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The Natural Stage: Fanny Kemble's Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838–1839

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 April 2021

Chandra Owenby Hopkins
Affiliation:
Department of Theatre & Dance, Converse College, Spartanburg, SC, USA
Corresponding

Extract

Noted British actress Fanny Kemble lived eighty-four years on and off the theatrical and political stages of the nineteenth century. Kemble was an active writer who authored her first five-act play, Francis the First, at the age of eighteen. She would go on to write at least ten other published works, including a second full-length play, multiple journals recording her personal observations, notes on Shakespeare, and poetry collections. While Kemble remained devoted to writing as personal practice throughout her life, her most well-known piece of writing is her 1863 Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838–1839. Kemble's journal documents her outrage and disgust at the living conditions, harsh daily existence, and enslaved individuals she encountered while living on the two Sea Island plantations that her husband, Pierce Butler, inherited off the coast of Georgia.

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Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Authors, 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of American Society for Theatre Research, Inc.

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Footnotes

Greatest thanks and appreciation to Marlis Schweitzer for her long commitment to and exemplary guidance of this essay.

References

1 Kemble, Frances Anne, Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838–1839, ed. Scott, John A. (1863; Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984), 200, 280Google Scholar. For Olmsted, see his Journeys and Explorations in the Cotton Kingdom, 2 vols. (London: Sampson Low, Son & Co., 1861).

2 As quoted by John Lane's introduction of Nikki Finney at “Requiem for Mother Emanuel: An Exploration of Paint, Poetry, Race & Grace,” Community Event, Chapman Cultural Center, Spartanburg SC, 11 October 2016; online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=gu0LOXb1e18, accessed 26 January 2021.

3 For more on the publication and circulation of slave narratives, see Andrews, William L., To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760–1865 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988)Google Scholar.

4 Hartman, Saidiya V., Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997)Google Scholar.

5 Kemble, Residence on a Georgian Plantation, 60.

6 Rae, Noel, The Great Stain: Witnessing American Slavery (New York: Overlook Press, 2018), 274–82Google Scholar.

7 Ibid., 282.

Ibid

8 See Catherine Clinton's multiple books on Fanny Kemble's writing, abolitionist position, and evolving views on women, such as Fanny Kemble's Civil Wars (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000); Deirdre David's writing on Kemble's theatrical subversion of nineteenth-century expectations of women before, during, and after her marriage and first exposure to American slavery in Fanny Kemble: A Performed Life (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007); and Rebecca Jenkins's biographical account of Kemble's English theatre family, education, and journey to become a transatlantic actress and wife in Fanny Kemble: The Reluctant Celebrity (London and New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005).

9 Hartman, 10.

10 Kemble, Frances Anne, Records of a Girlhood, 3 vols. (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1879), 1: 7Google Scholar.

11 Ibid.

Ibid

12 See “Chapter IV: School” in Margaret Armstrong's Fanny Kemble, A Passionate Victorian (New York: Macmillan Company, 1938), 31–41.

13 Kemble, Records of a Girlhood, 1: 44–5.

14 “Advertisement” in Frances Arabella Rowden, A Poetical Introduction to the Study of Botany (London: T. Bensley, 1801).

15 Shteir, Ann B., Cultivating Women, Cultivating Science: Flora's Daughters and Botany in England, 1760–1860 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), 66Google Scholar.

16 See Kemble, Records of a Girlhood, 1: 15.

17 Kemble, Frances Anne, Francis the First (London: J. Murray, 1832)Google Scholar.

18 Clinton, Catherine, Fanny Kemble's Journals (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 1Google Scholar.

19 See Kemble, Records of a Girlhood, 1: 168.

20 See David, xii.

21 William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, https://shakespeare.folger.edu/shakespeares-works/romeo-and-juliet/download/, accessed 27 January 2021, I.3.5–7.

22 Elizabeth Reitz Mullenix, “So Unfemininely Masculine”: Discourse, True/False Womanhood, and the American Career of Fanny Kemble,” Theatre Survey 40.2 (1999): 27–42.

23 Kemble has often been characterized as acting only out of financial pressure and familial duty, but her relationship to the stage may have been more nuanced. In her book Fanny and Adelaide: The Lives of the Remarkable Kemble Sisters (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2001), historian Ann Blainey reads Kemble's letters written after her husband forbade her to act again and notes the ways in which Kemble yearns to return to the stage. Both Kemble and her younger sister, Adelaide, had successful stage careers and multiple tours in the United States. After her stage debut, Kemble's American tours would lead to marriage, and later in life she would return to drama to read Shakespeare's plays in smaller performances. Kemble's sense of familial obligation to the English stage was efficacious; the box-office earnings from her performances as the leading roles for English actresses of the nineteenth century, including Shakespeare's Portia and Beatrice and Lady Teazle from Sheridan's The School for Scandal, saved Covent Garden.

24 Kemble, Fanny, Journal of a Residence in America (Paris: A. & W. Galignani, 1835), 12Google Scholar.

25 Ibid.

Ibid

26 Kemble, Records of a Girlhood, 1: 165–6.

27 Ibid., 165.

Ibid

28 Kemble, Residence on a Georgian Plantation, 48–9.

29 McGann, Jerome J., The Romantic Ideology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), 27Google Scholar.

30 Morton, Timothy, Ecology without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), 1Google Scholar.

31 See also Raymond Williams's The Country and the City (London: Chatto & Windus, 1973) and Salim Kemal and Ivan Gaskell's edited anthology, Landscape, Natural Beauty, and the Arts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

32 Morton, 16.

33 Ibid., 17.

Ibid

34 Ibid., 27.

Ibid

35 Kemble, Residence on a Georgian Plantation, 48.

36 Catherine Clinton, as interviewed in Mike Boehm, “Suddenly, a Fanny Kemble Bandwagon,” LA Times, 18 October 1999. Kemble mentions saucers and figurines in Records of a Girlhood, 1: 224.

37 “Fanny Kemble as Juliet” (National Portrait Gallery, London, 1830s), www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw37693/Fanny-Kemble-as-Juliet, accessed 12 September 2017.

38 Joseph Roach, It (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007), 127.

39 See Ibid., 129.

Ibid

40 Memoir of Colonel Henry Lee: With Selections from His Writings and Speeches, ed. John Torrey Morse Jr. (Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., 1905), 298.

41 To achieve curls in the 1800s white women may have wound strips of fabric around their dampened hair or used heat, either from early curlers made of clay or pipe, or from curling tongs, which preceded the hair-curling iron patented in 1866 by inventor Hiram Maxim. See “Body Arts: Wig Curlers and Hair Tongs, Britain, Early 1700s and Late 1800s,” Pitt Rivers Virtual Collections, http://web.prm.ox.ac.uk/bodyarts/index.php/temporary-body-arts/hair/75-wig-curlers-and-hair-tongs-britain-early-1700s-and-late-1800s-.html, accessed 15 September 2017.

42 Bernstein, Robin, Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights (New York: New York University Press, 2011)Google Scholar.

43 Ibid., 63.

Ibid

44 Richard James Lane, “Fanny Kemble” (National Portrait Gallery, London, 1829), www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw195463/Fanny-Kemble, accessed 14 September 2017. For the portrait of her as a girl, see the engraving made by H. B. Hall & Sons of 13 Barclay Street, New York, that is the frontispiece of Kemble, Records of a Girlhood.

45 “Fanny Kemble Drawing” (Harvard Library Curiosity Collection, Daguerreotypes at Harvard) https://curiosity.lib.harvard.edu/daguerreotypes-at-harvard/catalog/17-W100865_urn-3:FHCLHOUGH:29519, accessed 8 February 2021.

46 Kwesi DeGraft-Hanson, “Unearthing the Weeping Time: Savannah's Ten Broeck Race Course and 1850 Slave Sale,” Southern Spaces, 18 February 2010, https://southernspaces.org/2010/unearthing-weeping-time-savannahs-ten-broeck-race-course-and-1859-slave-sale, accessed 10 May 2018.

47 Dillon, Elizabeth Maddock, New World Drama: The Performative Commons in the Atlantic World, 1649–1849 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014) ,101CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

48 Armstrong, Fanny Kemble, 161.

49 Kemble, Residence in America, 191.

50 Kemble, Residence on a Georgian Plantation, 252. Subsequent citations are given parenthetically in the text as RGP.

51 Kemble, Records of a Girlhood, 1: 15.

52 Ibid.

Ibid

53 Morton, 15.

54 McGann, 66.

55 “The Fanny Kemble Divorce Case,” New York Herald, 28 November 1848, 1.

56 Cate, Margaret Davis, “Mistakes in Fanny Kemble's Journal,” Georgia Historical Quarterly 44.1 (1960): 117Google Scholar.

57 Kemble herself defended Uncle Tom's Cabin through a letter to the editor of the London Times, which was included as an appendix to the 1863 English edition of her journal.

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