Celebrity came easily to Fanny Kemble, born in 1809 to the most famous theatrical family in all of Europe. The Kembles ruled the dramatic world in England, but in 1829, when her father's theater was facing financial ruin, it was his lovely 20-year-old daughter who brought back audiences and became famous for her spirited performances. Girls became Fanny Kemble wannabes, wearing "Fanny Kemble curls" and "Fanny Kemble caps." The talented thespian even managed to marry for love, to a Georgia plantation inheritor named Pierce Butler. This decision would thrust Kemble out of her cocktail world and into direct contact with the American institution of slavery. In 1835, she became a key figure in the abolitionist movement when she wrote of the horrors of slave life on her husband's island plantations.
Catherine Clinton's Fanny Kemble's Civil Wars (Simon & Schuster, $26, 302 pages) tells the life story of the actress-gone-author, whose Journals of Residence on a Georgian Plantation was a thorough and unexpurgated look at slavery that influenced Europe to support the Union cause during the Civil War. Clinton will be coming to the Triangle to read from her book, making appearances on Wednesday, Sept. 27 at Quail Ridge Books at 7:30 p.m., and on Sept. 28 at the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh.