Writer, Actress and Abolitionist
Frances Anne Kemble also known as Fanny Kemble, was an actress, writer and social reformer who spent her childhood in the Kemble family home, Eastlands, in Weybridge.
Fanny Kemble has secured a place in the history of Elmbridge through her vivid and vibrant writings of her childhood and has gone down in literary history as a writer of fine autobiographical works and compelling stage actress. In addition, she played a crucial role in the abolitionist movement of the 1800s in America, wreaking her own private civil war against her plantation and slave-owning husband, Pierce Butler.
After studying in France until the age of fifteen, Kemble returned to England, travelling with her father to their home, Eastlands. Kemble wrote that Weybridge was a “picturesque village” and that it “lay on the edge of a wild heath and common country that stretches to Guildford and Godalming – … a region of light, sandy soil, hiding its agricultural poverty under a royal mantle of golden gorse and purple heather, and with large tracts of blue aromatic pine wood over one or two points of really fine scenery…”. These views were drastically different to the ones she experienced in the American south after her marriage to Pierce Butler, and described in her book Journal of Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839.
The dwellings Kemble saw on the plantations, which were owned by her husband, “were filthy and wretched in the extreme, and exhibited that most deplorable consequence of ignorance and an abject condition, the inability of the inhabitants to secure and improve even such pitiful comfort as might yet be achieved by them”. Kemble was fierce in her judgement of slave-owners and the dreadful conditions they imposed on their slaves. Despite the fact it was written in the 1830s, Kemble did not publish her journal until after her divorce from Butler, with the hope that its publication would educate the British public and encourage political movements against the Confederacy during the American Civil War, 1861-1865.