Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Fanny Kemble and Micro-history

I was surprised to learn about Fanny Kemble this week partially because I had never heard of her before. It seems to me that a person with as great of an influence as her should be mentioned when discussing abolition.

Fanny's journal piqued my interest. I was amazed to find that she was blunt and honest, describing her feelings exactly how she felt them without softening anything. She described her husband in such a straightforward manner that was almost inspiring and led us to better understand the strength she had as a woman in that time.

I would like for a moment to compare Fanny Kemble to Virginia Woolf. In Woolf's novel, To The Lighthouse, she creates a character by the name of Lily Briscoe. Lily is a direct reflection of Woolf herself who she has entered into her writing as a form of self-expression. Lily, an independent and free spirited artist who desires to break from the expectations of her as a woman, paints to describe her feelings. Woolf expresses her critique of women conforming to these roles as housewives serving men through her character, Lily. Living in a patriarchal society, Woolf found it very difficult to be a successful female writer. Fanny Kemble, just like Woolf, chose to break free from her duties as a female and pursue the activity for which she had a true passion. Although she was condemned for her actions in the worst way, Fanny continued to express her disapproval and "disgust" with her husband and the practice of slavery. This little piece of Micro-history seems to connect to a larger theme. Fanny's strength as a woman and her drive to veer from the expectations of her as a woman are efforts that eventually pushed the feminist movement that we still see today. The freedom for women to paint like Lily, write like Virginia Woolf, or act like Kemble is a big step in history that we sometimes take for granted. Without Kemble and similar women of her time we would not see gender equality in the same way.

In Mr. Quigley's presentation I noticed more of Kemble's feminist nature. The letters she wrote, which were not published until much later, served as a direct expression of her feelings. Fanny knew that slavery was horrible and inhumane. Her persistence in gaining more leeway for pregnant slaves showed her belief that her husband's practices were beyond unfair. It only brings me to the question again, why don't we applaud Fanny for her achievements and bravery? It seems that she was not able to change much about her husband and she was certainly not granted any more freedom in her own life, but her efforts should not go unnoticed.


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