Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Fanny Kemble and Microhistory

            I really enjoyed Mr. Quigley’s presentation, and one of my favorite aspects was his discussion of micro-history as a concept. The idea of using narrative to make a greater point reminded me of Tim O’Brien’s novel The Things They Carried and his ideas of truer than true. In that book, O’Brien suggests that many war stories that never happened are “truer than true” largely because they reflect the greater realities of war, an idea that seems quite similar to that of the pregnant principle of a micro-history. I do think, however, that it is important to be careful with these micro-histories, specifically in that they can often lose that pregnant principle or become vehicles for ideas they do not truly reflect. I felt that this was sometimes the case in Fanny Kemble’s story. While I felt that she represented an excellent microcosm of the power struggle between the Copperheads and Republicans and of American’s greater feelings about slavery, I felt that her story failed in many ways when it came to feminism.

            Perhaps the most important piece of this failure to me was that Kemble often failed to exist outside the patriarchal power structures of her time. She began her stage career because her father needed help, she gave up her career as soon as she married, and she refused to publish her journal for years due to loyalty towards her former husband. Now, none of this is to diminish her formidable accomplishments. Her ideas about slavery were interesting and important, and her skill as a writer is clearly evident in her journal. One area where she did seem to stand as someone especially interested in women’s issues was her relationship with her husband. She seemed to feel that a large portion of the problems in their relationship stemmed from his treatment of her as an inferior, and seemed to clearly desire a more equal relationship. All that said, I do not think she has any special resonance as a feminist icon.

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