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 familyDand the cash they so badly neededDbut 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 equalDthis 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.