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Frances Anne Kemble, afterwards Mrs. Butler, generally known as Fanny Kemble (1809-1893)

This article was written by Joseph Knight and was published in 1901

Fanny KembleFrances Anne Kemble,, afterwards Mrs. Butler, generally known as Fanny Kemble, actress and writer, the daughter of Charles Kemble and Marie Thérèse Kemble, was born in Newman Street, London, on 27 November 1809, and educated principally in France. When her father's management of Covent Garden was in extremis she made her first appearance on the stage on 5 October 1829 as Juliet to her father's Mercutio and the Lady Capulet of her mother, who returned to the stage after a long absence.

Fanny Kemble's success was overwhelming. She appeared on 9 December as Belvidera in ‘Venice Preserved;’ on 18 January 1830 as Euphasia in the ‘Grecian Daughter;’ on 25 February as Mrs. Beverley in the ‘Gamester;’ on 28 April as Isabella in the piece so named; and on 28 May as Lady Townley in the ‘Provoked Husband.’ So profitable were her appearances that £13,000 of debt were wiped off the theatre. In the following season she was seen as Mrs. Haller in the ‘Stranger,’ Calista in the ‘Fair Penitent,’ Juliana in the ‘Honeymoon,’ Lady Macbeth, Portia, Beatrice, and Constance. In 1833 she was the first Louise de Savoie in her own ‘Francis the First,’ which was not a success; the first Duchess of Guise in an adaptation of the ‘Henri III’ of Dumas, which was a failure; and the first Julia in Knowles's ‘Hunchback.’

In the autumn she accompanied her father to America, appearing on 18 September at the Park theatre, New York, as Bianca in ‘Fazio,’ a part she repeated in Philadelphia and Boston. On 7 January 1834 she married Pierce Butler, a southern planter, whom in 1848 she divorced (he died in 1867). On 16 February 1847, at Manchester, she reappeared on the stage as Julia, which with Lady Teazle, Mariana, and Queen Katherine, she repeated at Liverpool. In May she reappeared in London, playing at the Princess's with William Creswick. After a short visit to America she began in April 1848 a series of Shakespearean readings at Willis's rooms. In October 1849 at Sansom Street hall, Philadelphia, she gave a reading from ‘King John.’ Resuming her maiden name she retired for twenty years to Lennox, Massachusetts, reappearing in 1868 as a reader at Steinway hall, New York. In 1873 she resided near Philadelphia, and in 1877-8 returned to England, dying at 86 Gloucester Place, London, the residence of her son-in-law, the Rev. Canon Leigh, on 15 January 1893; she was buried on the 20th at Kensal Green.

Fanny Kemble had a sparkling, saucy, and rather boisterous individuality, and seems to have had a string of elderly admirers of distinction. Rogers, Macaulay, Sidney Smith, and other literary men of the epoch gave her incessant homage, and memoirs of the early part of the century are full of her. Eighty-five letters addressed to her by Edward FitzGerald between 1871 and 1883 were printed in ‘Temple Bar,’ and with the addition of nineteen letters were issued separately in 1895. Wilson, in the ‘Noctes,’ credited her with genius, and assigned her, as did others, a place near her aunt, Mrs. Siddons. Scott and Moore placed her on a lower plane. Longfellow was completely under her spell. Judge Haliburton spoke of her ‘cleverness and audacity, refinement and coarseness, modesty and bounce, pretty humility and prettier arrogance.’ Leigh Hunt could not be won to faith in her. Macready said, with some justice, that she was ignorant of the very rudiments of her art, but made amends, declaring that ‘she is one of the most remarkable women of the present day.’ Lewes called her readings ‘an intellectual delight.’

Her chief literary productions were: ‘Francis the First,’ 1832; ‘The Star of Seville,’ a drama, 1837; ‘Poems,’ Philadelphia, 1844; ‘A Year of Consolation’ (travels in Italy), 1847; ‘Plays,’ 1863, including ‘An English Tragedy,’ ‘Mary Stuart,’ translated from Schiller, and ‘Mademoiselle de Belle-Isle,’ translated from Dumas; ‘Christmas Tree and other Tales,’ from the German, 1856; ‘Notes on some of Shakespeare's Plays,’ 1882; ‘Far Away and Long Ago,’ 1889.

Her autobiographical works consist of:

1. ‘Journal of F. A. Butler,’ 1835, reprinted apparently as ‘Journal of a Residence in America.’
2. ‘Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation,’ 1863.
3. ‘Record of a Girlhood,’ 1878.
4. ‘Records of Later Life,’ 1882.
5. ‘Further Records,’ 1891.

These works are bright and animated, but caused some offence in certain circles by the views they expressed as to the theatrical profession, which she joined with reluctance. One or two works bearing on slavery were extracted from her early journal, and published separately.

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