Why This Room is Special
Maria Edgeworth, The Absentee (1812)
But don’t you know that girls never think of what they are talking about, or rather never talk of what they are thinking about? And they have always ten times more to say to the man they don’t care for, than to him they do.
Anglo-Irish writer Maria Edgeworth enjoyed massive popularity in the early nineteenth century, but today, her novels are often considered marginal or obscure. This is partly due to their subject matter: Edgeworth was keenly aware of Irish politics and colonial history, satirising the behaviour of both the Irish people and the English settlers in novels such as Castle Rackrent. Edgeworth’s Edwardian biographer Emily Lawless commented that ‘a whole world of forgotten beliefs, extinct traditions, lost ways of thought, [and] obsolete observances, must be felt, understood or realised’ to fully appreciate the world of Castle Rackrent.
Edgeworth’s reception is also complicated by questions over her status as an independent writer. She worked extremely closely with her eccentric father Richard Lovell Edgeworth, and her methods of composition were unusual. Together, father and daughter published non-fiction and fiction: the co-written Essays on Practical Education (1798) was well-received in England and France, while Patronage 1814), was based upon the oral saga of the Freeman Family imagined by Richard and transcribed by Maria. However, there’s no doubt that Maria’s father encouraged her autonomy. Key works including Letters for Literary Ladies (1795), in which the cause for women’s education is ardently defended, and Tales of Fashionable Life (1809-12), which included the novel The Absentee, were very much her own creations.