Fanny Kemble: Wikis


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Frances Anne Kemble I.png
Fanny Kemble as a young girl

Frances Anne Kemble (27 November 1809 - 15 January 1893), was a famous British actress and author in the early and mid nineteenth century.


Youth and acting career

A member of the famous Kemble theatrical family, Fanny was the oldest daughter of actor Charles Kemble and the niece of noted tragedienne Sarah Siddons and of the famous actor John Philip Kemble. Her younger sister was opera singer Adelaide Kemble. Fanny was born in London, and educated chiefly in France.

On 26 October 1829, Fanny Kemble first appeared on the stage 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 perhaps her greatest role, not as a lead part, was especially written for her when she played Julia in James Sheridan Knowles' The Hunchback.

Marriage and divorce

In 1832, she accompanied her father on a theatrical tour of the U.S. While in Boston in 1833, she journeyed out to Quincy to witness the revolutionary technology of the first commercial railroad in the United States. She described her visit to the Granite Railway in her journal, as seen in the external link provided by the Friends of the Blue Hills.

In 1834, she retired from the stage to marry an American, Pierce Butler, grandson of the Founding Father Pierce Butler, and heir to a large fortune founded on cotton, tobacco and rice. 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 sea island plantations and the several hundred slaves who worked them. Fanny accompanied him to Georgia during the winter of 1838-39, and was shocked by the conditions of the 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 Butler keeping custody of the two daughters until they came of age. Fanny was reunited with each of her girls when they turned 21.

In 1847, Fanny returned to the stage. This was due more to a need to find a way to support herself following her separation and eventual divorce from Butler than to any real interest in acting. 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.

Butler squandered a fortune estimated at $700,000, but was saved from bankruptcy by the March 2-3, 1859 sale of his 436 slaves at Ten Broeck racetrack, outside Savannah, Georgia -- the largest single slave auction in American history.[1] Following the American Civil War, he tried to make his plantations profitable with free labor, but was unsuccessful. Butler died in Georgia, of malaria, in 1867. Neither he nor Fanny ever remarried.

Anti-slavery activism

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 to charitable causes.

In Journal of A Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839, published in 1863, Kemble wrote, "I have sometimes been haunted with the idea that it was an imperative duty. Knowing what I know, and having seen what I have seen, to do all that lies in my power to show the dangers and the evils of this frightful institution."  

Later life

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. His novel Washington Square (1880) was based upon a story Fanny had told him concerning one of her relatives.

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 elder daughter Sarah married a doctor, Owen Jones Wister, and they had one child, Owen Wister (b. 1860), the popular American novelist and author of the 1902 western novel, The Virginian.

Fanny's other daughter Frances defended her father in a rebuttal to her mother's journal: Ten Years on a Georgian Plantation since the War (1883). In Georgia, she met British-born minister James Leigh, and the couple married in 1871. They tried to make her late father's plantations profitable with free labor, but were unsuccessful, and moved permanently to England in 1877. The couple had one daughter, Alice (b. 1874), who was with her grandmother Fanny when she died in England in 1893.

See also


Available through Harvard University Library's Open Collections Program: Women Working 1800-1930:

  • 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.

Other publications:[2][3]

  • Francis the First, a drama (London, 1832; New York, 1833)
  • Journal (2 vols., London, 1835; Philadelphia and Boston, 1835)
  • The Star of Seville, a drama (London and New York, 1837)
  • Poems (London and Philadelphia, 1844; Boston, 1859)
  • A Year of Consolation, a book of Italian travel (2 vols., London and New York, 1847)
  • Plays, including translations from Dumas and Schiller (London, 1863)
  • Notes on some of Shakespeare's Plays (London, 1882)
  • Far Away and Long Ago (1889)


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.

  • Kemble, Fanny. (1835). Journal. Murray (reissued by Cambridge University Press, 2009; ISBN 9781108004015)
  • Kemble, Fanny (1863). Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838 - 1839. Longman Green (reissued by Cambridge University Press, 2009; ISBN 9781108003933)
  • Malcolm Bell Jr., Major Butler's Legacy: Five Generations of a Slaveholding Family (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1987)
  • 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
  • "The Writer's Almanac" with Garrison Keillor, commemoration of her birthday on Nov. 27.
  • Jenkins, Rebecca (2005). Fanny Kemble: A Reluctant Celebrity. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0743209182.  
  • Clinton, Catherine (2000). Fanny Kemble's Civil Wars: The Story of America's Most Unlikely Abolitionst. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-86484414-1.  

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

I want to do everything in the world that can be done.

Fanny Kemble (November 27, 18091893) was a famous British actress and author in the early and mid nineteenth century.


  • Though the Negroes are fed, clothed, and housed, and though the Irish peasant is starved, naked, and roofless, the bare name of freemen—the lordship over his own person, the power to choose and will—are blessings beyond food, raiment, or shelter; possessing which, the want of every comfort of life is yet more tolerable than their fullest enjoyment without them.
    • Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839, ch. 1 (1863).
  • I want to do everything in the world that can be done.
    • Journal of a Residence in America, entry for September 11, 1832 (1835)
  • Simplicity is a great element of good breeding.
    • Further Records, 1848-1883, vol. 1; entry dated January 20, 1875 (1891)
  • A good many causes tend to make good masters and mistresses quite as rare as good servants.... The large and rapid fortunes by which vulgar and ignorant people become possessed of splendid houses, splendidly furnished, do not, of course, give them the feelings and manners of gentle folks, or in any way really raise them above the servants they employ, who are quite aware of this fact, and that the possession of wealth is literally the only superiority their employers have over them.
    • Further Records, 1848-1883, vol. 1; entry dated February 12, 1874 (1891)


  • What shall I do with all the days and hours
    That must be counted ere I see thy face?
    How shall I charm the interval that lowers
    Between this time and that sweet time of grace?
    • Absence.
  • Maids must be wives and mothers to fulfil
    The entire and holiest end of woman’s being.
    • Woman's Heart.
  • A sacred burden is this life ye bear:
    Look on it, lift it, bear it solemnly,
    Stand up and walk beneath it steadfastly.
    Fail not for sorrow, falter not for sin,
    But onward, upward, till the goal ye win.
    • Lines addressed to the Young Gentleman leaving the Lenox Academy, Mass.
  • Better trust all, and be deceived,
    And weep that trust and that deceiving,
    Than doubt one heart, that if believed
    Had blessed one’s life with true believing.
    • Faith.
  • Youth, with swift feet walks onward in the way;
    The land of joy lies all before his eyes;
    Age, stumbling, lingers slowly day by day,
    Still looking back, for it behind him lies.
    • Faith.

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