Fanny Kemble as a young girl
Frances Anne Kemble (Fanny Kemble) (November 27, 1809 - 1893), the actress and author, was actor Charles Kemble's elder daughter. She was born in London, and educated chiefly in France.
She first appeared on the stage on October 26, 1829 as Juliet at Covent Garden. Her attractive personality at once made her a great favorite, her popularity enabling her father to recoup his losses as a manager. She played all the principal women's parts, notably Portia, Beatrice and Lady Teazle, but not Julia in James Sheridan Knowles's The Hunchback, which was especially written for her, and was perhaps her greatest success.
In 1832, she accompanied her father to the United States. In 1834, she married Pierce Butler, the heir of one of the largest slaveholders in Georgia. When the couple married, he was not a slaveholder, but by the time their two daughters, Sarah and Frances were born, Pierce Butler had inherited his grandfather's property and took his wife with him to his sea island plantations during the winter of 1838-39. Fanny was shocked by the conditions of slaves and their treatment. She tried to better their conditions and complained to her husband about slavery. When she left his plantations in the spring of 1839, debates about slavery and marital tensions continued. The couple were divorced in 1849, with Pierce keeping custody of the two daughters until they came of age. Fanny was reunited with each of her girls when they turned twenty-one. Butler died on his plantation shortly after the American Civil War. Neither he nor Fanny ever remarried.
In 1847, Fanny returned to the stage. She had retired upon her marriage, but needed to find a way to support herself following her separation and then divorce from Butler. Later, following her father's example, Fanny Kemble appeared with much success as a Shakespearean reader, touring from Massachusetts to Michigan, from Chicago to Washington, winning new audiences to the Bard.
She kept a diary about her life on the Georgia plantation, which was circulated among abolitionists prior to the American Civil War, and was published both in England and the United States once the war broke out. She continued to be outspoken on the subject of slavery, and often donated money from her readings for charitable causes.
In 1877, Fanny returned to England, where she lived using her maiden name till her death. During this period, Fanny Kemble was a prominent and popular figure in the social life of London. She became a great friend of and inspiration for Henry James during her later years.
Besides her plays, Francis the First (1832), The Star of Seville (1837), a volume of poems (1844), and an Italian travel book, A Year of Consolation (1847), she published the first volume of her memoirs, Journal in 1835, and in 1863, another, Journal of Residence on a Georgian Plantation (dealing with life on the Georgia plantation), as well as a volume of plays, including translations from Alexandre Dumas, père and Friedrich Schiller. These were followed by Records of a Girlhood (1878), Records of Later Life (1882), Notes on Some of Shakespeare's Plays (1882), Far Away and Long Ago (1889), and Further Records (1891). Her various volumes of reminiscences contain much valuable material illuminating the social and dramatic history of the period.
Her daughter Sarah, met and fell in love with a doctor, Owen Wister. Sarah and Owen had one child, Owen Wister Jr., the popular American novelist and author of the 1902 western novel, The Virginian.
Her other daughter met and fell in love with British minister James Leigh. The couple had one daughter, Alice, who was with her grandmother Fanny when she died in England in 1893.
All available through the Harvard University Library Open Collections Program, a fully searchable online database.
- Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839. New York: Harper & Bros., 1863, ISBN 0-8203-0707-6.
- Record of a Girlhood. London: R. Bentley and Son, 1878.
- Records of Later Life. New York: H. Holt and Co., 1882.
- Further Records, 1848-1883: a series of letters. London: R. Bentley and Son, 1890.
Harvard University Library Open Collections Program. Women Working, 1870-1930, Fanny Kemble (1809-1893). A full-text searchable online database with complete access to publications written by Fanny Kemble.
- Pierce Butler, Fanny Kemble, et al. by Gilbert Wesley Purdy. This book review/essay includes considerable biographical information on Fanny Kemble.
- Enslavement:The True Story of Fanny Kemble - 1999 - TV, based on: Fanny Kemble: Journal of a *Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839.
- Works by Fanny Kemble at Project Gutenberg.
- People & Events:Fanny Kemble and Pierce Butler:1806 - 1893 at pbs.org.
- The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor comemmoration of her birthday on Nov. 27.
- History of slavery in the United States