What does one of the most powerful influencers of the 18th Century have to say about women? A lot, apparently! Charles Wesley, hymn writer, Methodist father, poet, wrote copious poems about women of the Bible and those around him. Often for the woman in question’s funeral, Wesley’s words about his friends reveal his deep respect and admiration for those who were too often silenced.
It would be wrong to deny his mother’s, Susana, influence on him. (If you want to read an interesting bio of her, may I suggest Metaxas’ 7 Women.) She was largely responsible for her children’s spiritual education. If we are going to be honest about Samuel Wesley (Charles’ father) it might be easiest to simply call him a complete bum. Susana’s passion for God and the Word and its place in her children’s’ lives is well documented. It is not hard to see where Wesley acquired his view of women as equal.
I have to admit when I was given May She Have a Word With You to read, I was expecting something else. I thought the book would do more than give these women a few paragraphs to set-up Wesley’s poem about them. I thought it would bring these women to life, perhaps (finally) giving them a voice versus allowing us only to behold them through the lens of a man. The title itself is misleading for it implies the women would be allowed to speak for themselves. Alas, it is not even her words that are being held up, but a man’s view of her (both in the write-up and the poems themselves).
The book is more a sprinkling of vignettes to provide a backdrop for Wesley’s work. Many of the women included helped influence the early Methodist movement. Wesley sees women as “equals before God and the world” (Kimbrough). Through his words, he lifts up what he held to be the finer qualities of women.
Kimbrough does not intend his book to be a historical survey. His book helps brings the names of Wesley’s friends to life and shows us the deeply held respect Wesley had for the women around him.
I appreciated his poems on the women of the Bible. He added depth and dimension to Mary and Martha and gave an honest cry to the woman of Canaan (Matthew 15). Overall, it is lovely to read Wesley’s words about his friends, about the impact these women had on him, and Methodism.
It is not Kimbrough’s fault for my misunderstanding of what the content would be. If you appreciate Wesley’s hymns or enjoy poetry with a sprinkling of context, this book would be for you. If you are looking for a book that might finally allow women of 18th Century England to speak, this book does little to give the women in Wesley’s life a voice of their own.
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