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A Star’s Galaxy

July 2024
1min read

Fanny’s circle of intimates included many of the “greats” of the Englishspeaking world over a span of three quarters of a century. Thackeray, her brother’s college chum, was a lifelong friend and admirer. Mendelssohn knew her as a fellow guest at parties in great English country houses, where he sometimes played his Midsummer Night’s Dream music as background to Fanny’s reading of the play. Trelawny, who had snatched Shelley’s heart from the funeral pyre, failed after a vigorous courtship to win Fanny’s. Channing, the Unitarian saint, talked with her at length about the abolition of slavery. Irving urged her on the eve of her marriage to “begin another and a brighter course with matured powers.” Sully, the Philadelphia portraitist, befriended her during the early years of her stormy marriage. Sumner, the abolitionist senator, was her friend and unofficial marriage counselor. The Brownings knew and loved her as part of the expatriate society in Rome. Choate defended her in the sensational divorce action. Wister, author of The Virginian , had the benefit of his grandmother’s literary criticism from an early age. James was her young escort in London when Fanny Kemble Butler was an aged but glamourous grande dame .

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