular dialogue form for working-class audiences but speaks directly to an elite readership with an unmediated critique of the revolutionary ideals expressed in Dupont's speech.’7 This article will take a narrower view of propaganda, though it will not limit itself to writings directed to the lower orders. It will concentrate on works which appealed to the heart as well as the head, used emotional and oblique techniques as well as, or instead of, ‘straight’ intellectual ones, formed part of a larger movement and were addressed to a wide audience. It will concern itself largely with propaganda in the literary forms of poetry, fiction and drama.

Some of the categories used to analyse twentieth-century propaganda can help us to evaluate the propaganda writings of Hannah More.8 First, there is a distinction between political and sociological propaganda: More's Village Politics (1792) is a classic of political propaganda; her Cheap Repository Tracts (1795-7) are essentially sociological. The propaganda of agitation is distinguished from the propaganda of integration: More's anti-slavery writings fall into the first category; her tracts designed to reconcile the poor to their poverty are a paradigm of the second. Propaganda can be either vertical or horizontal: almost all of More's work is vertical; she is addressing those she regarded as being in one way or another beneath her, but she often pretends it is horizontal by adopting the persona of a poor man—Village Politics was attributed to ‘Will Chip, a carpenter’. Finally, there is a distinction between rational and irrational propaganda: More's arguments were founded not upon reason, which she associated with the godless French Enlightenment, but on religion. She would have insisted that there should be three categories—revelation, reason and irrationality—not two. Hannah More's Christianity informed her propaganda at every stage of her career; it cannot properly be understood from any other perspective.

As a writer of various forms of propaganda herself, More was able to recognize the propaganda techniques of her political and moral opponents. In 1799 she launched an attack on Mary Wollstonecraft and the advocates of the rights of women in which she analysed with clarity and vigour the techniques which she perceived they were using. This article will seek to establish a relationship between More's own propaganda writings on slavery, poverty and the role of women, and her 1799 critique of the propaganda of Wollstonecraft and the Jacobin novelists and playwrights.


Hannah More is best remembered as one of the conservative defenders of the established order against the radical arguments of the supporters of the French Revolution. The bulk of her work is the propaganda of integration. But some of her earliest propaganda was designed to agitate for the abolition of the slave trade. Roger Anstey and other scholars of slavery and the abolitionist movement have recognized her enlightened views on slavery and race, although some have questioned her sincerity.9

Like many other Anglican evangelicals, Hannah More strongly supported the campaign which led in 1807 to the abolition of the slave trade.10 If not quite a systematic scheme, this campaign was certainly a concerted movement and the agitation it undertook plainly constituted a propaganda.11 The pattern of this propaganda had already been established by 1776 when More joined the movement, though it was still to develop in significant ways which she experienced at first hand. She became a close friend of William Wilberforce, John Newton and Thomas Gisborne: Wilberforce visited her in Somerset; Newton was one of her most frequent correspondents; she visited Gisborne at Yoxall Lodge where he and Wilberforce planned much of the abolitionist campaign. In 1788, at the request of the leading abolitionists, she published a poem of 295 lines entitled Slavery, and when in 1801 she included this in her collected Works [of Hannah More] she made a number of changes and additions to it.12 In this poem, and in her other writings on the topic,13 she sought to propagate clear views on race and slavery which were based squarely on her understanding of Christian morality. The moral message is communicated directly:

Perish th' illiberal thought which would debase
The native genius of the sable race!
Perish the proud philosophy, which sought
To rob them of the pow'rs of equal thought!
Does then th' immortal principle within
Change with the casual colour of a skin?(14)

She argued that the affections, desires and emotions of black slaves were equal to those of their white masters. The only way in which slaves could be inferior was if they were not Christian, but even here she acknowledged that they had a pagan code of honour, a non-Christian moral code, which they shared with the classical world:

                                                                                … that very pride
In Afric scourg'd, in Rome was deified.(15)

In 1788 she was able to extol the virtue of liberty in a way which became more difficult when it was adopted as a watchword of the French Revolution. But even from the start she was cautious. The first eighteen lines of the poem are a hymn to liberty in which Britain is seen as the heir of Greece and Rome; but More asks of liberty,

While Britain basks in thy full blaze of light,
Why lies sad Afric quenched in total night?(16)

and insists that Heaven intends that liberty should ‘irradiate all the earth’.17

Many of the additions and amendments she made in 1801 underlined the distinction between the true freedom and liberty for slaves of which she approved, and the false freedom and liberty demanded by the Jacobins of which she disapproved. In one addition she attacked those poets who praised ‘that mad liberty’ as opposed to the pure ideal.18 In another she reflected on how the French Revolution reviled oppression but itself oppressed, murdered when redressing alleged wrongs, and in the name of freedom bellowed ‘for blessings which were never lost’.19 She rejoiced that the French Revolution was now passed and that what she regarded as reason and order were restored. Other additions underlined the theological points made, but towards the end of the poem she returned again to the theme of freedom, insisting that real glory for Britain would be ‘To curb false freedom and the true restore!’20

These qualifications, however, underlined rather than fundamentally changed the original of 1788. A conservative concern for public order was certainly intensified by her fear of revolution spreading to Britain, but it was present from the beginning. From 1774 to 1784 she had regularly spent half the year in London. During that period, the Gordon riots convulsed parts of the capital for several days in early June 1780. These, together perhaps with older memories of the cry ‘Wilkes and Liberty’, led More, in 1788, to follow her opening panegyric on liberty with a sixteen-line reservation, which opens:

Not that unlicens'd monster of the crowd,
Whose roar terrific bursts in peals so loud,

and concludes with a warning of:

Red conflagration o'er th' astonish'd land;
Clamouring for peace, she rends the air with noise,
And, to reform a part, the whole destroys.(21)

Whilst many of the additions of 1801 were prefigured in this passage, not all of them were reactionary; some reinforced her disregard for a person's racial origin. In 1801 she prayed that God, ‘Who of one blood didst form the human race’, would look ‘With equal eye on Afric's suff'ring clime’.22 This insistence that all nations and races are of one blood was repeated in her ballad, The Negro Boy's Petition.23

Despite her advocacy of equality between the races, More did not believe that all people were equal in all respects. She accepted a social hierarchy and believed that an individual's place in it was determined by divine providence and fixed for life. In many ways the attitudes that More expressed towards the slaves exhibited the same kind of pity and compassion that she was to show the poor in England. She urged both groups to find comfort and redress in death and the rewards of eternal life.24 Two lines added to the 1801 edition expressed this idea explicitly:

Yet the last audit shall reverse the cause,
And God shall vindicate his broken laws.(25)

The author of A True Account of a Pious Negro, a tract which More published in her Cheap Repository Tracts series, claimed: ‘This story shews us that God despises not labourers on account of their poverty, or Negroes on account of their colour. It shews us that religion, and that only will make a man content and comfortable in the lowest situations.’26 There was, however, a crucial difference in her treatment of the English poor and of black slaves: whereas More was happy for the poor to suffer on earth and take their reward in Heaven, she actively sought redress for black slaves on earth.27

During the decade of the French Revolution many reforming causes lapsed or were abandoned in Britain and few writers were more sedulous than More in avoiding anything which might appear to succour the cause of revolution or support the argument for universal abstract rights. In a debate in the House of Lords in 1793, the earl of Abingdon argued that ‘the idea of abolishing the slave trade is connected with the levelling system and the rights of man … what does the abolition of the slave trade mean more or less than liberty and equality? What more or less than the rights of man?’28 One might well expect Hannah More to have remained silent on the issue of slavery and race at this time, but she did not do so.29 In 1796 The Black Prince passed the stringent editorial control that More exercised over the Cheap Repository Tracts: this was an account of the visit of Naimbanna, ‘An African King's Son’, to England between 1771 and 1793. This tract insisted on the equality and equal rights of all ‘whatever be their colour’ and on the dignity and nobility of the black person.30 In a remarkable passage, Naimbanna is credited with saying:

If a man should rob me of my money, I can forgive him; if a man should shoot at me, I can forgive him; if a man should sell me and all my family to a slave ship, so that we should pass all the rest of our lives in slavery in the West Indies, I can forgive him; but’ he added with great emotion, ‘if a man takes away the character of the people of my country, I can never forgive him.’ Being asked why … he answered,—‘If a man should try to kill me, or should sell my family for slaves, he would do an injury to as many as he might kill or sell, but if any one takes away the character of black people that man injures black people all over the world: and when one has once taken away their character, there is nothing which he may not do to black people ever after. That man, for instance, will beat black men, and say, “O it is only a black man, why should I not beat him?” That man will make slaves of black people; for when he has taken away their character, he will say, “O, they are only black people, why should I not make them slaves?” That man will take away all the people of Africa, if he can catch them, and if you ask him why do you take away all those people? he will say, “O, they are only black people, they are not like white people, why should I not take them?” That is the reason why I cannot forgive the man who takes away the character of the people of my country.31

The Black Prince was not the first anti-slave trade tract published in the Cheap Repository; Babay: A True Story of a Good Negro Woman, A True Account of a Pious Negro, and The Sorrows of Yamba had all appeared in 1795.32 Kinship in Christ was clearly acknowledged: ‘neither the colour of his body, nor the condition of his present life, could prevent him from being my brother.’33 The humanity and goodness of black men and women were stressed, their love of family and of country: ‘Perhaps it may serve to fill us as Englishmen with shame when we reflect, that with all our great and superior advantages, our knowledge and obedience are far from being equal to what seems to have been the case with this poor, but virtuous negro.’34

Hannah More's anti-slavery arguments would, of course, be more palatable to present-day sensibilities if she had based them on the rights of man, as did Mary Wollstonecraft. Her biographer, Gwladys Jones, famously described Village Politics as ‘Burke for Beginners’, but it was Wilberforce, not Burke, who had by far the greater influence on More's political, social and moral thought. Her position was entirely consistent with that of the other Anglican evangelical abolitionists; it was informed by her Christian faith, related to her view of a providential hierarchy and was essentially a product of her period, class and religion. But it was none the less vigorous for that. More's anti-slavery propaganda went to what she believed was the moral heart of the issue. She was not concerned with arguing that slavery was uneconomic. For her, the point was that it was un-Christian; black and white men and women were equally the sons and daughters of God. The propaganda was direct and urgent, but the cogently argued polemics sought to define the human right to liberty in such a way that distinguished the anti-slavery movement from the Jacobin demands for the rights of the poor and dispossessed in Britain. By concentrating on specific case studies, she made an immediate emotional appeal to the hearts of her readers and kept her distance from abstract, theoretical argument. She learned from the outset how to avoid contamination from more radical bedfellows. Although she herself wrote very little against slavery before the 1790s, her involvement in that cause was critical in establishing Hannah More as a propagandist: it gave her experience of acting with others in a concerted movement which was both established and growing; it helped her to understand the subtlety needed to relate the specific cause she was seeking to propagate to her wider beliefs and her vision of society and the world.


Before the autumn of 1792 the references to poverty and the poor in Hannah More's writings are rare and incidental. In her two major works of social reformation, Thoughts on the Importance of the Manners of the Great to General Society (1788) and An Estimate of the Religion of the Fashionable World (1790), some attention is given to the effects of the behaviour of the rich on the poor, but there is no extended treatment of the obligations of the lower orders. It was the French Revolution that turned More's thoughts to the social problem of the poor and their containment. Her most famous popular political tract, Village Politics, first appeared in December 1792 at a time when the regime felt itself under severe threat.35 Later, over a period of three years from 1795 to 1797, More oversaw the production of a whole series of writings for the poor, the Cheap Repository Tracts; she was responsible for over 200 as editor-in-chief, and as author for around fifty of them.36 These are fundamentally sociological in character and create a fictional village utopia in which the poor know and accept their place. Later, in the crisis of 1817-19, she reprinted revised versions of some of these tracts and wrote a few new ones.37 Together they certainly constituted a systematic scheme and concerted movement for the propagation of a particular doctrine.

All of More's writings on and for the poor were responses to a perceived crisis of order and authority. Yet, such was her skill and the clarity of her perception of the nature of poverty and the proper role of the poor within the social order, that many of these works were deeply reflective and reveal little of the panic of the ruling elite in this period. Village Politics is the single exception, but even this tract is a careful, ordered summary of the major political arguments which appeared in a more frantic form in the other tracts of that autumn and winter.38 By the time that the first of the Cheap Repository Tracts, The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain, appeared in 1795, More had been living in her Somerset retreat, the cottage at Cowslip Green, for ten years, and had busied herself in the foundation of schools in the agricultural and industrial villages of the Mendips in 1789, 1791, and 1792. Cowslip Green is apparently lost in the English countryside, but was, in fact, very strategically placed just a few hundred yards from the main road to Bristol and London.39 There More remained closely in touch with national events and ensured that it was easy for the rich and powerful to visit her. As appears clearly in her letters of the period and in the journal kept by her sister Pattie,40 she was able in this time to develop a traditionalistic sociology of the poor and a conservative-populist philosophy of poverty which, by 1795, was ripe for literary exposition in the tracts.41

The tracts were written for the poor, but they found an enthusiastic readership amongst the middle and upper orders, many of whose views they confirmed. Based on the demotic style of the chap-books, they sought to bring order, morality and faith to the lower orders; their main propaganda purpose was to help suppress discontent in the years of poverty and war. Poverty was seen not as an evil but an opportunity. The first of the tracts, The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain (1795), set out this agenda clearly. The shepherd is a poor man who has made a virtue of his poverty. Simplicity and frugality, cleanliness and industry, characterize his life. He combines a natural dignity with an awareness of his subordinate social standing and a strong sense of deference to his social superiors. His contentment arises partly out of his acceptance of his social inferiority, partly from his Christian faith. But his faith also informs his dignity. He hates to see children with no shoes and socks, not just because of the cold, but because it degrades and debases them.42 But this sense of pride and dignity is no barrier to the happy acceptance of charity. Clearly, the shepherd and his family are deserving—Christ's poor, not the Devil's—and the charitable are all too ready to give to them. These gifts are accepted with a deferential and humble gratitude which now appears cloying and invites satire, but which More intended to enhance the poor's dignity and sense of being at ease with themselves, knowing their place and their role within the social hierarchy.43 The shepherd is superior to his middle-class interlocutor in his moral judgements and ethical behaviour. He prefers to pay his debts than have meat for Sunday lunch and declines the offer of beer with that meal rather than have his son seen in the alehouse on a Sunday.44 The role of charity is seen clearly as being to alleviate the symptoms of poverty, not to remove its causes. To do that would be to dispute with providence. His benefactor explains that he has ‘never attempted or desired to set any poor man much above his natural condition’, but is pleased ‘to lend him such assistance as may make that condition more easy to himself’.45 The shepherd's experience of the evils of poverty, the illness of his wife, poor food and inadequate shelter have not turned him against the system which has produced these evils. Indeed, he feels that, in removing choice, providence has made life easier for him.46

More was well aware that many did not accept providence so willingly. To them she urged contentment and dutiful acceptance of their lot. When the poor were faced with the problems of a bad harvest and famine, of starvation and death, she provided practical advice in the form of cheap nourishing recipes. Rice and skimmed milk, potatoes and parsnips are highly recommended.47 Indeed, Farmer White claims that sixpence worth of parsnip seed will produce more meals than four sacks of potatoes and will use only one-eighth of the ground space: ‘Providence having contrived, by the very formation of this root, that it still occupy but a very small space.’48 Acceptance of hardship and an ability to make-do cheerfully are the virtues which these recipes imply. Rich and poor are portrayed as two constituent parts of society, each of which should respect the rights and dignity of the other. Elsewhere in her writings on poverty and the poor, More stressed this social unity and organic view of society time and again. One form of this is the fable of the belly, which appears as one of Jack Anvil's arguments in Village Politics, but had a much older pedigree.49 Later, in 1817, after the Spa Fields riot and other examples of discontent and social unrest, More gave it a fuller treatment in the eighty-four line ballad, Look before you Leap.50

As the tracts developed over a period of three years, and More honed her skills as a propagandist, she came to use narrative and character more and more to capture the interest of her readers. The Shepherd has very little action with a great deal of moralizing, but Betty Brown (1796), Black Giles (1796) and Tawney Rachel (1797) make much greater use of incident.51 The crudely sentimental nature of the plots reflects More's view of the sensibilities of the poor and her judgement of what would effectively engage their emotions. All of the tracts—those set in her utopian village, the anti-slavery tracts, the ballads and the cautionary tales for women of the rising middle class—came to employ the same basic technique. Narrative and character were used to engage the reader's interest; a social issue and moral problem would be explored, such as drunkenness, poaching or fortune-telling; the wicked would be exposed and punished, the good rewarded; and positive role models were established. The Cheap Repository Tracts depict the poor as one of the providentially ordained social orders.


Most of Hannah More's propaganda was directed at her own sex. She wrote about women, and for women, at various periods of her life. Many of the Cheap Repository Tracts were addressed to poor women, and posited a specific role for them within society.52 Others were aimed at the daughters of the newly prosperous, who were warned not to aspire above their station and to avoid seduction by superficially attractive but morally worthless gentlemen. The danger of popular fiction providing role models for ambitious young women was practically countered in the tracts before it was theoretically exposed in Strictures [on the Modern System of Female Education].53 The two books which addressed gender issues most explicitly were her Essays on Various Subjects, Principally Designed for Young Ladies of 1777 and Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education of 1799. The former was a juvenile work which she later disclaimed; the latter, the product of her maturity written at a time when her concern with the French Revolution and the ‘Jacobinical’ principles it promoted were paramount in her thinking. Incorporated into this complex and important book is a passionate critique of the propaganda directed at women by radical writers, male and female, in England, France and Germany.

To understand the position More adopted in Strictures, we need first to examine and dismiss the 1777 Essays. These were published when she was a young woman of thirty-two who, whilst still living in Bristol, had spent two or three seasons in London and had become a member of the self-styled ‘blue-stockings’. The work reflects her inexperience and immaturity for while other members of that circle had produced learned works on Epictetus and on Shakespeare, More's book was a collection of frivolous and thoughtless essays that reinforced the most traditional stereotypes of women as empty-headed, decorative creatures.54 The introduction made explicit what is implicit in the separate essays: ‘nature, propriety, and custom’ have set bounds to each gender, ‘bounds which the prudent and the candid will never attempt to break down’; it is men, not women, who are suited by nature for public life; women can be wits but not logicians, writers of memoirs and romance but not chronologers; ‘the female mind, in general, does not appear capable of attaining so high a degree of perfection in science as the male.’55

It would be easy to take these youthful views and argue that they were consistent with the fervid anti-Jacobin that More became in the 1790s or the narrow religious recluse of her last years. But these essays are unrepresentative of her mature view on the role of women in society. More made a living by her writings and she maximized their financial advantage by republishing them in various forms at every possible opportunity. She made a rare exception in the case of these essays however. The work went into three editions in 1777, a fourth appeared in 1785 and a fifth and last in 1791, the year before the appearance of Wollstonecraft's Rights of Woman. More's collected works were republished three times in her lifetime, in eight volumes in 1801, in nineteen volumes in 1818 and in eleven volumes in 1830. In none of these collections did she include the 1777 Essays. She explained in the preface to the 1801 edition, ‘The Essays are omitted, as being a very juvenile production, and because the subjects of a few of them were analogous to some which have been taken up on higher ground and treated in more detail in the Strictures on Female Education.56 Later, she took active steps to try to suppress their republication. In 1810 she refused permission to Sharp and Hailes of Piccadilly to reprint them and, when they ignored her and did so anyway, she wrote an angry letter to her usual publisher, Cadell, and enclosed a disclaimer for him to print that she had drafted herself and which insisted that the publication was not only unauthorized by her but was explicitly against her consent.57 She was keenly aware how much her views had changed and how inconsistent the 1777 Essays were with the more complex and subtle position she had adopted in the Strictures of 1799.

Indeed, if it were not for the French Revolution and the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft, Hannah More may have been included more readily in that group of women writers who championed a new and more emancipated role for women in society.58 Neither she nor any of her sisters married and some believed that they were hostile to the idea of marriage and the position of dependence and subordination in which wives were placed by that institution.59 She left her family home in Bristol and lived for a considerable part of each year in London, as an independent woman. Although she was friends with Johnson, Reynolds, Garrick and others, she was not dependent upon nor protected by any man. She had a small private income, but supplemented this by earnings from her writings; earnings which eventually allowed her to support her sisters and build a large family home at Barley Wood in Somerset where they all lived together. This belief that women should not rely entirely upon the economic support of men showed itself in her practical work in the Mendip villages where she established what she called female friendly societies. For a contribution of three half-pennies a week, the women were assured of three shillings and sixpence when they were ill and seven shillings and sixpence when they went into labour. In two villages alone, these societies attracted 300 members.60 This awareness of the need for women to be financially independent is also reflected in some of her Tales for the Common People.61

Hannah More had a strong sense of duty and despised wealthy women of fashion who wasted their time and energies on self-indulgent trivialities. When she came to write about women's education, therefore, in the eye of the storm of revolution, she envisaged a new role for women that required them to have a better education than was usually provided: At least, till the female sex are more carefully instructed, this question will always remain as undecided to the degree of difference between the masculine and feminine understanding, as the question between the understandings of blacks and whites; for until men and women, as well as Africans and Europeans, are put more nearly on a par in the cultivation of their minds, the shades of distinction, whatever they be, between their native abilities, can never be fairly ascertained.62


When the French Revolution broke out, More's attitude to it does not seem to have differed from that of Burke in any significant way. She welcomed his Reflections warmly; her Remarks on a Speech of M. Dupont (1793) reinforced Burke's arguments, especially their religious dimension. She bitterly opposed those who attacked Burke. Thomas Paine's Rights of Man (1791-2) was preceded by Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Man (December 1790), and succeeded by her Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Wollstonecraft in the Vindication of 1792 extended the debate on human rights to the issue of women. If a conservative woman were to reply to her, to become the Burke to her Paine, the Malthus to her Godwin, the obvious candidate for a such a role was Hannah More. That reply, however, did not appear until the publication of Strictures in 1799, and this should be seen as part of the debate that raged about the French Revolution and its implications.

More had told Horace Walpole that she was ‘invincibly resolved’ not to read Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman of 1792.63 Mary Berry, Walpole's close friend, read Strictures soon after its publication and, whilst noting the similarity of More's and Wollstonecraft's works, was willing to ‘lay a wager she never read the book’.64 Indeed, More claimed never to have got beyond its title, in which she found ‘something fantastic and absurd’, but she certainly read Godwin's Memoirs of the Author of ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ (1798) and his posthumous publication of Wollstonecraft's final novel, Maria.65 Mary Berry was right to argue that many of the detailed proposals for women's education in the Vindication were later repeated in Strictures. More's essential objection was to Wollstonecraft's use of the concept of rights, but for her this was not what would today be called a ‘gender issue’. It was not Wollstonecraft's argument for women's rights she was attacking, but the idea of rights for men or women. Even to discuss Strictures in these terms, however, is to adopt the radical agenda of her opponents. From Hannah More's point of view, the work was more of an exposé of Jacobin propaganda than part of an abstract debate on rights. If it had been the latter it could have been written in 1792, whereas for seven years the challenge appeared to have been left unanswered.66 She was finally provoked to a response by four books published in 1797 and 1798, and encouraged by a speech of one of her episcopal friends in the House of Lords in March 1798.

In 1797 two influential books, one by the Scot John Robison, the other a translation of the Abbé Barruel, appeared arguing that the French Revolution had been brought about by a conspiracy hatched by Voltaire and the philosophes of the Enlightenment to destroy religion and so remove the restraints that prevented revolution in the state.67 In September of the same year Mary Wollstonecraft died in childbirth, and in 1798 William Godwin published his Memoirs of his late wife and two volumes of her Posthumous Works, which included her unfinished novel Maria or the Wrongs of Woman.68 The first of these told in a simple and unsensational way the story of Mary's life and the sexually liberated way in which she had lived.69Maria or the Wrongs of Woman explored in a fictional form the legal position in which women, both of the middle and of the lower orders, found themselves. There are some similarities between the experiences of Maria in this work and of Betsey Bragwell in More's serialized stories of Mr Bragwell and his two daughters which appeared between 1795 and 1797 in the Cheap Repository Tracts. But the moral drawn from the experience and the purpose of the two stories are fundamentally different.70

In the spring of 1798, Shute Barrington, bishop of Durham, made an influential speech in the House of Lords in the course of a private divorce bill. Two months later, More met Barrington and his wife, who were also intimate friends of Thomas Gisborne, during one of her regular stays at Fulham Palace with Beilby Porteus, bishop of London.71 Bishop Barrington, she told her sister ‘has been very urgent with me’ and she wondered if she should visit him later in the month as ‘the Bishop and I should have conferred together upon some important points.’72 We know that More's writings were influenced by her friends, whose opinions she would often canvass.73 As Lawrence Stone has argued, the fear of revolution in the 1790s gave an extra edge to anti-adultery bills, but Shute Barrington had introduced to the Lords a bill ‘for the more effectual discouragement of adultery’ almost twenty years earlier, in 1779 when he was still bishop of Llandaff.74 On 2 March 1798 the Lords debated the second reading of the bill to divorce James Esten, a ship's purser, and his wife Harriet, an actress. Married in 1784, in 1789 they had obtained a legal deed of separation; Harriet became the mistress of the duke of Hamilton in 1793, bearing him a child the following year.75 In 1797 Esten filed for divorce on the grounds of Harriet's adultery during his absence in St Domingo, but Lord Auckland suspected collusion and opposed the bill which he suggested ‘was better adapted to the proceedings for divorces before the municipality of Paris’.76 Samuel Horsley, bishop of Rochester,77 cried out ‘Hear, hear’ and Barrington, taking up this theme, stressed

the evil that must attend the introduction of French morality into these kingdoms. The French rulers, while they despaired of making any impression on us by the force of arms, attempted a more subtle and alarming warfare, by endeavouring to enforce the influences of their example, in order to taint and undermine the morals of our ingenuous youth. They sent out amongst us a number of female dancers, who, by the allurement of the most indecent attitudes, and most wanton theatrical exhibitions, succeeded but too effectually in loosening and corrupting the moral feelings of the people; and, indeed, if common report might be relied upon, the indecency of those appearances far out-shamed any thing of a similar nature that had ever been exhibited—he would not say, on any Christian theatre, but even upon the licentious theatres of Athens and of Rome.

What sad consequences would ‘result from the exhibition of such spectacles before the eyes of their wives and daughters’ must stop ‘the progress of this scandalous immorality’ and prevent it in the future, otherwise, ‘the inevitable consequence must be, that the malignant influence of such contaminating example must finally corrupt both sexes.’78 The house rejected the bill, and Hannah More was profoundly influenced; she incorporated into Strictures an argument based directly on these episcopal views. In 1799 Barrington wrote More a warm letter of congratulation on the book's publication.79 Later, Bishops Horsley, Porteus and Barrington, all More's close friends, supported Lord Auckland's Adultery Bill of 16 May 1800 which sought to discourage collusion in divorce cases by prohibiting the subsequent marriage of the guilty parties.80 At precisely that time, More was again staying with Bishop Porteus at Fulham Palace where she met Bishop Barrington at breakfast on 15 May. Strictures was being much discussed and in this case it appears that More's arguments reinforced the bishops' actions.81 The wheel of propaganda had turned full circle.

In Strictures, More set out the theoretical case clearly, reflecting Barrington's concerns and incorporating both a response to the conspiracy theory of Barruel and Robison and a riposte to the sexual liberation of Godwin and Wollstonecraft. Central to her argument is the orthodox political theology of the ancien regime. The constitution was one of church and state and she considered the establishment of the Church of England to be central to stability and order. Political obligation was grounded in religious injunction and it was the unequivocal teachings of the Bible that required subjects to obey the government and recognize the legitimacy of the state.82 The conspiracy theory of Barruel and of Robison made more explicit the argument that runs through Burke's Reflections and was widely shared by conservative contemporaries. Stability in the state was based on religion and to destroy the state one must first destroy the church that sustained it.

In Strictures, Hannah More took up this familiar theme and extended it significantly. She introduced into the argument two crucial distinctions, one between France and England, the other between men and women. In France the atheist propaganda of the philosophes had been successful. The faith of the French had been sufficiently destroyed to remove the restraints which religion placed on human behaviour and so allowed people to indulge in what she regarded as the violent excesses of the revolution. If the church had not been undermined, the state could not have been destroyed. This same attempt had failed in England. The English church had stood firm, the faith of the people was intact and the state secure. The assault which had failed was one which had been directed at the men of Britain. Now there was a second assault on a different target:

the attacks of infidelity in Great Britain are at this moment principally directed against the female breast. Conscious of the influence of women in civil society, conscious of the effect which female infidelity produced in France, they attribute the ill success of their attempts in this country to their having been hitherto chiefly addressed to the male sex. They are now sedulously labouring to destroy the religious principles of women, and in too many instances they have fatally succeeded. For this purpose not only novels and romances have been made the vehicles of vice and infidelity, but the same allurement has been held out to the women of our country, which was employed by the original tempter to our first parent—Knowledge. Listen to the precepts of the new German enlighteners, and you need no longer remain in that situation in which Providence has placed you! Follow their examples, and you shall be permitted to indulge in all those gratifications which custom, not religion, has too far overlooked in the male sex!83

If the stability of the state was founded on religious principles, then that religion, in turn, rested on morality. If morality could be destroyed, then religion would fall and the state left helpless against the threat of violent revolution. Women were the final bastion of morality. Adultery and fornication were already widely accepted ways of life for men; if they became so for women then morality, religion and monarchical government could not survive. If women were to live their lives as Mary Wollstonecraft had, according to Godwin's Memoirs, or if they were to adopt the principles she had espoused in Maria, then the established order in Britain was doomed.

More regarded the representation of women in fiction as a dangerous propaganda weapon in the struggle to bring revolution to Britain. Fictional heroines provided women with role models and so established what would come to be regarded as normal behaviour. In Wollstonecraft's Wrongs of Woman, Maria exchanges books with her lover, including a copy of Rousseau's La Nouvelle Héloïse.84 More identified Rousseau as ‘the first popular dispenser of this complicated drug’ which spread ‘destructive politics, deplorable profligacy, and impudent infidelity’. He was dangerous because he suggested that sexual indulgence by women could be a principled thing and ‘gives vice so natural an air of virtue’:

He does not paint an innocent woman, ruined, repenting, and restored; but with a far more mischievous refinement, he annihilates the value of chastity, and with pernicious subtlety attempts to make his heroine appear almost more amiable without it. He exhibits a virtuous woman, the victim not of temptation but of reason, not of vice but of sentiment, not of passion but of conviction; and strikes at the very root of honour by elevating a crime into a principle. With a metaphysical sophistry the most plausible, he debauches the heart of woman, by cherishing her vanity in the erection of a system of male virtues, to which, with a lofty dereliction of those that are her more peculiar and characteristic praise, he tempts her to aspire; powerfully insinuating, that to this splendid system chastity does not necessarily belong: thus corrupting the judgment and bewildering the understanding, as the most effectual way to inflame the imagination and deprave the heart.85

Where Rousseau had led, the German Romantics followed. The revolution and war meant that French literature was unpopular in Britain, so now, More argued, German plays and novels were being used to destroy the principles of Christianity in Britain, ‘conscious that religion and morals will stand or fall together’.86 Schiller's The Robbers [Die Räuber] and von Kotzebue's The Stranger [Menschenhaß und Reue] were singled out for condemnation by More for their sympathetic treatment of adultery and suicide.87 But all these had been the work of men. In 1798 they were echoed by a female, English writer:

a direct vindication of adultery was for the first time attempted by a woman, a professed admirer and imitator of the German suicide Werter. The Female Werter, as she is styled by her biographer, asserts, in a work, intitled ‘The Wrongs of Woman’, that adultery is justifiable, and that the restrictions placed on it by the laws of England constitute part of the wrongs of woman.88

In opposing the rights of women as she perceived Wollstonecraft to be urging them, Hannah More was not only defending the principles of chastity outside of marriage and of fidelity, she was, she believed, also defending morality and religion and hence stability and order in the state. Women's rights, she argued, were being used as a tool of revolution. So however much she might, in other circumstances, have supported a gradual evolution of the role of women and the freedom to live independently, her over-riding political purpose in holding back the tide of revolution required her to condemn the assertion of women's rights.

More was, of course, neither alone nor original in realizing that fictional stories could act as moral parables and that characters in a narrative could serve as normative role models for readers to identify with and imitate. But this new usage of the word ‘propaganda’ as an ‘association, systematic scheme, or concerted movement for the propagation of a particular doctrine or practice’, and hence the self-conscious concept, was in its infancy in the decade in which she wrote. Although More did not use the term herself, she was clearly consciously aware of the concept. She had learned its techniques from her involvement in the anti-slave trade agitation; she employed and developed them in the campaign to induce contentment in the poor which she spearheaded in the Cheap Repository Tracts; but it was when she recognized her radical opponents using the same means that she came closest to identifying the procedure positively. She was aware of the techniques which the Jacobin novelists, the German dramatists and Mary Wollstonecraft were using, precisely because she had used them herself. Believing her own writings to have been very influential, she was fearful of the effect of these radical works of literature and strove to make others self-conscious of the method that was being employed. Strictures sought, not only to challenge a new theory of morality, but also to expose the means by which it was being propagated.


  1. Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edn., 20 vols., Oxford, 1989); J. MacPherson, letter of 27 Sept. 1790, The Correspondence of George, Prince of Wales, 1770-1812, ed. Arthur Aspinall (8 vols., 1963-71), ii. 98; Gentleman's Magazine (August 1797), p. 687; Edmund Burke, Two Letters on the Conduct of our Domestick Parties with Regard to French Politicks (1797), p. 109.

  2. Robert Hole, ‘British Counter-revolutionary Popular Propaganda in the 1790s’, Britain and Revolutionary France: Conflict, Subversion and Propaganda, ed. Colin Jones (Exeter, 1983) [hereafter Hole, ‘Popular Propaganda’], pp. 53-69; on Bowles see Emma Vincent, ‘“The Real Grounds of the Present War”: John Bowles and the French Revolutionary Wars, 1791-1802’, History, lxxviii (1993), 393-420; on Jones see Robert Hole, ‘English Sermons and Tracts as Media of Debate on the French Revolution 1789-99’, The French Revolution and British Popular Politics, ed. Mark Philp (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 18-37.

  3. For a sound analysis and interesting interpretation of these works, see Charles Howard Ford, Hannah More: A Critical Biography (New York, 1996) [hereafter Ford, More], pp. 7-43, and, for their context, Sylvia Harcstark Myers, The Bluestocking Circle: Women, Friendship, and the Life of the Mind in Eighteenth-century England (Oxford, 1990), esp. pp. 260-2. See also ‘The Bas Blue’ [1786], Selected Writings of Hannah More, ed. Robert Hole (1996) [hereafter Selected Writings], pp. 25-35.

  4. For example, Hannah More, Ode to Dragon, Mr. Garrick's House Dog at Hampton (1777).

  5. Hannah More, Percy: A Tragedy (1778).

  6. Hannah More, Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education [1799]; all passages cited below from Strictures are taken from the first edition as reprinted in Selected Writings [hereafter Strictures]; a facsimile of the third edition [1799] has been published in the series Revolution and Romanticism 1789-1834, ed. Jonathan Wordsworth [hereafter Revolution and Romanticism] (Oxford, 1995). Hannah More, Cœlebs in Search of a Wife (2 vols., 1808) was, despite its relatively high sales, an ill-fated attempt to write a ‘morally improving’ novel. More would have been disappointed that M. O. Grenby, ‘The Anti-Jacobin Novel’, History, lxxxiii (1998), 445-71, omits Cœlebs from his appendix list of anti-Jacobin novels. On the Jacobin novelists, see inter alia Marilyn Butler, Jane Austen and the War of Ideas (Oxford, 1975); Gary Kelly, The English Jacobin Novel 1780-1805 (Oxford, 1976); and Terry Castle, Masquerade and Civilization: The Carnivalesque in Eighteenth-century English Culture and Fiction (1986). For a more teleological view, see William Stafford, ‘Narratives of Women: English Feminists of the 1790s’, History, lxxxii (1997), 24-43.

  7. Claudia L. Johnson, Hannah More, Considerations on Religion and Public Education (Augustan Reprint Society 262, Los Angeles, 1990), p. v.

  8. The four distinctions used here are taken from Jacques Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes, trans. by Konrad Kellen and Jean Lerner (New York, 1973), pp. 61-87.

  9. Roger Anstey, The Atlantic Slave Trade and British Abolition 1760-1810 (1975); Clare Midgley, Women against Slavery: The British Campaigns, 1780-1870 (1992) [hereafter Midgley, Women against Slavery]; J. R. Oldfield, Popular Politics and British Anti Slavery: The Mobilisation of Public Opinion against the Slave Trade 1787-1807 (Manchester, 1995); Gretchen Gerzina, Black England: Life before Emancipation (1995) [hereafter Gerzina, Black England].

  10. For a refreshingly sensible view of More's ‘evangelicalism’, see Ford, More, pp. 46-9. Ford discusses the early influence of John Newton on More (pp. 52-4) and her conversion to anti-slavery (pp. 85-6).

  11. See James Walvin, ‘The Propaganda of Anti-Slavery’, Slavery and British Society 1776-1846, ed. James Walvin (1982), pp. 49-68.

  12. Hannah More, Slavery (1788) [hereafter Slavery (1788)]. When reprinted in Hannah More, The Works of Hannah More (8 vols., 1801) [hereafter Works (1801)], the expanded revision was re-titled The Slave Trade: A Poem and it is a later version of this that is discussed in Ford, More, pp. 86-93. The theological problems of the poem pointed out by Ford K. Brown, Fathers of the Victorians: The Age of Wilberforce (Cambridge, 1961) [hereafter Brown, Fathers of the Victorians], pp. 109-11, illustrate More's early concern with the propagation of the message rather than the examination of its theoretical foundations.

  13. Principally, The Sorrows of Yamba, or The Negro Woman's Lamentation (1795) [hereafter Yamba]; The Twelfth of August: or the Feast of Freedom (1819); ‘The Negro Boy's Petition’, in Hannah More, The Works of Hannah More (11 vols., 1830), ii. 36-7 [hereafter ‘Negro Boy’].

  14. Slavery (1788), ll. 59-64.

  15. Ibid., ll. 81-2.

  16. Ibid., ll. 17-18.

  17. Ibid., l. 16. The emphasis is More's.

  18. Works (1801), i. 98.

  19. Ibid., i. 99.

  20. Ibid., i. 113.

  21. Slavery (1788), ll. 21-2, 33-6.

  22. Works (1801), i. 115. The emphasis has been added.

  23. ‘Negro Boy’, p. 37. For other views of race in this period, see P. D. Curtin, The Image of Africa: British Ideas and Action, 1780-1850 (1965), pp. 33-57.

  24. Slavery (1788), ll. 189-94.

  25. Works (1801), i. 111.

  26. Cheap Repository Tracts, True Account of a Pious Negro (1795) [hereafter Pious Negro], p. 12.

  27. For one suggestion of a possible reason for this apparent discrepancy, see Brown, Fathers of the Victorians, pp. 379-82.

  28. Quoted in James Walvin, ‘The Rise of British Popular Sentiment for Abolition, 1787-1832’, Anti-Slavery, Religion and Reform: Essays in Memory of Roger Anstey, ed. Christine Bolt and Seymour Drescher (Folkestone, 1980), p. 152.

  29. M. G. Jones's original assertion of this point remains more convincing than Clare Midgley's challenge. See M. G. Jones, Hannah More (Cambridge, 1952) [hereafter Jones, More], p. 91; Midgley, Women against Slavery, p. 28. Jones's point is reinforced by Ford, More, pp. 91-2, esp. n. 29.

  30. Cheap Repository Tracts, The Black Prince: A True Story being an Account of the Life and Death of Naimbanna, an African King's Son (1796) [hereafter Black Prince], p. 14. This tract was not written by More herself, but was published under her editorship. For her editorial discrimination, see Memoirs of the Life and Correspondence of Mrs Hannah More, ed. William Roberts (4 vols., 1834) [hereafter Roberts, Memoirs], ii. 432. For a view of this tract from a different perspective, see Gerzina, Black England, pp. 176-8.

  31. Black Prince, pp. 8-9.

  32. Pious Negro and Babay (1795) were published by More but not written by her. She was the author of Yamba (in Selected Writings, pp. 42-8). For a view of these tracts from a different perspective, see Midgley, Women against Slavery, pp. 27-9. It is perhaps significant that the one tract that even Midgley concedes was unambiguously abolitionist (Yamba) was the one that More wrote herself. Midgley makes no reference to Black Prince. If, as Midgley implies, More's commitment to anti-slavery was undermined by her Christian faith and her view of hierarchy, then so was Wilberforce's.

  33. Pious Negro, p. 11.

  34. Ibid., p. 12.

  35. More added to the text of Village Politics (Canterbury, 1792) progressively over the years as this tract was reprinted; the discussion in Ford, More, pp. 111-20, is based on the substantially expanded version published in Hannah More, The Works of Hannah More (2 vols., Philadelphia, 1832). By the time of More's death in 1833 and the publication of the first complete American edition of her works, Hannah More, The Works of Hannah More (2 vols., New York, 1835), over 750 words had been added to the third edition of Village Politics (1793). The 1792-3 version was sharper, leaner, less reflective, more urgent; as such it reflected the propaganda needs of its day. The same point applies to Ford's discussion of the Cheap Repository Tracts, especially The History of Mr Fantom. Despite this, Ford's discussion contextualizes the concepts of paternalism and deference well, and his fourth chapter now replaces Brown, Fathers of the Victorians, pp. 134-55, as the best summary of these tracts. Facsimiles of some of the 1795-7 editions of the tracts are available on the Internet service.

  36. On the tracts, see also G. H. Spinney, ‘Cheap Repository Tracts: Hazard and Marshall Edition’, The Library, 4th series, iii (1939), 295-340; Sam Pickering, ‘The Cheap Repository Tracts and the Short Story’, Studies in Short Fiction, xii (1975), 15-21; J. Silverman, ‘Introduction’, Cheap Repository Tracts by Hannah More (New York, 1977); Mitzi Myers, ‘Hannah More's Tracts for the Times: Social Fiction and Female Ideology’, Fetter'd or Free?: British Women Novelists 1670-1815, ed. M. A. Schofield and C. Macheski (Ohio, 1986) [hereafter Myers, ‘Tracts for the Times’]; Susan Pederson, ‘Hannah More Meets Simple Simon: Tracts, Chapbooks, and Popular Culture in Late Eighteenth-century England’, Journal of British Studies, xxv (1986), 84-113; Gary Kelly, English Fiction of the Romantic Period, 1789-1830 (1989), pp. 60-2.

  37. The most important of these were The Delegate (1817) and The Death of Mr Fantom (1817), a sequel to The History of Mr Fantom (1797), which was reprinted in 1819 along with Village Politics under the new title of ‘The Village Disputants’. See Hannah More, Cheap Repository Tracts, suited to the Present Times (1819) [hereafter Tracts (1819)].

  38. See Hole, ‘Popular Propaganda’, pp. 53-69.

  39. Though it is far from being ‘located in suburban Bristol’, as claimed in Ford, More, p. 71.

  40. Mendip Annals: or, A Narrative of the Charitable Labours of Hannah and Martha More in their neighbourhood. Being the Journal of Martha More, ed. A. Roberts (1859) [hereafter Mendip Annals]. Pattie was Martha More's familiar name.

  41. Her popular philosophy lacked the hard-edged rigour of either Edmund Burke's Thoughts and Details on Scarcity (1795) or T. R. Malthus's An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798). This is propaganda with a cogent outline but a soft centre. Ford, More, pp. 154-7, compares her views to those of Paley and contrasts them with those of Burke and Malthus, but his attempt to establish a solid philosophical position for her opinions is of limited success. For More's theory of poverty within an evangelical context, see Boyd Hilton, The Age of Atonement: The Influence of Evangelicalism on Social and Economic Thought, 1795-1865 (Oxford, 1988), pp. 207-8. See Brown, Fathers of the Victorians, p. 134 ff. on the tracts' striking dramatic form and simple elementary concepts.

  42. Hannah More, The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain (2 parts, 1795) [hereafter Shepherd], i. 14. The expanded c.1820 version has been reprinted, together with Village Politics [1793], in the series Revolution and Romanticism.

  43. Shepherd, i. 9.

  44. Ibid., ii. 9-10, 14-15. The point being made is one of Sunday observance; More, like Cobbett, was a strong advocate of the poor brewing and drinking their own beer at home. See Hannah More, A Cure for Melancholy (1795) and The Way to Plenty (1795) [hereafter Way to Plenty], and William Cobbett, Cottage Economy (1822).

  45. Shepherd, ii. 29.

  46. Ibid., i. 6-7.

  47. Way to Plenty, pp. 23-30; The Cottage Cook; or, Mrs Jones's Cheap Dishes, Shewing the Way to do Much Good with Little Money (1796), pp. 9, 14-16.

  48. Way to Plenty, p. 28. The phrase quoted was added in 1801 when the story appeared in her collected works as the second part of ‘The History of Tom White the Postboy’, Works (1801), v. 276.

  49. H. More, Village Politics (2nd edn., 1792), p. 10. Attributed to Meneius Agrippa, the fable appeared in Plutarch's life of Coriolanus and in Livy; More uses it, just as Meneius does in Shakespeare and Plutarch, to quiet discontent at time of famine.

  50. ‘Look before you Leap’ [1817], Tracts (1819), pp. 134-7.

  51. Brown's exaggerated enthusiasm for The Shepherd, which he compares to Aeschylus's Agamemnon (Fathers of the Victorians, p. 144), was unlikely to have been shared by demotic taste. The more lively ‘Betty Brown’ and ‘Tawney Rachel’ are included in Selected Writings, pp. 49-69.

  52. For an admirable exposition of this point see Myers, ‘Tracts for the Times’.

  53. See ‘Mr Bragwell and his Two Daughters’, Selected Writings, pp. 76-120.

  54. Elizabeth Carter, All the Works of Epictetus which are now Extant … Translated from the Greek with Introduction and Notes (1758); Elizabeth Montagu, An Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespeare (1769). It is little wonder that the ‘sensible’ Mrs Walsingham thought that, at this time, More paid too little attention to the place and potential of women in society, see Roberts, Memoirs, ii. 372; Selected Writings, p. xxvi; and Jones, More, p. 57.

  55. Hannah More, Essays on Various Subjects, Principally Designed for Young Ladies (1777), pp. 3, 6, 11.

  56. Works (1801), i. x. These Works contained pieces far more juvenile than the Essays, and repetition never normally worried her.

  57. Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Autogr. c. 19, f. 83v, Letter to Cadell, 2 July 1810. There was another unauthorized version of the Essays published in her lifetime, in Edinburgh, by Oliver and Boyd in 1820.

  58. See also Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837 (1992), pp. 274-6.

  59. For a fuller discussion of More's attitude to marriage, see Hole, ‘Introduction’, Selected Writings, pp. xv-xvii.

  60. For example, the society at Shipham was set up in 1792 and formally endowed by More in 1814; Somerset Record Office [hereafter SRO], DD/X/HMT, Box 192, S/2362, Charity of Hannah More for the Shipham and Rowberrow Female Club, Indenture 1814. This club was still operating with a wholly female membership as late as 1955; SRO, D/P/ship 23/2. See also Hannah More's letter to Sir W. W. Pepys, March 1816, Mendip Annals, pp. 245-6.

  61. See, for example, ‘Betty Brown’, Selected Writtings pp. 49-59.

  62. Strictures, p. 183.

  63. Roberts, Memoirs, ii. 371, letter to the earl of Orford, 1793.

  64. Extracts of the Journals and Correspondence of Miss Berry from the year 1783 to 1852, ed. Lady Theresa Lewis (3 vols., 1865), ii. 91. When Walpole's correspondence was published in 1797, Berry sent More a copy; see Roberts, Memoirs, iii. 30-1.

  65. Roberts, Memoirs, ii. 371. See also Miriam Brody Kramnick, ‘Introduction’ to Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Harmondsworth, 1975), p. 24.

  66. On the delay in writing Strictures, see Jones, More, p. 114.

  67. Abbé Barruel, Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism: A Translation (1797); John Robinson, Proofs of a Conspiracy against All the Religions and Governments of Europe (1797). On this conspiracy theory, see Robert Hole, Pulpits, Politics and Public Order in England 1760-1832 (Cambridge, 1989) [hereafter Hole, Pulpits], pp. 153-6.

  68. William Godwin, Memoirs of the Author of ‘The Rights of Woman’ [1798], ed. Richard Holmes (Harmondsworth, 1987) [hereafter Godwin, Memoirs]; Mary Wollstonecraft, Maria [1798], ed. Janet Todd (Harmondsworth, 1992) [hereafter Wollstonecraft, Maria].

  69. Katerine Binhammer, ‘The Sex Panic of the 1790s’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, vi (1996), 409-34 [hereafter Binhammer, ‘Sex Panic’] examines some of the reactions to Godwin's Memoirs.

  70. See ‘Mr Bragwell and his two daughters’, Selected Writings, pp. 76-120. Some of the educational implications of this tale are considered in P. J. Miller, ‘Women's Education, “Self-Improvement” and Social Mobility—A Late Eighteenth-century Debate’, British Journal of Educational Studies, xx (1972), 302-14, at 310-11.

  71. William Cobbett, The Parliamentary History of England … to … 1803 (36 vols., 1806-20) [hereafter Parl. Hist.], xxxiii. 1306-8; letter of Hannah More to her sister, 7 May 1798, in Roberts, Memoirs, iii. 29.

  72. Roberts, Memoirs, iii. 31-2, 29 May 1798.

  73. For example, part of chapter 1 of Strictures (in Selected Writings, pp. 128-9) is based on a letter of 1798 from W. W. Pepys written in response to a request from More for comments on the topic; Roberts, Memoirs, iii. 38-40.

  74. Lawrence Stone, Road to Divorce: England 1530-1987 (Oxford, 1990), pp. 277-8, 335-8; Donna T. Andrew, ‘“Adultery à-la-Mode”: Privilege, the Law and Attitudes to Adultery 1770-1809’, History, lxxxii (1997), 5-23; Binhammer, ‘Sex Panic’.

  75. Journals of the House of Lords, xli. 485-7, 2 March 1798.

  76. Parl. Hist., xxxiii. 1306, 2 March 1798.

  77. See F. C. Mather, High Church Prophet; Bishop Samuel Horsley (1733-1806) and the Caroline Tradition in the Later Georgian Church (Oxford, 1992), pp. 288-94.

  78. Parl. Hist., xxxiii. 1307-8, 2 March 1798. See also his Fast Day Sermon to the House of Lords, 27 Feb. 1799, in Shute Barrington, Sermons, Charges and Tracts (1811), pp. 50-74.

  79. Roberts, Memoirs, iii. 93-4.

  80. Parl. Hist., xxxv. 227-326. Porteus, Barrington and Horsley all spoke on 4 April 1800, Porteus on 16 May, Horsley (and Wilberforce) on 23 May. The same three bishops spoke again a year later on 19 March 1801 in the debate on Taylor's divorce bill; Parl. Hist., xxxv. 1253-8. Back in 1794, Charles Pigott had described Hannah More as ‘a downright Bishop H-rsl-y [Horsley] in petticoats’; The Female Jockey Club or a Sketch of the Manners of the Age (1794), p. 200. Pigott had gone on, prophetically, to suggest that ‘she may probably soon, like her renowned prototype Reeves … be at the head of a petticoat gang, united against Levellers and Republicans, for the preservation of grievance’ (p. 202).

  81. Roberts, Memoirs, iii. 106-8, letter from More to her sisters. This letter can be dated from its reference to the Hadfield plot to assassinate George III which took place on the evening of 15 May 1800.

  82. These themes are explored in J. C. D. Clark, English Society 1688-1832: Ideology, Social Structure, and Political Practice during the Ancien Regime (Cambridge, 1985), pp. 216-47, and Hole, Pulpits, pp. 11-31.

  83. Strictures, p. 139. See Claudia L. Johnson, Equivocal Beings: Politics, Gender and Sentimentality in the 1790s (Chicago, 1995), pp. 8-10, for a useful examination of More's Strictures in the context of wider views of the fear of radical women shedding modesty and indulging in unbounded sexual activity without sentiment.

  84. Wollstonecraft, Maria, p. 70.

  85. Strictures, p. 135.

  86. Ibid., p. 138.

  87. Kotzebue was also the author of Das Kind der Liebe, the original of the play which so shocked Fanny Price in Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (1814) ch. 13. Elizabeth Inchbald's English adaptation, Lovers' Vows, appeared in 1798, whilst More was writing Strictures.

  88. Strictures, p. 140. ‘This character is finely portrayed by the author of The Sorrows of Werter. Mary was in this respect a female Werter’; Godwin, Memoirs, p. 242. The phrase comes in the context of a discussion of extreme sensibility and the pains it can cause a person, however, not in the context of Wollstonecraft's suicide attempts of May and October, 1795, which Godwin describes, pp. 248-51.

Jane Nardin (essay date fall 2000)

SOURCE: Nardin, Jane. “Avoiding the Perils of the Muse: Hannah More, Didactic Literature, and Eighteenth-Century Criticism.” Papers on Language and Literature 36, no. 4 (fall 2000): 377-91.

[In the following essay, Nardin evaluates More's attempts to balance the demand of her critics for morally uplifting material with the requirement of her readers for quality fiction.]

In 1761 a pious teenager named Hannah More sat down to write a play. As a teacher at her sisters' school, More had noticed that few plays available in English were appropriate for performance by schoolgirls. If she could write such a drama herself, she might both advance the cause of morality and...

(The entire section is 5289 words.)

Mona Scheuermann (essay date spring 2001)

SOURCE: Scheuermann, Mona. “Hannah More and the English Poor.” Eighteenth-Century Life 25, no. 2 (spring 2001): 237-51.

[In the following essay, Scheuermann disputes recent criticism that idealizes More's life and work, claiming that the author's conservative views, particularly regarding the poor, are offensive to most contemporary readers.]

Hannah More was one of those fortunate human beings who fit precisely into their society and so garner much praise for their actions and much psychological comfort from their situation. She lived a marvelously successful life, celebrated for her goodness and talent. The ideology of her works, which sold in enormous numbers,...

(The entire section is 7881 words.)

Jane Nardin (essay date fall 2001)

SOURCE: Nardin, Jane. “Hannah More and the Problem of Poverty.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 43, no. 3 (fall 2001): 267-84.

[In the following essay, Nardin argues that More's views on poverty and her commitment to the established social order have been misunderstood by most scholars and literary historians.]

In August 1789 the abolitionist William Wilberforce paid a visit to his friend, the writer Hannah More. More and her sister Martha, known familiarly as Patty, were spending the summer at their cottage in the scenic Mendip Hills. At Patty's suggestion, Wilberforce set out to view the remarkable caves at Cheddar. But the squalor he witnessed in the...

(The entire section is 8121 words.)

Angela Keane (essay date 2001)

SOURCE: Keane, Angela. “The Anxiety of (Feminine) Influence: Hannah More and Counterrevolution.” In Rebellious Hearts: British Women Writers and the French Revolution, edited by Adriana Craciun and Kari E. Lokke, pp. 109-34. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.

[In the following essay, Keane reexamines More's reputation as a counterrevolutionary conservative, maintaining that this label fails to account for her antislavery writing, her efforts to reform education, her unorthodox religious practices, and her unconventional view of women's place in the national economy.]

Hannah More is an untidy figure for those who wish to draw up neat categories of...

(The entire section is 10516 words.)

Further Reading


Child, Philip. “Portrait of a Woman of Affairs—Old Style.” University of Toronto Quarterly 3, no. 1 (October 1933): 87-102.

Surveys More's life and accomplishments, maintaining that she was one of the first independent, non-aristocratic women to achieve success as a writer.


Cole, Lucinda. “(Anti)Feminist Sympathies: The Politics of Relationship in Smith, Wollstonecraft, and More.” ELH 58, no. 1 (spring 1991): 107-40.

Compares the writing of Mary Wollstonecraft and More within the context of the male-dominated discourse on community and relationships associated...

(The entire section is 414 words.)