Friend Critical Context - Essay

Jane Yolen

Critical Context

Yolen wrote about Fox in the early 1970’s, an era in many ways as turbulent in American history as the 1640’s and 1650’s were in England. The relevance of Fox’s life to her own times was evident to the author, who noted in her preface that Fox’s message was one “with which the young people of today are particularly in tune.” Fox’s pacifism, his emphasis on the “inner light” rather than outward institutions, and his views on slavery and the equality of women all seemed remarkably prescient.

At the time of writing Friend, Yolen was a recent convert to Quakerism, and her enthusiasm for its doctrines and admiration for its founder are evident. Her work was a timely contribution to the reassessment of religion and the nature of spiritual life that was beginning in that era. The late 1960’s also inaugurated a historiographical reassessment of the civil war period in English history, a reassessment in which sectarian figures such as Fox played a much more important role than had previously been acknowledged. Historical works such as Christopher Hill’s The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (1972) gave radical sects center stage. Friend fits well into this critical trend. By highlighting the relationship in the past between religious ideas and social reform, Yolen teaches important historical lessons to young people in a more secular era.