Women's Influence in the British Abolition Movement: Background information when reading The Fraud

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Fraud

A Novel

by Zadie Smith

The Fraud by Zadie Smith X
The Fraud by Zadie Smith
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Sep 2023, 464 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Grace Graham-Taylor
Buy This Book

About this Book

Women's Influence in the British Abolition Movement

This article relates to The Fraud

Print Review

Hannah MoreIn The Fraud, Eliza's lover Frances is a passionate abolitionist whose commitment to the cause infects Eliza with a similar sense of urgency. Britain's Slavery Abolition Act was passed in 1833, freeing at least 800,000 people from bondage in the Caribbean, South America, and Canada. The act followed decades of campaigns from abolitionist groups, who had been fighting to end the practice since the 1780s. An often-overlooked group who were influential in the fight to end slavery were women – figures such as Hannah More, Mary Prince, and Elizabeth Heyrick (whose house Eliza and Frances visit in The Fraud) were pivotal to the abolitionist cause.

Hannah More wrote pamphlets and poems which helped popularize the abolitionist cause in its early days. In 1788 she wrote "Slavery, A Poem" to coincide with the first big parliamentary debate regarding the abolition of the slave trade, led by her friend William Wilberforce. The poem is a dramatic depiction of the life of an enslaved woman, intended to provoke readers' empathy. More's poem is indicative of the moral force women wielded in early debates about slavery – since femininity was seen as synonymous with maternalism and care, women were thought to possess greater moral authority than men, so their condemnation of slavery was often the most potent. Though contemporary scholar Moira Ferguson has criticized the poem's white gaze, particularly its flat depiction of the enslaved woman, it was influential amongst white Britons at the time. More remained a committed abolitionist until her death, sadly just before the passing of the Abolition Act.

Another important abolitionist woman was Mary Prince, the first black woman to publish a first-person account of slavery. Born in Bermuda to enslaved parents, Prince was separated from her family at 12 and endured unspeakable horrors as she was traded between various owners. She was brought to London in 1828 by the Wood family, but escaped and found refuge amongst the city's abolitionists. In 1831 she dictated her autobiography, The history of Mary Prince, related by herself, to transcriber Susanna Strickland. The memoir forcefully attacked the English for their cruel treatment of slaves in the West Indies:

"They tie up slaves like hogs – moor them up like cattle, and they [whip] them, so as hogs, or cattle, or horses never were flogged – and yet they come home and say ... that slaves don't want to get out of slavery. But it is not so."

Prince's book stood in direct contradiction to the rosier picture of plantation life that was common in Britain. It was published three times and widely read. Her powerful testimony persuaded many people to join the abolitionist cause.

Finally, Elizabeth Heyrick was one of the most prominent voices of the abolition movement during the 1820s. A radical Quaker, she was instrumental in the development of the Female Society of Birmingham, a women's abolitionist association which gave direct aid to enslaved women in the West Indies and raised funds for other anti-slavery efforts. In her native Leicester, Heyrick led a boycott of West Indian sugar to protest the appalling treatment of slaves by plantation owners. Her efforts led to a quarter of the town's population abstaining from sugar by 1825. But Heyrick's most powerful contribution to the anti-slavery movement was her polemic against the "gradualist" approach to abolition. This policy, favored by Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson, the leaders of the Anti-Slavery Society, argued that slavery should be phased out slowly in an effort to reduce the economic impact. Heyrick fiercely rejected this. Her 1824 pamphlet Immediate, Not Gradual, Abolition sharply criticized lenient attitudes towards enslavers and called for an immediate end to slave labor. It was highly influential and was even read in the United States, where several editions were published in the 1830s. Heyrick also wielded her influential status in the Female Society of Birmingham to threaten the Anti-Slavery Society with withdrawal of funding if they did not agree to support immediate abolition. As the Female Society was the largest donor to the Anti-Slavery Society, her threat was successful. Heyrick's contribution to the anti-slavery movement was invaluable, and she was admired on both sides of the Atlantic.

Of course, the history of women within the abolition movement is more complicated than what this overview suggests. Working class women, for instance, were often excluded from women's abolitionist associations, while white women's efforts to speak out against slavery often came at the expense of black women's right to tell their own stories (Prince being a notable exception). However, women's contribution to the fight against slavery should not be overlooked – they played an essential role, and history would not be the same without them.

A portrait of Hannah More, date and artist unknown. In Duyckinick, Evert A.'s Portrait Gallery of Eminent Men and Women in Europe and America. New York: Johnson, Wilson & Company, 1873. p. 42. (PD-UK-unknown)

Filed under People, Eras & Events

This article relates to The Fraud. It first ran in the September 20, 2023 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

For a year of great reading
about exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Crossings
    by Ben Goldfarb
    We've all seen it—a dead animal carcass on the side of the road, clearly mowed down by a car. ...
  • Book Jacket: Wifedom
    by Anna Funder
    When life became overwhelming for writer, wife, and mother Anna Funder in the summer of 2017, she ...
  • Book Jacket: The Fraud
    The Fraud
    by Zadie Smith
    In a recent article for The New Yorker, Zadie Smith joked that she moved away from London, her ...
  • Book Jacket: Wasteland
    by Oliver Franklin-Wallis
    Globally, we generate more than 2 billion tons of household waste every year. That annual total ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
Fair Rosaline
by Natasha Solomons
A subversive, powerful untelling of Romeo and Juliet by New York Times bestselling author Natasha Solomons.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The September House
    by Carissa Orlando

    A dream home becomes a haunted nightmare in this compulsively readable, twisty, and layered debut novel.

  • Book Jacket

    The Wren, the Wren
    by Anne Enright

    An incandescent novel about the inheritance of trauma, wonder, and love across three generations of women.

Win This Book
Win Moscow X

25 Copies to Give Away!

A daring CIA operation threatens chaos in the Kremlin. But can Langley trust the Russian at its center?



Solve this clue:

A M I A Terrible T T W

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.