Fanny Kemble's America Essay - Critical Context

John Anthony Scott

Critical Context

Because Scott is the editor of a modern edition of Kemble’s Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 18381839, as well as other works dealing with the history of the South, he provides a wealth of material about the workings of antebellum plantations and the politics of the era in Fanny Kemble’s America. Aware of his young audience, he tries to “contribute to historical truth, to add to what is known about people and life,” and in developing the biography of Kemble, he uses many quotations from her journals and letters.

Two points of particular historical interest to young people are emphasized in Scott’s work. The first is that, thirty years before the Civil War, there were opponents speaking out against slavery and trying to combat this evil and bring it to an end. In her writings and in her personal relationships, Kemble spoke out for abolition; she was truly an early civil rights pioneer. The second point is that, in her personal life, Kemble found a correlation between the institution of slavery and the institution of marriage, and although dignified in her behavior, “was committed to the idea that men and women should treat each other as equals.” This conclusion, reached after many years of soul-searching, was a hundred years ahead of its time. Scott’s Fanny Kemble’s America is a moral work that persuades readers of the importance of integrity and of fulfilling, as Kemble did, “her duty to her family, and to mankind.”