Deirdre David has chosen a riveting subject, and has pertinently subtitled her book A Performed Life. Fanny Kemble was born in 1809 to a distinguished theatrical family: her aunt was the memorable tragedienne, Sarah Siddons; her father actor-manager of Drury Lane; her French mother, Marie-Thérèse, a child prodigy who later became a member of her husband’s company and was remembered for her performance of Macheath in The Beggar’s Opera.
Fanny, however, had no intention of going on stage. Actresses were still associated in the public imagination with prostitution and loose living, and her parents attached immense importance to being socially acceptable. Fanny, a wilful, farouche child,