Later Life

Her father died on the 13th June 1817, and she later finished his memoirs. Her father's death was a source of much grief to her. In 1819 she went again to London and in 1820 to Paris and Geneva returning to Edgeworthstown in March 1821.

Edgeworthstown house around this period witnessed many literary visits. Two of these visitors are particularly notable. Firstly there was that of Sir Walter Scott in 1825, who held Maria in high esteem and wished he could attempt for Scotland what she had done for Ireland. Secondly, William Wordsworth visited in 1829, although his Romantic output did not meet with unqualified approval from Maria.

Maria was eighty when she witnessed the worst effects of the famine in 1846. Like her father she was untiring in her efforts to improve the lot of the distressed tenants all around her. Her altruism however was founded on the principles of political economy outlined by her father.

For example during the famine she approved a regulation that barley for sowing should be doled out only to those who could produce a receipt for the last half year's rent. Some of her admirers in Boston sent a hundred and fifty barrels of flour to her for the poor and starving. Her brother Francis died in 1846 and her favourite sister Fanny in 1848, which coupled with attacks of illness, tried her severely. Having worked to the last, she died on 22 May 1849.

Although much of her output has now dated, in particular her attempts to be a moralist (particularly true of her collaborations with her father) and her tales dealing with fashionable life, when she deals with Irish life and character she is at her best. In both Castle Rackrent and to a lesser degree in The Absentee she is content to let the character speak for itself and leaves to the story itself the duty of pointing its moral. In many ways her importance stems from the Act of Union of 1801 which led to a rapid decline in the use of the Irish language.

This created room for Irish literature in English, with sufficient Irish characters to distinguish from English literature. In this development Maria Edgeworth remains an important figure, because she separated herself from the common realism of the eighteenth century novel and introduced with her Irish characters, based on people on her Longford estate, an energetic and independent personage.

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