Maria Edgeworth was an 18th and early 19th century Anglo-Irish writer who wrote novels of Irish life and also was the first realistic writer of children’s books. She was considered a significant figure in the evolution of European fiction.
Edgeworth was born in England and lived there until she was fifteen, when her father remarried after her mother’s death and the family moved to Ireland. There she began helping her father manage his estates. Edgeworth’s father married four times, and so her writing career was begun in the parlor among 21 other children, providing her much material for her children’s books.
Although some juvenalia was discovered after her death, Edgeworth is probably best known for Castle Rackrent, a novel that satirizes Irish landlords and provides insight into Irish regional life, published in 1800. Sir Walter Scott used this novel as his model for writing his own historical fiction.
After her father married Frances Beaufort in 1798, the family did a fair amount of traveling on the continent both then and during a lull in the Napoleonic Wars. On the continent, Edgeworth received a proposal from a Swedish courtier, Count Edelcrantz. However, she returned to Ireland and writing in 1803. She was an extremely popular author, whose works were compared to Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott, with whom she maintained a correspondence and visited.
Although Edgeworth was a reformer in many areas, for example, she believed in Catholic Emancipation, worked to improve her tenants’ living standards, and felt that boys and girls should receive equal education together, during the famine, which occurred at the end of her life, she insisted on only feeding her tenants who had paid rent in full, which at that time was nearly impossible.
Although realistic, her novels were moral and didactic, as was common at that time.
Most popular works: Castle Rackrent, Belinda, Ormond, Helen
Other works: Practical Education, Early Lessons, Moral Tales, The Modern Griselda, Moral Tales for Young People, Ennui, The Absentee, Patronage, and many others