Why are the Journals of Fanny Kemble not at least as well known as those of Dorothy Wordsworth? Because Dorothy can be viewed as a useful adjunct to Wordsworth and Coleridge, whereas Fanny Kemble makes the men in her life seem like adjuncts to her? Because she left her husband? Because her revelations about life on his plantation in Georgia are not for delicate stomachs? Her Journals, American and otherwise, are not even mentioned in my (American) encyclopedia.
Fortunately, the facts needed for appreciating her are admirably covered by Elizabeth Mavor: I nearly gave up and copied out her introduction to this compilation, in lieu of trying to emulate it. Briefly, Fanny followed her father and grandfather on the stage because her hitherto wealthy family fell on hard times. An instant success, she agreed to tour America to further the restoration of their fortunes, and there met Pierce Butler. Her unwonted reticence about her early feelings for him points to her being deeply in love with this plausible heir to Georgian estates. ‘Deep, true, free and well tried love caused us to marry,’ he wrote. They lived to regret it bitterly.
Fanny was a good diarist: she would have preferred the literary life to that of an actress. ‘It is painful to cut anything she wrote’ Mavor tells us, and judging by what is left in this selection, I can believe it: the writing is consistently fervent and gripping. Fanny’s much-applauded