Maria Edgeworth

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Maria Edgeworth (1 January 1767 – 22 May 1849) was an Anglo-Irish novelist and children's writer. She was one of the first realist writers in children's literature.[1]



Maria Edgeworth was born at Black Bourton, Oxfordshire, the second child of Richard Lovell Edgeworth and Anna Maria Edgeworth née Elers and thus an aunt of Francis Ysidro Edgeworth. On her father's second marriage in 1773, she went with him to Ireland, where she eventually was to settle on his estate, Edgeworthstown, in County Longford. There, she mixed with the Anglo-Irish gentry, particularly Kitty Pakenham (later the wife of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington), Lady Moira, and her aunt Margaret Ruston of Black Castle.[2]

She acted as manager of her father's estate, later drawing on this experience for her novels about the Irish. Edgeworth's early literary efforts were melodramatic rather than realistic. One of her schoolgirl novels features a villain who wore a mask made from the skin of a dead man's face. Maria's first published work was Letters for Literary Ladies in 1795, followed in 1796 by her first children's book, The Parent's Assistant (which included Edgeworth's celebrated short story The Purple Jar), and in 1800 by her first novel Castle Rackrent, which was an immediate success.[2]

Mr. Edgeworth, a well-known author and inventor, encouraged his daughter's career, and has been criticized for his insistence on approving and editing her work. The tales in The Parent's Assistant were approved by her father before he would allow them to be read to her younger siblings (he had four wives and 22 children). Castle Rackrent was written and submitted for anonymous publication without his knowledge.

In 1802 the Edgeworth family went abroad, first to Brussels and then to Consulate France (during the Peace of Amiens, a brief lull in the Napoleonic Wars). They met all the notables, and Maria received a marriage proposal from a Swedish courtier, Count Edelcrantz. Her letter on the subject seems very cool, but her stepmother assures us in the Augustus Hare Life and Letters that Maria loved him very much and did not get over the affair quickly. They came home to Ireland in 1803 on the eve of the resumption of the wars and Maria returned to writing. Tales of Fashionable Life, The Absentee and Ormond are novels of Irish life.[2]

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