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Teacher's Resources: Fanny Kemble's Diary

1.Where did Fanny Kemble grow up?

Fanny Kemble was born in London in 1809. She grew up in England, was schooled in Paris, and visited the United States for the first time in the early 1830s.

References: Magazines 

"Fanny Kemble." Living Age.

References - Newspapers

"Picked Up Here and There." Atlanta Journal.

2.Who was Pierce Butler?

At the time Kemble and Butler met, Butler was a wealthy young American destined to inherit two Georgia plantations from his father. He became Kemble's husband in 1834.

References: Magazines 

"Frances Anne Kemble." Atlantic Monthly.

3.What did Fanny Kemble do for a living before she married Pierce Butler? Do you think this prepared her for life on plantation?

Fanny Kemble was an actress. Her stage debut at 20 as Juliet in her family's production of "Romeo and Juliet" was said to be fabulous and may have saved the family from bankruptcy. Her family was celebrated for its contributions to English theater, so it made sense that she fell into that line of work. She was also a writer.
It is doubtful that Kemble's life of travel and acting in Europe's and America's big cities prepared her for the dull life of a Georgia plantation owner's wife. Kemble's later actions suggest that she was both restless and discontented while living with Pierce Butler. After leaving him, she went back to doing exactly what she had been doing before she met him: performing and writing.

References: Magazines 

"Fanny Kemble." Living Age. 

"Frances Anne Kemble." Atlantic Monthly.

References: Newspapers 

"The Death of Fanny Kemble." London Times.

4.What caused Kemble and Butler to divorce?

Although divorce is usually attributable to many different causes, a very large subject of disagreement for the couple was that of slavery. Kemble was strongly opposed to slavery; Butler used slaves on his plantations. Their marriage was dissolved in 1849.

References: Newspapers

"Picked Up Here and There." Atlanta Journal.

5.What was so great about Kemble's 1863 Journal of a Residence on a Georgia Plantation? How did it effect English society and the Civil War effort in America?

Kemble's book was published on both sides of the Atlantic. It afforded the English, who openly traded with the Confederacy, an inside look into the dealings of running a slave plantation. Reportedly, the book curbed British popular opinion against the Confederacy, for the British were generally strongly opposed to slavery. Thus, in its own way, the book may have contributed to the economic strangulation of the Confederacy by lowering Britain's willingness to trade with the South.
The book's publication was excellently timed; Lincoln's "Emancipation Proclamation" was formerly issued on January 1, 1863. The proclamation shrewdly transformed the focus of the Civil War toward slavery, which helped rally British public opinion against the Confederacy. Kemble's book, if we go by the review dates, came out around August of 1863, while the topic was still hot. American book reviewers seemed very grateful that Kemble's Residence was being published in England.

References: Magazines 

"Reviews and Literary Notices." Atlantic Monthly. 

"Literary Notices." Harper's New Monthly Magazine.

6.What was life for Kemble like on the Georgia plantation? What was life like for the slaves?

Slaves ate twice a day; at noon and at night. They used poor utensils when utensils were used at all. They were not provided chairs or tables. Failure to obey orders invited whipping. Families were split up with little or no chance of a future reunion. Kemble was particularly focused on the plight of women on the plantation. New mothers, she noted, only received three weeks of "maternity leave", such as it was. Children were produced to please the plantation master; after all, they were necessary for continuing the slave tradition. Slavery seemed in Kemble's mind to be a perpetual cycle of misery.

References: Magazines 

"Literary Notices." Harper's New Monthly Magazine. 

"Reviews and Literary Notices." Atlantic Monthly.

7.According to Kemble, what sort of master was Butler to his slaves?

He was a pretty decent one—as far as slave masters go. Ironically, this may have worked in favor of Kemble's cause; had Butler been a cruel master one might have been tempted to focus on his own inhumane actions (thus losing sight of the bigger problem of slavery). By being relatively decent to his slaves, the horror of the institution itself came more vividly to light.

References: Magazines 

"Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838 - 1839." North American Review. 

"Reviews and Literary Notices." Atlantic Monthly.

8.What did Kemble do after her divorce?

Kemble's celebrated Residence was published nearly thirty years after she initially wrote it, and fourteen years after her divorce. Kemble's readings of Shakespeare were generally well-received. She also continued to write prose, poetry, and journal entries. It seems she lived a very fulfilling life.

References: Magazines 

"Fanny Kemble in America." The Critic.

Activity:

After seeing the video and answering the questions, write a week’s worth of diary entries that could have been written by Fanny Kemble while she was on the Georgia plantation.

Vocabulary:

abasement:
the demotion of one to a lower level of status.

ambivalence:
the state of feeling conflicting emotions on a subject.

arraignment:
an accusation.

ineffable:
something impossible to express with words.

profligacy:
ostentatious extravagance or excessive indulgence in a moral wrong, characterized by a lack of restraint.

squalor:
conditions characterized by filth and neglect.

 

Fanny Kemble's Diary
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