Read The Maharani of Arakan yourself to decide whether it is (just) ‘A Romantic Comedy’, as George playfully subtitled it, or a ‘Symbolist Mystery Play’ (allegory)! Having re-read it over the weekend, I increasingly feel it’s the latter.
If it is a ‘Romantic Comedy’, I can well understand why one reviewer called it ‘a pleasant little excursion’ and another ‘trite’. But The Times was correct to say of it in 1916 that it ‘has many meanings’, and the TLS awarded it those high Edwardian accolades ‘charming and significant’. The Stage, too, called it ‘full of interest and charm from start to finish’. Everyone seemed to agree that it was magical in performance, with its Indian music and its songs written by Tagore specially.
There is, I have noticed now, a very interesting parallel with The Lamp. Amina, the exiled Mogul princess whose father was killed by the father of Dalia, current King of Arakan, is incited by her sister to kill Dalia with her father’s own dagger because Dalia ‘inherits his father’s guilt’. But Amina objects: ‘His son is innocent. […] Does not the Koran also teach us to forgive? […] Allah did not send me here to die, but to live, to breathe — to love.’ Sentiments very reminiscent of Myrrhina’s in The Lamp (see quotation in post of 3 April).
George was sceptical about the political empowerment of women, as were most British women in his lifetime. But always he believed in their self-fulfilment, in equal opportunities, in women’s need for economic and personal independence. Rather like Chekhov in his later works (Lady with Little Dog, Three Sisters, Betrothed), George focussed in The Fountain, The Maharani of Arakan, and The Lamp, on women’s own identity, vitality, and freedom from oppressive uncaring ideas.
Next entry: 15 April 1915