Born in 1809, Fanny Kemble became an overnight sensation as Shakespeare’s Juliet, saving London’s Covent Garden theatre from bankruptcy in autumn 1829. A prominent personality throughout the 19th century, “the celebrated Mrs Kemble” was a prolific commentator on this fascinating period, authoring one of the seminal pre-war anti-slavery texts, her 1830s account of life on her American husband’s slave plantation.
Fanny Kemble at 53
'If I had my choice I would rather live forwards, that is, have my head in my hand (martyr fashion, which is an allegorical representations of what befalls people with a propensity for living before their time), and carry it a little in advance of my body. People are so prejudiced in favour of the stupid, common usage, and so ill-natured towards those who depart from it.'
Fanny Kemble, aged 53
Fanny Kemble, the Actress
One 20 year-old fan was so moved by Fanny's performance as Juliet, he wrote to his mother - 'Her execution of the last scene was original as simple & sublime...She came forward on one knee, drove the dagger into her heart with the calmest look of desperation - gave a look of deep agony, turned her head around with a smile of triumphant defiance, bounded up as with a tremendous convulsion and fell flat on her back. The impression was quite awful.'
Fanny Kemble & Stephenson's Rocket
As a young star, Fanny Kemble rode beside George Stephenson on a trial run of his steam engine, The Rocket, in summer 1830. She was also present at the famous opening of the first passenger railway from Liverpool to Manchester on 15 September, 1830, and witnessed the fatal accident that killed William Huskisson, the MP for Liverpool, when he was struck by a passing engine. See an animation of the Rocket here www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/launch_ani_rocket.shtml.
Fanny Kemble aged 19, at the time of the Covent Garden debut in Romeo and Juliet that made her a star overnight. This was the last portrait completed by Regency portraitist, Sir Thomas Lawrence. The artist's interpretation was said to be influenced by long-dead cousins of Fanny's - Sally and Maria Siddons - with whom Lawrence had been intermittently in love in his youth. (Read the story @ blog: The Passionate Artist - or a Regency Stalker.)