A British stage star turned Georgia plantation mistress, Fanny Kemble is perhaps best remembered as a critic of slavery--and an influential opponent of this institution during the years leading up to the Civil War. By the mid-1830s, American society was firmly in the grip of Kemble's celebrity as an actress--young ladies adopted "Fanny Kemble curls," a tulip was named in her honor, and lecture attendance at Harvard fell so sharply on afternoons of Kemble's matinees that professors threatened to cancel classes. Catherine Clinton's insightful biography chronicles these early portraits of Fanny's life and shows how her role in society changed drastically after her bitter and short-lived marriage to the heir of a Georgia plantation owner, whom she derisively called her "lord and master." We witness the publication of Journal of a Residence on a Georgia Plantation, in which Kemble hauntingly records the "simple horror" and misery she saw among the slaves. The raw power of her words made for an influential anti-slavery tract, which swayed European sentiment toward the Union cause. The book was embraced by Northern critics as "a permanent and most valuable chapter in our history" (Atlantic Monthly).
In Fanny Kemble's Civil Wars, Catherine Clinton reveals how one woman's life reflected in microcosm the public battles--over slavery, the role of women, and sectionalism--that fueled our nation's greatest conflict and have permanently marked our history.
This smashing new biography by historian Clinton (author of the controversial study The Plantation Mistress: Woman's World in the Old South) should be as popular today as Fanny Kemble herself was in the 19th century. Scion of a famed theatrical family, Kemble was born in England in 1809 and debuted as an actress in 1829, playing Juliet in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. She earned not only the esteem of her family--and the cash they so badly needed--but also, when she came to these shores, the vibrant Kemble earned a cadre of American admirers who styled their hair in "Fanny Kemble curls," spent their savings on "Fanny Kemble caps" and planted "Miss Fanny Kemble" tulips in their gardens. Kemble also won the heart of Pierce Butler, the second largest landholder in Georgia. At 24, she married him, giving up the stage and settling into the role of plantation mistress. The Butlers' marriage was filled with tension from the beginning: Pierce's eye wandered, and Fanny, horrified by the realities of slavery, spoke privately against that practice and was friendly with the abolitionist Sedgwick family. In 1845, after several attempted reconciliations with her husband, a "morose and restless" Kemble sailed for England, where she became an abolitionist crusader (her Journal of a Residence of a Georgian Plantation was published in 1863, and many credited the book with England's refusal to recognize the Confederacy). Kemble's own writing is distinguished by a feisty verve, and she has long awaited a biographer who can match her. Clinton is Kemble's equal--this biography is every bit as sharp, evocative and eloquent as Kemble's Journal. 64 b&w illus. (Sept.) FYI: Also in September, Harvard University Press will publish a volume of Kemble's journals, edited by Catherine Clinton. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|