Maria Edgeworth (January 1, 1767-May 22, 1849) was an Irish novelist.
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Maria Edgeworth was born in Oxfordshire, at the home of her grandparents, but spent most of her life in Ireland, on her father's estate. She grew up in the landed gentry of Ireland, with the families of Kitty Pakenham (later the wife of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington), Lady Moira, and her aunt Margaret Ruston at Black Castle for company. She acted as manager of her father's estate, later drawing on this experience for her novels about the Irish. However, her early efforts at fiction 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.
In 1802 the Edgeworth family went abroad, first to Brussels and then to Consulate France (during the Peace of Amiens, that brief lull in the Napoleonic Wars). They met all the notables, and Maria received a marriage proposal from a Swedish count. They returned to Ireland and Maria returned to writing.
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.
After her father's death in 1817 she edited his memoirs, and extended them with her biographical comments. She was an active writer to the last, and worked strenuously for the relief of the famine-stricken Irish peasants during the Irish Potato Famine (1845-1849).
Maria Edgeworth was explicit about the fact that all her stories had a moral purpose behind them, usually pointing out the duty of members of the upper class toward their tenants. However, her style did not pass muster with one of the religious leaders of the day: the preacher Robert Hall said, "I should class her books as among the most irreligious I have ever read ... she does not attack religion, nor inveigh against it, but makes it appear unnecessary by exhibiting perfect virtue without it ... No works ever produced so bad an effect on my mind as hers."
Partial list of published works
* Letters to Literary Ladies - 1795 (feminist essay)
* The Parent's Assistant - 1796 (6 vols)
* Practical Education - 1798 (2 vols collaborated with her father)
* Castle Rackrent (1800) (novel)
* Early Lessons - 1801
* Belinda (1801) (novel)
* Essay on Irish Bulls - 1802 (political, collaborated with her father)
* Popular Tales - 1804
* The Modern Griselda - 1804
* Moral Tales for Young People - 1805 (6 vols)
* Leonora - 1806 (written during the French excursion)
* Tales of Fashionable Life - 1809 (first in a series, includes The Absentee)
* Ennui - 1809 (novel)
* The Absentee (1812)
* Patronage - 1814 (4 volume novel)
* Harrington, a tale - 1817
* Ormond, a tale - 1817
* Comic Dramas - 1817
* Memoirs - 1820 (edited her father's memoirs)
* Early Lessons - 1822 (sequels to some of the tales)
* Helen - 1834