The authors and editors, Jane Donawerth and Rebecca Lush, in Margaret Fell: Women’s Speaking Justified and Other Pamphlets (2019) seeks to provide a representative selection of Margaret Fell’s religious exhortations in writing and preaching and to relieve the burden on modern readers by providing explanations, footnotes, and modern spelling. The reading is still hard work, but the reader is rewarded with an introduction to powerful early theology of the Quaker movement.
Margaret Fell was a passionate preacher and writer. This book includes the text and analyses of eight pamphlets, represented by the editors as covering the range and depth of Fell’s arguments. These eight representative publications do not exhaust Fell’s writings, but together they provide entry into the scope and depth of Fell’s theological thinking.
The elements of Fell’s rhetorical style, which is aggressive, harsh, and off-putting for modern readers, is well presented in the book’s introduction. Interfaith tolerance was not her insight or strength. The editors remind us about Fell’s constant, general attacks on other religious groups and their destiny in Hell. Fell’s view was moderate and nuanced in comparison to the views expressed by other preachers in the 17th century. Modern readers see Fell as passionately intolerant, mean-spirited, and harmful. Yet, this book shows Quakers as living in their 17th century social class culture and that Quakers have moved on in their understanding of toleration and diversity.
Fell married George Fox and shared the founding and nourishment of the Quaker movement with Fox. Fell embraced and developed the theology of the Inner Light, the context of waiting upon God, and the mediated use of personal experience and scripture reading as authority in spiritual lives. Her determined religious practice was Bible reading. Her pioneering work with new language to express her inner knowledge reflects some fogginess as she clarified and articulated her understanding. This evolution of viewpoint reminds present Quakers that continuing revelation is also presently on course today everywhere in the world.
Fell’s advocacy for the roles and voice of women bore fruit in Women’s Meetings, women’s education, women’s literacy, and social services to families. Her later life was one of constant activity in advocating against persecution and imprisonment of Quakers. She pushed beyond the 17th century cultural boundaries for protection of liberty of individual conscience for Quakers. She proclaimed the current reality and progress of the Apocalypse, the Second Coming of Christ, and the end of the world. This was a person of courage to be reckoned with in high politics and low-level individual life transformations.
The editors help the reader with many footnotes clarifying the language and the cultural and scriptural references. They provide an index and bibliography. There are several illustrations. The table of abbreviations points to Fell’s comfortable use of the Apocrypha and flexible understanding of the Biblical canon.
This book is all about Quakers, the founding of the Quaker movement, their struggle with the social conditions of their experience, the language in which to express that experience, and the modeling of the expanding role of women. In Fell, the reader can see a person of an elevated social class and culture reaching out to others to point out where the bread of life can be found.
This book helps Quakers be Quakers by dealing with our past in its raw form. It reminds Quakers of the power of using the media in communicating truth, whether it is with use of the printing press (17th century) or the engagement with social media (21st century).
- How have Quakers modified the rhetorical style of early Quakers to fit our time and culture?
- What is the current role of women in Quaker advocacy?
- How have Quakers effectively communicated the language of Inner Light and sound Bible study for effective use in the discernment process for good lives?
- Jane Donawerth and Rebecca Lush eds., Margaret Fell: Women’s Speaking Justified and Other Pamphlets (2019)
- A. Murphy, William Penn: A Life (2019)