Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face – Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849)

The law, in our case, seems to make the right; and the very reverse ought to be done – the right should make the law.

Maria Edgeworth
“The Grateful Negro”
Popular Tales (1804)

Maria Edgeworth was born in England but moved to Ireland at the age of five following her mother’s death. Primarily educated in London, she returned to Ireland to care for her siblings after her father fell ill. Many of her early works documented life in Ireland and celebrated Irish culture.

Edgeworth also wrote children’s novels with moral lessons. Her popular Parent’s Assistant, or Stories for Children is a collection of short stories reflecting her view that boys and girls ought to receive equal education. Sir Walter Scott, Maria’s friend, was inspired by her novel, The Absentee, to publish his own novels, attempting “to emulate the admirable Irish portraits drawn by Miss Edgeworth.”

Maria lived during the Irish famine and worked tirelessly for the relief of the Irish peasants. Although after her father’s death she assumed the management of the family estate, she continued to write. She sold her last novel, Orlandino, at the end of the great Irish famine “to raise a little money for our parish poor.”

Kathryn J. Kirkpatrick, Professor of English at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, who has prepared edition of both Belinda and Castle Rackrent, notes that Edgeworth, thankfully, is these days often read within the British canon along with writers like Jane Austen. Kirkpatrick, however, enjoyed working with Edgeworth’s deep engagement with her Irish context.

 Melinda Creech

The Armstrong Browning Library owns five volumes authored by Maria Edgeworth and one letter written by her. In this letter Maria Edgeworth, always concerned with the fair treatment of her tenants, is advocating on behalf of her tenant’s son, Archy Wilson, for his position with the Earl of Desmond.

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