This weekend's Jane Austen Festival in Louisville will feature a one-woman play about Fanny Kemble, a legendary English actress and author who wrote in the style of Jane Austen.
“Shame the Devil: an Audience with Fanny Kemble, written by Anne Ludlum, is based on Kemble’s own journals. Kemble never met Jane Austen—she was only six when the novelist died. But Austenites celebrating the Regency Era this weekend will hear a deep kinship between the two women.
“Both Jane Austen and Fanny Kemble were writers all of their lives, and they were both perceptive observers of people and society and culture,” says director Kathi E.B. Ellis. “In that respect, although they never met, their writing and their view of the world and the way they recount the world has a lot of similarities.”
“She’s so precise about who she sees and what she thinks about them, so much in the way that Jane Austen, when you read her novels, her heroines always have very pithy, sometimes humorous, sometimes acerbic opinions about everybody she comes in contact with,” she adds.
The play stars Megan Burnett, who plays the actress and the many people in her life—English and American, man and woman, free and slave, as well as the many characters Kemble plays in the one-woman staged readings of Shakespeare's plays she toured with after she officially retired from theater.
“It is a tour de force for the person playing the role,” says director Kathi Ellis. “There are some wonderful passages of Shakespeare in the piece.”
Kemble toured the United States with her father, Charles Kemble, for two years, performing all over the Eastern seaboard. On her tour, she fell in love with and married Pierce Butler, a young man from Philadelphia whose family owned plantation lands in the Sea Islands of Georgia.
She’s best known for the journals she published of her time living on the plantation, in which she condemned slavery. Her writings, as an outspoken, influential outsider, helped fuel the abolitionist movement.
“It’s really interesting both to read her journal and hear her refer to how she handled those three months, trying to make a difference on a plantation and in some small ways succeeding, but one person against a system that’s entrenched is not necessarily going to make a difference,” says Ellis.
The Jane Austen Festival runs Saturday and Sunday at Locust Grove. The event also features a Regency Era fashion show, bare-knuckle boxing demonstrations and a children’s tea.