Fanny Kemble's Journals

Fanny Kemble, Author, Catherine Clinton, Editor
Fanny Kemble, Author, Catherine Clinton, Editor Harvard University Press $43 (210p) ISBN 978-0-674-00305-7
Reviewed on: 09/04/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
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Upon the death of the celebrated British actress Fanny Kemble (1809-1893), her confidant and admirer Henry James said she had written some of the best autobiography of her day. But that autobiographical writing runs to thousands of pages, a bit much for the casual reader. So Kemble's biographer, historian Catherine Clinton (Fanny Kemble's Civil Wars, Forecasts, July 10), has edited a slender volume, selecting the juiciest, most revealing and most incisive sections of Kemble's oeuvre. Having married a Southern plantation owner, Pierce Butler, Kemble became an outspoken--and, because of her fame and her husband's station, controversial--critic of the South's peculiar institution. Clinton presents a range of writings on both personal and political subjects. We find Kemble's musings about her stage career (her exciting debut, an attack of nerves); about gender and ability (women, she believed, cannot possibly be ""good dramatic writers""); about marriage; and about what she considered to be America's loathsome culture. Kemble spares nothing her withering eye and cutting tongue--she observes, for example, that women in America ""ripen very early"" but ""decay... soon."" Not surprisingly, the book also contains lots of intimate details about Kemble's stormy marriage, and offers the full range of her ideas about slavery. Clinton's short but effective introduction combines with Kemble's candid writings to deliver an intriguing tale and a remarkable view into the race and gender battles of 19th-century America. Splendidly edited and handsomely designed, this collection clears room for readers to hear the unforgettable voice of Kemble herself, with little interference. (Sept.)
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