In Penn, Elizabeth Gray Vining has created a biography for young adults that is also a minor work of art. Penn is divided into two sections. The first, “Son William,” consists of sixteen chapters and deals with William Penn’s life from his birth to his father’s death, when Penn was twenty-five. The second section, “Onas,” consists of fifteen chapters and deals with the remaining forty-eight years of Penn’s life. The emphasis, therefore, is on the events that molded this figure, which is only fitting in a biography intended for adolescents. Vining has also included an extensive bibliography and an index.
The real events that molded Penn were internal, spiritual ones, such as his experience of God’s presence in himself as a boy and his decision to become a Quaker at the age of twenty-two, despite the persecution and loss of social status involved. External events undoubtedly influenced Penn, but these two religious events made him the person that he was, which in turn made him an individual of destiny.
To be a Quaker in seventeenth century England was comparable, roughly, to being a Communist in the United States in the 1950’s. Quakers were of the lower-middle and working classes. They had no social influence whatever and were imprisoned by the hundreds. Believing in pacifism, equality of the sexes, democracy, religious freedom, and the supremacy of the individual conscience over all external authority,...
(The entire section is 448 words.)