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Mariana Starke

Starke, Mariana, 1762—1838

by Benjamin Colbert

Mariana Starke was born September 1762 and baptised at Epson, Surrey, on 23 October. She was the eldest daughter of Richard Starke (1719-94), formerly deputy governor of Fort St. David, Madras (1752-56), and his wife Mary Starke, née Hughes (1734/5-1816). She was brought up on her father’s estate, Hylands House, at Epsom; though her early writings in the drama drew on Indian themes, there is no evidence she ever visited that region.

Her earliest publication was a co-translation (with Millecent Parkhurst, later Thomas) of Madame de Genlis’s Theatre of Education (1787) before she turned her hand to the theatre. Her comedy The Sword of Peace was performed in the Hay Market on 9 August 1788 and published anonymously the following year. An unpublished play, The British Orphan, was first performed at Mary (Clark) Crespigny’s (1748-1812) private theatre in Camberwell, in April 1790; Starke and her brother Richard acted parts in it. Her tragedy Widow of Malabar (1791) and a long poem, The Poor Soldier (1789), were both dedicated to Crespigny who was an important friend to Starke in these years.

In 1792, Starke, her father, mother, and sister Louisa departed for the south of France and Italy. All, save Starke herself, were suffering from tuberculosis at various stages and Starke would be employed for some years nursing them. Her youngest sister, Louisa (1772-92), died in Nice on the journey out, followed in 1794 by her father, who died at Pisa and was buried at Leghorn. Starke, however, continued her ministrations to her mother until her return to England in 1798, when she herself succumbed to a protracted illness. She was nevertheless able to bring out an edition of her travel notes under the imprint of Sir Richard Phillips as Letters from Italy (1800), augmented and reprinted by Phillips in 1802 as Travels in Italy.

Starke settled in Exmouth sometime before 1811, when her poetical paraphrases, The Beauties of Carlo Maria Maggi, appeared, dated from that town, and printed by Shirley Woolmer, a local printer. When not travelling on the continent, Exmouth became Starke’s permanent base in England. From here, Starke first contacted John Murray on 13 March 1814 about the possibility of bringing out a much expanded edition of Letters from Italy under the Murray imprint, now that Phillips had retired. With a keen business eye, Starke predicted that a work that ‘comprehends every kind of information most needful to continental travellers’ would, in the event of a peace between England and France, support the ‘immediate & immense’ emigration likely to ensue. ‘Allow me to enquire,’ she wrote Murray, ‘whether, if that event occurs, you would like to purchase the above-named work’.

In the end, Murray demurred and the new edition was picked up by G. and S. Robinson. But Murray was not slow to recognize thereafter the commercial prescience of his correspondent as to the needs of travellers for accurate and up-to-date information about continental destinations. Starke’s Travels on the Continent (1820) and Travels in Europe (1828), both published by Murray, emphasise their ‘usefulness’ and became the prototypes for Murray’s own handbooks for travellers, not to mention other guidebook series. In place of and superseding a fourth edition of Letters, Travels on the Continent incorporates material from a further continental tour and residence in Italy from May 1717 to June 1819. From 1824, it was augmented and published under the title of Information and Directions for Travellers on the Continent, denominated on the title page as the 5th edition (of Letters from Italy).

The popularity of Starke’s book was undeniable, though not without detractors, such as the author of the satiric ‘Verses Written in a Blank Leaf of Mrs. Starke’s “Guide for Travellers”' published in John Bull in 1836: ‘She calls Italians “civil,” / Yet says, “they often cheat;” / And that you “first must bargain” / For all you buy and eat’. Starke herself reports a more sinister response from ‘Irish’ tour guides in Rome who imposed extravagant fees upon unwary tourists: ‘Another person … wrote me a letter … protesting that if I persevered in opening the eyes of travellers with respect to expenses on the Continent I might expect to be assassinated’ (Letter to John Murray, 27 Jan. 1832).

Undeterred, Starke continued to enlarge her book following extended visits to the continent in 1824-25 and 1827-30. In 1827 she reported to Murray that Galignani’s and other pirate editions of her work were vying with legitimate sales and that Murray would need to do more to maintain sufficient stocks of the authentic versions for sale abroad. In 1832, when delays in the publication of the eighth edition vexed her, she tried another tack and threatened to supply Galignani direct with new material so that the currency of her work would not be compromised. This quest for currency and accuracy was gruelling, requiring frequent visits abroad and much travelling on Starke’s part. On what turned out to be her final trip of this nature, Starke died at Milan on 18 April 1838, en route from Naples to England, aged 76.


Baigent, Elizabeth. 'Starke, Mariana (1762–1838), traveller and writer'. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 19 May 2011. Oxford University Press. Web. 2 Oct. 2017. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/26314

Blain, Virginia, Patricia Clements, and Isobel Grundy. The Feminist Companion to Literature in English: Women Writers from the Middle Ages to the Present. London: B. T. Batsford, 1990. 1023. Print.

‘Camberwell Theatricals’. Public Advertiser, no. 17397 (Sat., 10 April 1790). Gale Databases: 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers. Web. 2 Oct. 2017.

Crawford, Elizabeth. 'Mariana Starke'. Woman and Her Sphere. Web. 2 Oct. 2017.

‘Died’. Morning Chronicle, no 7151 (Wed., 9 May 1792). Gale Databases: 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers. Web. 2 Oct. 2017.

Pitcher, E. W. ‘Mariana Starke and Millecent Thomas: Early Translators of Genlis’s Le Théâtre à l’usage des jeunes personnes (1779-1780)’. Notes & Queries 45.1 (Mar. 1998): 81-82. Print.

Starke, Mariana. Letters to John Murray. 1814-1836. MSS. John Murray Archive. Natl. Lib. Scotland, Edinburgh.

‘Verses Written in a Blank Leaf of Mrs. Starke’s “Guide for Travellers.”’ John Bull, no. 811 (Mon., 27 June 1836): 205. Gale Databases: New Readerships. Web. 2 Oct. 2017.


Title Published
Letters from Italy 1800
Travels on the Continent 1820
Travels in Europe between the Years 1824 and 1828 1828

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