Hannah More

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(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1,165 words.)