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Wilberforce: Family and Friends [Hardcover]

Anne Stott

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Book Description

15 Mar 2012
At the age of thirty-seven, after a very short courtship, William Wilberforce married Barbara Spooner, the daughter of a Midlands industrialist, and their first child was born in the following year. His family life brought him both happiness and anxiety. Convinced that he had been 'too long a Bachelor', he lacked confidence in his ability to be a good husband and father. A great deal has been written about Wilberforce's role in the abolition of the slave trade, but far less about his private life. Yet this is the man who exchanged his prestigious Yorkshire constituency for an undemanding pocket borough in order to devote himself to his family. In her innovative study, Anne Stott casts fresh light on the abolitionist and his friends, the group of Evangelical philanthropists retrospectively named the Clapham sect. While the men occupied important public roles they were also deeply committed to the ideal of domesticity. The ideology of the period depicted the middle-class home as a place of tranquil retreat from the cares and temptations of public life, though the family crises depicted in this study show that the reality was always more complex. With varying degrees of success, the Clapham men and women brought their Evangelical piety to their patterns of courtship and marriage, their philosophy of child-rearing, and their strategies in coping with death and bereavement. For the first time, much of this story is told from the perspective of the wives, and it is primarily through their voices that the book's themes of the family, women and gender, childhood and education, sexuality, and intimacy are explored.

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Review

This is an absorbing and worthwhile study, humane and empathetic in welcome contrast to the moral and emotional sterility of many a political biography. William Evans, Transactions Vol. 130 ... beautifully and sensitively captures their [the Claphamites] particular legacy of high-minded evangelical fervour and crusading zeal tempered by strong family attachments, deep friendships, intellectual curiosity and spontaneous enjoyment of innocent pleasures ... Ian Bradley, History Today [Anne Stott] tells her compelling story with great sympathy, and has a gift for insightful comparisons. Susan Elkin, Independent on Sunday This biography serves as an important reminder that the vicissitudes and pleasures of family life were enmeshed with public men and women's political and religious attitudes. Well-researched and enjoyably written, the book offers a wealth of insights into late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century domestic life in England. The perspective of the Clapham women is both refreshing and clarifying. Religious, gender, and family historians of this time period will find Stott's account to be valuable and illuminating. Joseph Stubenrauch, Journal of Modern History This is well written, deliberately accessible for the non-expert reader, but also a leisurely book where the pleasure comes from immersion in these family relationships. The expert historian might not learn anything new about gender or the family in the period, but this does not detract from a scholarly and engaging work that does tell us something new about Wilberforce and particularly the women and men who made him who he was. In particular, it reminds us of how significant friends and family are to shaping the identity of great men. Katie Barclay (University of Adelaide) Women's History Magazine although Anne Stott tells a tale whose contours are mostly familiar, her meticulous reconstruction of the private lives of Wilberforce and the 'Saints' opens up unexpected and compelling new perspectives on it ... in letting the protagonists speak for themselves she allows them to undermine the subtle and not-so-subtle reverence of many existing accounts ... The strength of this book is that it tries to tell things as they really were. [It is] such a good read. Gareth Atkins, Annual Bulletin of Historical Literature Anne's thoroughly well researched references and notes make this account of Claphams 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 Wilberforces closest friends and acquaintances. Clapham Society Newsletter It is this meticulously researched and engagingly written movement between broad themes and intimate detail that makes Stotts book an important contribution to the history of the Clapham Sect, telling the very human story of these much-studied humanitarians. Roshan Allpress, English Historical Review With infinite care she has uncovered the family dynamics of a household which struggled with inadequate means and an uncomfortable balance of virtue over income. The result casts a most intriguing light on the practical problems of being a reforming and moralising politician in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. There are too many memorable incidents and insights to recount. Peter Lineham, Journal of Religious History Anne Stott's latest book is an excellent example of the ways in which the religious, as well as the broader intellectual and political, currents of an age can be illuminated through the exploration of family connections. ... this is a well-researched, broadly based and sympathetic analysis of an under-explored dimension of an influential religious grouping. G.M. Ditchfield, Journal of Ecclesiastical History

About the Author

Anne Stott has taught at the Open University and Birkbeck, University of London, as well as various other adult education institutions. She has published extensively on women and Evangelicalism, and her book, Hannah More: The First Victorian (OUP, 2003) won the Rose Mary Crawshay Prize in 2004. She is a participant in the Dissenting Academies Project run by the Dr Williams Centre. She is the administrator of the Long Eighteenth-Century Seminar, University of London.

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