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Moskal, Jeanne. 'Introduction to Mariana Starke's The Sword of Peace; or, A Voyage of Love (1788).' British Women Playwrights around 1800. 15 January 2000. 7 pars. <http://www.etang.umontreal.ca/bwp1800/essays/moskal_sword_intro.html>


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1.

Mariana Starke (?1762-1838) was best known in the nineteenth century as a travel writer. Her guidebooks, such as Information and Directions for Travellers on the Continent (1820), give copious advice on sightseeing, routes, museums, and tipping, and were reissued in various forms throughout the nineteenth century. Starke is almost certainly the inventor of typographical rating system for tourist sights and destinations, which we now know under the guise of "four-star restaurants" or "five-star hotels": she accorded one, two, or three exclamation points to each painting in a gallery, so that the footweary tourist would know which ones merited his limited attention. When the information in her guidebooks was absorbed, without attribution, into the lucrative and famously successful Handbooks for Travellers series begun in the 1830s by publisher John Murray, Starke began to fall into an obscurity that has only now begun to be remedied. (1)

2. Starke grew up in India, where her father, Richard Starke, served as governor of the British East India Company's post at Fort St. George in Madras. She launched her literary career with two plays about India, produced in London: The Sword of Peace (1788), an original comedy; and The Widow of Malabar (1791), an "imitation" of La Veuve de Malabar by Le Mierre. They were moderately successful, but the criticism seems to have mortified Starke, inspiring her to turn to the genres of travel writing and poetry, which did not demand that the writer involve herself in the public matters of production, rehearsal, and performance. She then accompanied an invalid relative to Italy for seven years, where she witnessed the impact of Napoleon's first Italian campaign. She recounted it in a travel memoir, Letters from Italy (1800), adding a compendium of advice for the British traveler to Italy. During the rest of the war, while travel was difficult—Napoleon famously declared that no Briton could tread with safety the lands over which he held sway—Starke worked as an imitator and an translator, writing The Tournament, a tragedy; imitated from the celebrated German drama, entitled Agnes Bernauer (1800); and adapting an Italian poet to produce The Beauties of Carlo Maria Maggi, paraphrased: to which are added Sonnets, by Mariana Starke (1811). After the war ended in 1815, Starke returned to the Continent, finding her literary voice in guidebooks for a British public flocking to France and Italy after years of wartime interdiction on travel. She died in 1838, en route from Naples to England.
3.

The Sword of Peace; or, a Voyage of Love, a sentimental comedy in five acts, was probably first performed in the private theater of drama patron Mary Champion Crespigny of Camberwell; it premiered at the Theatre Royal at Haymarket, with a prologue by George Colman the Elder, the theatre's manager, and an epilogue by George Colman the Younger, on Saturday, August 9, 1788, the last new piece of the summer season. It was performed six times in 1788 and four times in 1789. It received mixed reviews. The actors—Miss (Elizabeth) Farren, Mrs. (Stephen George) Kemble, and Mr. (John) Bannister, Jr.—were particularly praised, and a contemporary diarist records general applause for the play from a crowded house. (2) But Starke was also blasted for a lack of verisimilitude, and despite her efforts at self-defense, this opprobrium is still attached to the play's reputation as late as 1832. In her self-defense, Starke also denied a rumor that called her a grocer's daughter and an adventuress who wrote the play only to keep her family from starving. Her distress and embarrassment are palpable in the preface to the 2nd edition of Sword of Peace (1789) and in a letter to the Morning Chronicle, (3) and she declares her intention to disappear from the public gaze.

4. The playscript, which is strongly nationalistic in sentiment, divides its characters into dichotomous groups, the sincere and honorable exemplars of aristocratic English virtue and the corrupt, lascivious upstarts. The romantic plot depicts the sojourn in India of two young women cousins, Louisa and Eliza Moreton. Louisa has come to buy back, on behalf of Sir Thomas Clairville, the sword of his nephew, a young British solider who died in India and bequeathed it to his best friend, Lieutenant Dormer. Eliza's father's will requires her to journey to India in order to inherit her rightful wealth. And, by happy coincidence, she also seeks in India her faithful admirer George Edwards, a baronet's son, who left England for India when his family, thinking Eliza penniless, forbade the attachment. Eliza and Louise's motives are explicitly contrasted with those of mercenary husband-hunters, an ungenerous characterization on Starke's part of the many financially desperate women who tried the Indian marriage market, where there were three British men to every British woman, only when the domestic one failed to provide them with what Jane Austen called a woman's surest preservative from want. Mrs. Tartar, a wealthy, indolent widow and the ruling dame of Anglo-Indian society, arranges a party to advertise the young women's eligibility, a practice Eliza compares to the slave trade. The Resident, or Governor of the colony, whose corruption is suggested by his wearing a banyan (a Hindu garment), hints lewdly that he would like to marry Eliza himself and use Louisa as a reward for his sycophantic and greedy underling, Supple. Louisa conveys Sir Thomas's offer to Dormer, and is so impressed with Dormer's devotion to the late Clairville that she falls in love with him, a feeling he returns but does not avow. Through Dormer, the young women reunite with his friend, Edwards, Eliza's admirer. The Resident seeks to ruin Edwards's happiness with Eliza by having him falsely arrested for debts, freezing Eliza's funds so she cannot post bail. The plot discovered, the young women take refuge in the home of Mr. and Mrs. David Northcote, an upright merchant of the colony. The attachment between Dormer and Louisa is avowed and that between Eliza and Edwards restored. Their happiness is guaranteed by a new social order in the colony: a late-arriving British ship brings the news that Northcote is to succeed the current Resident, effective immediately. The entire colony, Briton and Indian alike, rejoices.
5.

Because The Sword of Peace depicts the replacement of a corrupt British official in an unnamed India colony by a more just regime, it obliquely but unavoidably participates in the controversy over the impeachment of Warren Hastings, raging in the House of Commons at the time of the play's premiere, and comments on the recent replacement, in 1786, of Hastings as Governor-General of India by Lord Cornwallis. The Hastings trial served as a lightning rod for powerful, unresolved issues in British colonial policy and the class conflict of the late eighteenth century. Hastings' success and ruthlessness as a military leader, especially in the Rohilla War of 1774, forced Britons to recognize that the EIC, a mercantile enterprise, was in fact functioning as a government, with almost no accountability to recognized civil authorities. Corruption in the EIC was widespread, and salaries were so low that EIC personnel, often from the lowest classes of society, were almost invited to engage in private trade within India. The phenomenal wealth of the nabobs—Britons who returned to England enriched—led Horace Walpole to lament in 1773 that English identity was now lost in "a sink of Indian wealth" and exacerbated the fears of the aristocracy that their privileges were being usurped by these upstarts from the lower orders. Some hope was brought to the situation by the appointment of Cornwallis, who began implementing reforms as soon as he arrived in India in 1786. Starke's preface to the 1789 edition declares that all Anglo-Indians would immediately recognize in her character Northcote, the "noble and unbounded goodness" of Cornwallis. Even before she acknowledge this link, Starke's audience, fascinated by and saturated with the Hastings trial, could not have divorced a play about India from the figures of Hastings and Cornwallis.

6.

In Starke's abolitionist subplot, Jefferys (spelled various ways), the head servant of the Moreton cousins, becomes intrigued by Caesar, an African slave owned by Mrs. Tartar as part of an extravagant system, in which one slave carries Jefferys' coat to another, who brushes it, and in which slaves carry the cards to the table and pick up the card tricks during a game played by indolent Anglo-Indian women. Jefferys buys Caesar, frees him, and instructs him in the meaning of true English liberty. Caesar cannot imagine any freedom better than serving such a kind master, so he remains in Jeffrey's' employ. Though she writes about the relatively small presence of African slaves in India, Starke capitalized on the current outrage against the Atlantic slave trade, marked by the founding in 1787 of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade. In May of 1788, the year of the play's premiere, William Pitt the Younger, the Prime minister, had persuaded the House of Commons to debate the slave trade in the next session; abolitionists responded by waging the largest petitioning campaign on a public matter Britain had ever seen. 1788 saw the minting of Josiah Wedgewood's famous medallion of the kneeling slave ("Am I not a man and a brother?") and the publication of numerous abolitionist poems, such as William Cowper's "Pity for Poor Africans" and Hannah More's Slavery, A Poem. As with her depiction of the changing of the guard in British India, Starke had her finger on the public pulse.

7.

The apparent contradiction, to present-day scholars, between the conservative stance she takes on India and the radical abolitionist position, is fruitfully seen within the nationalist discourse of late eighteenth-century Britain. Starke's presentation of a myth of a restored English national identity is an oblique strategy for addressing practical political issues, such as the Hastings trial and the cause of abolitionism, a strategy that attempts to evade the disreputability of women discoursing about the masculine sphere of politics.

 

Jeanne Moskal
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Jeanne Moskal is Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She edited Mary Shelley's travel writings for volume 8 of The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley (1996) and authored Blake, Ethics, and Forgiveness (1994). She is currently working on a study of British women travel writers and the politics of the Napoleonic Wars and is editing Mary Wollstonecraft's Letters from Norway for Broadview Press.

Notes

1. The Sword of Peace has recently been reprinted for the first time in a modern edition in volume five of Slavery, Abolition and Emancipation: Writings in the Britihs Romantic Period, edited by Jeffrey N. Cox (London: Pickering & Chatto, 1999). (back)
2. Mary Julia Young, Memoirs of Mrs. Crouch, including a retrospect of the stage during the years she performed , 2 vols. (London: James Asperne, 1806) vol. II, p. 45. (back)
3. Mariana Starke, 'Letter to The Morning Chronicle,' rpt. in Biographica Dramatica; or, a companion to the playhouse: containing historical and critical memoirs..., ed. David Erskine Baker, Isaac Reed, and Stephen Jones, 3 vols. (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1812). (back)