chapter  6
30 Pages

British Travelers and the “Condition-of-America Question”: Defining America in the 1830s

ByElizabeth J. Deis, Lowell T. Frye

In September of 1832, esteemed British actress Fanny Kemble arrived on American soil for the first time, generally displeased with much of what "this new world" had to offer. The journal consists of some 31 personal letters addressed to Kemble's American friend, Elizabeth Dwight Sedgwick. Kemble's narrative voice performs slave experience for its transatlantic audience, thus presenting what Roach would call an "opposition to the official voice of history" that has the potential to unsettle dominant narratives of slavery in the late 1830s American South. Kemble's identity as public performer attracts readers to her journal, and the journal itself performs for audiences including Elizabeth Sedgwick, British readers, and American readers. A look at Kemble's biography readily reveals her broad experience performing for audiences across Europe and America. In processes of narrating such cultural performances, Kemble's simultaneously self-conscious and haughty English tones are woven intermittently into her important, yet problematic, role as "surrogate" for black American slave culture.