Literary Output

It is of course for her literary output that Maria Edgeworth is remembered today. Although she would have witnessed the American revolution, the French revolution, the rise and fall of Napoleon and the suppressed revolts of 1798 and 1848, it was in her youth she gained her intimate acquaintance with Ireland and it is memories of this period which surface in the majority of her work.

Her first literary output came in 1795, when Letters to Literary Ladies, a plea for the education for women, was published. Much of her earlier work was a collaboration with her father, and did contain a large element of didacticism, however well intentioned.

In the spirit of Rousseau and the age of Enlightenment, and above all encouraged by her father, she had published in 1796 a series of pedagogical works for children called The Parent's Assistant. In 1798 Practical Education appeared with both works read widely in England and beyond although like most of the early work of Goldsmith, hopelessly dated today.

Her masterpiece Castle Rackrent was published anonymously in 1800 by the London bookseller and publisher Johnson with its popularity evident from the fact that less than 14 years later it was in its fifth edition.

It was not until the third edition that Maria mustered the courage to put her name on the book. This novel, in portraying the Irish and the social conditions they endured is very realistic, although the realism is never hostile.

It is also the first novel she wrote alone although her father did add the preface. Perhaps because of this it is written without a trace of verbosity and appears modern because Maria does not place herself between the reader and the narrator, Thady Quirke. It was also influenced by Enlightenment philosophy, namely that knowledge and rationality lead to virtue.

It also presents to us in the form of Thady Quirke, whose whole tale reeks of ambiguity, a new picture of the independent Irish, loyal servants, with a wink, but never submissive!

Maria and her father went on a visit to France in 1802 and received many civilities from distinguished literary people.

They returned to Edgeworthstown in 1803 and Maria continued to write profusely.

Longer novels like Belinda soon followed and even after her rejection of marriage (previously mentioned) her output was prodigious, writing half-a-dozen volumes between then and 1812. It was Popular Tales, published in 1812, that contained some of her more critically acclaimed work, including Rosanna, while Tales of Fashionable Life, issued in the same year contained The Absentee, a strong indictment of the majority of the landlord class.

In fact originally this was meant to be performed as a play, but Sheridan wouldn't perform it in London because he feared it would be banned by the censors. This is evident in the lively dialogue throughout and the climaxes that are well spaced through the story.


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