The August issue of the BBC History Magazine discusses my book in its Reader Book Club section. I answer various questions from readers – I hope to their satisfaction!
Canon David Isherwood, the rector of Holy Trinity Clapham, and therefore the successor of John Venn and William Dealtry, has published a review of my book in the Clapham Society’s newsletter. David has many kind comments to make, but what I especially like is the way he clearly understands what I was trying to say. I’m pleased he enjoyed it.
As it isn’t easy to access online I’m reproducing his review here:
Wilberforce, Family and Friends by Anne Stott
In 2004 Anne Stott’s biography of the evangelical philanthropist Hannah More, was published to critical acclaim, winning the Rose Mary Crawshay prize for literary biography. And hard on its heels (in literary terms anyway) comes another fascinating book on the life of Wilberforce, Family and Friends. Both books are published by Oxford University Press and were launched at Holy Trinity Clapham, the spiritual home of the Clapham Sect.
Anne has published widely on women and evangelicalism, which makes her latest book all the more fascinating because most of the books on my bookshelves about the slave trade and its abolition have been written by men. By contrast, Dr Stott’s biographical insights bring to the foreground the women who managed themselves, and the families of high profile public figureheads in the 18th and 19th centuries and draws extensively on diarised records of what makes families tick in any generation – incidental and sometimes consequential asides, preoccupations and relationships which add a rich texture to otherwise complicated but significant public figures. Relationships between spouses, the joys and anxieties of child rearing, domestic ideology, women and gender, sexuality and intimacy are explored with great insight and sensitivity over 16 chapters covering the abolitionists; love, marriage and their consequences; family life in Clapham and the sometimes difficult and strained relationships between a father and his progeny.
Anne’s thoroughly well researched references and notes make this account of Clapham’s most significant resident and the network of domestic relationship which earthed his pursuit of great causes, a thoroughly good read, casting light on the crucial significance of Wilberforce’s closest friends and acquaintances. In the end, I was left with a more sympathetic impression of those who for too long have lurked in the shadows of this famous man. Summer’s coming and time, like my forebears here, to pour something like a decent cup of tea (no sugar) and settle down to an entertaining and edifying read.
Canon David Isherwood
This is a rather tenuous link with Wilberforce! His friend and second cousin, Henry Thornton, saw Marie Antoinette when he was a child (many middle-class British families visited Versailles), but otherwise no member of the Clapham Sect had any contact with her. But of course they followed the events of the French Revolution with obsessive interest and saw them as an awful warning about what could happen in Britain.
As a woman, Wilberforce’s friend, Hannah More, seems to have been especially shocked at the Queen’s fate. Linda Colley (Britons. Forging the Nation, Yale, 1992) has pointed out that for many women in Britain her cruel treatment seemed like a prologned and public rape. Following Marie Antoinette’s execution, More speculated correctly that the next royal victim would be Louis XVI’s sister, Madame Elisabeth.
Marie Antoinette’s story adds period background to the concerns of the Clapham Sect and throws interesting light on how gender operated in the late 18th century and today. So here is the essence of a talk I have given to Open University Summer Schools and to Workers’ Educational Association Day Schools.
To start with, was Marie Antoinette the Diana of her age? What do they have in common? Continue reading