The Remarkable Life of Grace Grattan Guinness
Delightful biography of the wife of one of the evangelical movement's great preachers during the Victorian era
Grace: The Remarkable Life of Grace Grattan Guinness
By Michele Guinness
Hodder and Stoughton
Reviewed by Martin Poole
Grace Grattan Guinness is not a “name” that rings any bells. Her obscurity would have continued were it not for a chance discovery of a trunk replete with letters, diaries, newspaper cuttings and memorabilia together with granddaughter in law – Michele – who found Grace’s story fascinating enough to fill a 380 page biography.
Through the eyes of this remarkable lady we are given a glimpse of Evangelicalism spanning the late 19th century up to the swinging 60s, together with Grace’s reactions to seminal events of the era which embraces two world wars, the birth of feminism, King Edward’s abdication and much more.
Grace enjoyed a very happy childhood despite many constraints that issued from her parents being staunch members of the Plymouth Brethren. The picture is of a large family (seven children) living a comfortable middle class lifestyle in a home full of fun and laughter. While she would later leave the Brethren, she retained her fundamental faith and even went to the length of writing a book defending what others saw as a repressive and restrictive upbringing.
The event that dominates Grace’s life is undoubtedly her unlikely marriage to a man 42 years her senior - Henry Grattan Guinness, a powerful figure in the Evangelical movement of the Victorian age. Henry was cited as one of three greatest preachers of his time alongside Charles Haddon Spurgeon and D L Moody. (Looking at the photographs in the book it appears to this reviewer that Henry bears a remarkable resemblance to Billy Graham).
The marriage produced two sons before Henry’s home call only seven years later. That these years were very precious is made clear by copies of correspondence and constant references in Grace’s writings. As a result the biography includes a number of biographies as Grace charts the progress of various family members who include writers, vicars, missionaries and even a brother who played cricket to the highest standard for California, New York and Philadelphia. Sadly he contracted typhoid and died with Grace recording enigmatically that “There is little more to say than he gave his life for a game”.
As for Grace, she is prepared to defy society as a single mum, turning her hand at a number of occupations to provide for her two boys. She understands, while not necessarily condoning the pressures that drive women to seek abortions. She campaigns for birth control and wrestles with the inequalities of life and the uneven distribution of suffering in its various forms.
Grace made what she describes as her “trans-terrestrial flight” in 1967, leaving a compendium of fascinating insights and anecdotes that Michele has woven into a life story that is a delight to read.
The Revd Martin Poole (retired Baptist Minister having served churches in Penarth, Godalming and Eastleigh)