General Jack Speaks: A Play

General Jack Speaks

 This short monologue attempts to capture a little of the spirit and story of Marion Jack (1866-1954), a legendary Canadian Baha’i pioneer who was much extolled by the Faith’s Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, and much loved by ‘Abdu’l-Baha, the son its Founder. The three “letters” that Marion “writes” during the play are fictional, though based on letters that she wrote to, among others, fellow believers Ella Robarts and Edna True. The text uses Marion’s own words where possible, and such quotations are indicated in bold print. Statements about “Jacky” written by or on behalf of the Guardian are underlined. She was nearly 90 when she died in Sofia, Bulgaria, her pioneer post since the early 1930s.


[Marion Jack, in the middle of the stage, is seated at a small desk in her tiny hotel room writing a letter and reminiscing. An off-stage voice introduces her.]

“[Marion Jack] was such a lovely person– so joyous and happy that one loved to be with her. Her shining eyes and beautiful smile showed how much the Baha’i Faith meant to her….We used to love to go to her studio and talk with her, also to see her paintings of the Holy Land and familiar Green Acre landscapes….She always entered into any plan with zest….If we could all radiate happiness as did Jacky, I am sure we would attract more people to the Faith.”


[Marion looks up and begins speaking.]

August, 1945

My dear Ella,

This terrible war is finally over, and perhaps things can return to normal now. I apologize for using a pencil, but my little inkpot has dried up. I began this letter in a little coffee shop. I like that place as I have had the chance of speaking to a couple of fine men here, so lately I try to frequent it in hopes of catching a listening ear…[and] pass on the Glad Tidings. Our dear Alma Knoblauch used to haunt the restaurants when she pioneered to Germany. God grant that there may be as much success in this corner of the world as she had in hers!

Of course, things have been difficult at times. The Greek Orthodox Church was very strong when I first came, and then there was the Nazi period. The people here have not the perfect freedom of America – and especially in the German domination were very closely watched. I was called to the police and asked to disgorge names of Bulgarian Baha’is. But I politely refused. They had a few, but received no satisfaction from yours truly. And now it seems that the Communists have a firm hold on Bulgaria. But all in God’s good time I feel there will be active doings in the Balkans of a spiritual nature, as well as elsewhere in Europe.

When the Allies bombed Sofia, my hotel was destroyed, as was the home where we stored all the Bulgarian editions of Baha’u’llah and the New Era. (And my Bulgarian is so poor!) After the bombing we were evacuated to a small village outside Sofia, during which all my luggage was stolen. It seems wonderful, what one can do without.

How little I knew in those youthful years in Paris!

[Marion removes her tattered shawl, sheds 50 years, dons a large, dramatic hat with yellow flowers and strides stage left. She dances with a fellow student.]

I was painting in the Latin Quarter, and one day I met Charles at a fancy dress ball. Perhaps he noticed my hand-made yellow hat. After we danced, he told me of the Baha’i Cause, and I began going to meetings to learn more.

[She sighs, removes her hat, and shuffles back to her writing desk.]    

May, 1948

My dear, generous Edna,

I should have written…but the fact is that I was so blue for a few days and could write nothing….I am longing for news of the joyous event in Geneva. I so wanted to see again the dear friends and pioneers in Europe, but it proved impossible to obtain my visa, for we British are quite démodé here. In any case, I met my Waterloo from beginning to end….My only consolation is that I mean to make a greater effort in the work here. I remain cautious, as I do not want the dear ones to get into trouble, and hope to stay with the darlings yet a little while. And some of the newest believers are among the best

At first, I thought I could use the travel money you spent for having things typed in Bulgarian, [but] no chance for any printing now. Don’t speak of my trotting off to travel in Switzerland or anywhere else, cherie. I need neither ‘change’ nor ‘rest’. The greatest rest and change for me is to see things stirring heavenward in the souls of the dear ones here….This little country is my job, dear Edna….I love beauty, but the greatest beauty to me is to see the light of the attraction to the sacred teachings in the faces of the beloved of God….We are forbidden to meet these days, but I am able to see my dear ones individually or in small groups….And by the way, I am using your generous gift for the luxury of taxis, of all things, for my silly old back needs help in getting about. Honestly, girlie, 81 years old is quite an age! None of my forebears achieved it.

I am pining for news. Don’t think I am forgetting any of you precious friends for that is farthest from my thoughts. I still remember Green Acre. In the summer you all seem nearer than at other times…

[Marion again stands erect, grabs a painting hat and strides to her easel stage right and “paints” as she speaks.]

Oh, Green Acre! I loved my little cottage, my studio, that glorious pine grove, the little Chinese bridge over “my” pond! And especially, I was so blessed to have been in the company of the Master, and in His visit to London, and of course 1908 when I was teaching His family English. (Shoghi Effendi was a lovely boy!) I loved to make the Master laugh, as it always felt that He was cheering up others but bearing so much weary weight Himself! I have heard people say that He called me “General Jack” because of my leadership, but really! I am a common or garden woman. Oh, to be one of those who are so shining that their very presence speaks! I think the Master called me “General” because of the way I charge about in my rather ‘unladylike’ way! He used to tease me about getting married, but I have no time to devote to partners….I may roam into places where those who are tied down cannot venture. And, after all, no matter how beautiful married life is, the life of the spirit is even more beautiful. Blessed be liberty I say!

And roam I did: Alaska, Vancouver, Montreal, Chicago, summers in Green Acre. ‘Abdu’l-Baha had promised me in a Tablet that I would return to Haifa, and in 1931, our beloved Guardian invited me for pilgrimage. I was able to paint Akka and the Sacred Shrines. Shoghi Effendi asked me to visit dear Louise Gregory, the spiritual mother of Bulgaria, in Sofia. And I did, but some months later she became ill and had to leave, and someone had to carry on her work.

[She shuffles back to her desk. She is clearly tired and feeling her age.]

November, 1953

My darling niece,

You ask again if I will ever leave, and I must tell you that I will not. Several friends have left Bulgaria and long to return, but have been refused visas. Once of out of this country one may have to stay out. So, I will remain at the switch. This is my work.

My old rabbit skin has sadly lost its feathers and really looks forlorn in big spots, nevertheless it keeps one warm and that is the chief thing….My cloth coat is that of a real hobo – mended until it fairly groans in self-defence. The two pockets are sending up their dying gasps. As I usually carry two bags, I hustle and cover the worst spots on the pelt if anyone is coming who seems to matter. 

I think always of you back home, and the beloved Baha’is wherever they are.

[Marion rises slowly from her desk, walks to the edge of the stage, and gazes forward.] And I think also of the dear friends that I have lost: Martha, and May, and Lua, and so many beloved ones. We will all be together one of these days. Think of the Glory of it! It seems too good to be true! But I know that one day, I will meet again and talk with ‘Abdu’l-Baha. ..

[As she imagines the heavenly reunion, an off-stage voice concludes:]

Voice over:

“Let them remember Marion Jack, who for over twenty years, in a country the language of which she never mastered; during war and bombardment; evacuation and poverty; and at length, serious illness, stuck to her post, and has now blessed the soil of the land she had chosen to serve at such cost with her precious remains….The Guardian, himself, during the war, on more than one occasion urged her to seek safety in Switzerland rather than remain behind enemy lines and be entirely cut off. However, she begged the Guardian not to insist, and assured him her one desire was to remain with her spiritual children. This she did, up to the last breath of her glorious life. Her tomb will become a national shrine, immensely loved and revered, as the Faith rises in stature in that country…. Every Baha’i and most particularly those who have left their homes and gone to serve in foreign fields, should know of, and turn their gaze to, Marion Jack.”



A shorter version of this monologue will be performed by Diana Cartwright at the 2012 “Family Reunion” of foreign Baha’is living in China, an annual conclave held in Hong Kong in October.

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