FANNY KEMBLE by Dorothy Marshall


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Dorothy Marshall justifies the publication of this additional biography of the English actress Fanny Kemble: ""all biographies are interpretative as well as factual, and hitherto her main biographers have been American, while she herself remained impenitently English. . . like her I remain impenitently British."" A rather slender reason for so copious a work, but not its only attraction. First, the facts remain interesting. Fanny, the niece of the great Sarah Siddons, born into the acting-managing Kemble family, rescued them from financial disaster by her great success in London in 1829. Her father was always her best partner and foil; when later she acted with her contemporary Macready, she had difficulty adjusting to his more modern style. Here is material for a psychiatric study: did the depressed mother, a brother institutionalized for insanity, the life-long closeness to a weak father, account for Fanny's own stormy moods and passions? Storminess certainly accounted for the break-up of her marriage to the wealthy Philadelphian Pierce Butler, which ended in a bitter divorce. She hated acting, thought of herself as a writer, and if indeed her poetry is palely post-Byronic, her prose is lively. One of her books is Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation 1858-39, and this episode Dorothy Marshall illuminates. Her own studies having been mostly on industrial England and the conditions of the working classes, she is able to discuss with clarity and temperance her subject's very personal reactions to America's ""peculiar institution."" Thus the book gains its particular merit as a life-and-times.

Pub Date: March 14th, 1978
Publisher: St. Martin's