Maria Edgeworth: Commentary (1)

File 1

File 1
Sir Walter Scott
Lord Byron
S. T. Coleridge
William Carleton
John Ruskin
W. B. Yeats
Emily Lawless
Maurice Egan
Edith Somerville
Daniel Corkery
Stephen Gwynn
Robert Lee Wolff
Thomas Flanagan
Vivian Mercier
Walter Allen
Alan Warner
James Newcomer
John Cronin
W. J. McCormack
Mark Bence-Jones
File 2
Gilbert & Gubar
J. C. Beckett
Hubert Butler
George Watson
Christina E. Colvin
Michael Hurst
Patrick Murray
Marilyn Butler
Patrick Sheeran
Patrick Rafroidi
Seamus Deane
James Cahalan
John Devitt
Tom Dunne
Benedict Kiely
Robert Tracy
File 3
Ann O. Weekes
Martin J. Croghan
Daniel Hack
Mary Jean Corbett
Terry Eagleton
Colin Graham
Siobhán Kilfeather
Andrew Hadfield
R. & M. Loeber
Brian Hollingworth
Kate Trumpener
Jacqueline Belanger
Margaret Kelleher
Willa Murphy
Nicola Trott
Susan Manly

Times obituary: ‘Before her Irish stories appeared, nothing of their kind - so relishing, so familiar but never vulgar - had been tendered the public.’ (Quoted in Charles Lysaght, ed., Great Irish Lives [Times Books], HarperCollins 2008, Introduction, p.vii.; see also the obituary, ibid., p.19-20.)

Sir Walter Scott: Scott called Edgeworth ‘the great Maria’ and remarked provincial stage-Irishmen and Scots, ‘the Teagues and dear joys who so long, with the most perfect family resemblance to each other, occupied the drama and the novel’ before her; his Waverley begun under example of Castle Rackrent, ‘so in some degree to emulate the admirable Irish portraits drawn by Miss Edgeworth’ (‘A Postscript which should have been a Preface’, Waverley, 1814, p.lxxii; quoted in John Cronin, ‘Castle Rackrent’ [chap.], The Anglo-Irish Novel, Vol. 1, 1980, p.25.)

Sir Walter Scott (in a letter to Maria Edgeworth): ‘She writes all the while she laughs talks eats drinks and I believe though I do not pretend to be so far in the secret all the time she sleeps too.’ (Quoted in Muriel McCarthy & Caroline Sherwood-Smith, Hibernia Resurgens, Marsh’s Library, Dublin, 1994].

Scott to Maria Edgeworth: ‘Dublin is splendid beyond my expectations. I can go round its walls and number its palaces until I am grilled almost into a fever. They tell me the city is desolate (as a result of the Union) of which I can see no appearance, but the deprivation caused by the retreat of the most noble and opulent inhabitants must be felt in a manner a stranger cannot conceive.’ (Quoted in Harold Clarke, ‘Georgian Dublin - A Future?’, in Ireland and the Arts, ed. T. P. Coogan, London: Namara Press 1984, p.218.)

Sir Walter Scott: ‘Without being so presumptuous as to hope to emulate the rich humour, pathetic tenderness, and admirable tact, which pervade the works of my accomplished friend, I felt that something might be attempted for my own country, of the same kind with that which Miss Edgeworth so fortunately achieved for Ireland’ (General Preface to The Waverley Novels, Edinburgh 1829, p.xv; quoted [without pag.] in Walter Raleigh, The English Novel, John Murray 1919, p.268; cited in William Galloway, UUC MA Dip., 1997; also quoted in Patrick Sheeran, “The Novels of Liam O’Flaherty: A Study in Romantic Realism”, Ph.D., UCG 1972, p.167.)

Sir Walter Scott: Scott also wrote of ‘[...] the extended and well-merited fame of Miss Edgeworth, whose Irish characters have gone so far to make the English familiar with the character of their gay and kind-hearted neighbours of Ireland, that she may be truly said to have done more toward completing the Union than perhaps all the legislative enactments by which it has been followed up, and felt he could do for Scotland what Edgeworth had done for Ireland.’ (Pref. to The Waverley Novels [Vol. 1, xxi]; quoted in Thomas Flanagan, The Irish Novelists 1800-1850, 19959, p.100.)

Sir Walter Scott: ‘[I felt that] something might be attempted for my own country, of the same kind with that which Miss Edgeworth so fortunately achieved for Ireland - something which might introduce her natives to those of the sister kingdom in a more favourable light than they had been placed hitherto, and tend to procure sympathy for their virtues and indulgence for their foibles.’ (Ibid., xxii; quoted in P. J. Kavanagh, Voices in Ireland, 1994, p.63).

Sir Walter Scott: Scott wrote in his General Preface to the Waverley edition of his novels (1829) that his object in writing his first novel was to describe his Scottish characters ‘not by a caricatured and exaggerated use of the national dialect, but [xiii] by their habits, manners and feelings; so as, in some distant degree, to emulate the admirable Irish portraits drawn by Miss Edgeworth.’ (Waverley, or ‘Tis Sixty Years Hence, OUP 1986, p.341; quoted in Jan Jedrzejewski, ed., The Cock and Anchor by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu [ Ulster Monograph Ser., 9] (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 2000, p.xiii-xiv.) Also: ‘If I could just hit Miss Edgeworth’s power of vivifying her persons and making them live as beings in your mind, I should not be afraid.’ (Q. source.)

[ top ]

Lord Byron (George Gordon)
Don Juan (Canto I, XVI) [on Don Juan’s mother]



In short, she was a walking calculation,
Miss Edgeworth’s novels stepping from their covers,
Or Mrs. Trimmer’s books on education,
Or “Coelebs’ Wife” set out in quest of lovers,
Morality’s prim personification,
In which not Envy’s self a flaw discovers;
To others’ share let “female errors fall,”
For she had not even one — the worst of all.

[Our italics.]

Notes: ‘In 1813 I recollect to have met them [the Edgeworths] in the fashionable world of London. ... She was a nice little unassuming “Jeannie Deans-looking body,” as we Scotch say; and if not handsome, certainly not ill-looking’ (“Diary”, January 19, 1821, “Letters”, 1901, v. 177-179).]

Epigraph to Don Juan: “Dost thou think because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more Cakes and Ale? Yes, by St. Ann; and Ginger shall be hot in the Mouth too.” (Shakespeare) [Sir Toby Belch to Malvolio in Twelfth Night].

[ top ]

William Carleton, ‘When the Irishman was made to stand forth as the butt of ridicule to his neighbours, the first that undertook his vindication was Maria Edgeworth. During her day, the works of no writer made a more forcible impression upon the inner circles of fashionable life in England, if we except the touching and inimitable melodies of my countryman, Thomas Moore.’ (General Introduction, Traits and Stories, 1843 Edn.; p.iv.)

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Omniana: Notes Theological, Political and Miscellaneous, ed. Rev. Derwent Coleridge (London: Edward Moxon 1853) - “Bulls”: ‘[...] I have read many attempts at a definition of a Bull, and lately in the Edinburgh Review; but it then appeared to me that the definers had fallen into the same fault as Miss Edgeworth, in her delightful essay on Bulls, and given the definition of the genus, Blunder, for that of the [194] particular species. I will venture, therefore, to propose the following: A Bull consists in the mental juxtaposition of incongruous images and thoughts with the sensation, but without the sense, of connection. The psychological conditions of the possibility of a Bull it would not be difficult to determine; but it would require a larger space than can be afforded here, at least more attention than my readers would be likely to afford. /  There is a sort of spurious Bull which consists wholly in mistake of language, and which the closest thinker may make, if speaking in a language of which he is not master.’ (p.305; available in - at Google Books - online; accessed 06.08.2017.)

John Ruskin professed that there was more to be learned of Irish politics from The Absentee than from 1,000 blue books.

[ top ]

W. B. Yeats called Castle Rackrent ‘one of the most inspired chronicles written in English.’ (Representative Irish Tales, facs. edn., NJ: Atlanta Highlands 1979, p.27.) Further: ‘In no modern writer that has written of Irish life before him [J. M. Synge], except, it may be, Miss Edgeworth in Castle Rackrent, was there anything to change a man’s thought about the world or stir his moral nature, for they but play with pictures, persons and events […; &c.]’ (‘J. M. Synge and the Ireland of His Time’, in [“The Cutting of the Agate”], Essays and Introductions, p.332.)

W. B. Yeats: ‘The one serious novelist coming from the upper classes in Ireland, and the most finished and famous produced by any class there, is undoubtedly Miss Edgeworth […; Thady] has not the reality of Carleton’s men and women. He stands in the charming twilight of illusion and half-knowledge. When writing of people of her own class she saw everything about them as it really was. She constantly satirised their recklessness, their love for all things English, their oppression of and contempt for their own country. […] Her novels give, indeed, systematically the mean and vulgar side of all that gay life celebrated by Lever.’ (Introduction, Representative Irish Tales, 1891; rep. Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1981, foreword by Mary Helen Thuente; pp.27-28.)

W. B. Yeats: ‘[In Castle Rackrent] Miss Edgeworth’s imagination burst free from her didacticism [and] produced a work of the greatest kind.’ (Representative Irish Tales, 1891; rep. edn. 1981, p.34.) Further: ‘Miss Edgeworth has outdone writers like Lover and Lever because of her fine judgment, her serene culture, her well-balanced mind.’ (p.17; note however that William Carleton outdoes even her.)

W. B. Yeats, Representative Irish Tales (1891) - notice on Maria Edgeworth prefaced to an extract from Castle Rackrent [pp.33-35; ‘[...] Madame de Stael said, after reading her Tales of Fashionable Life: “Que Miss Edgeworth etait digne de l’enthousiasme, mais qu'elle s'est perdue duns la triste utilizé.” Great genius though she was, she could not persuade herself to trust nature, to set down in tale and novel the emotions and longings and chances that seemed to her pleasant and beautiful. She could not forget the schooling of her father, and of the author of “Sandford and Merton”, and felt bound to see whither every line she wrote tended, to do nothing she could not prove was for the good of man. Here and there, as in Castle Rackrent, she has risen above her own intellect, and produced a work of the greatest kind. In the larger number of her writings, one sees how extreme conscientiousness had injured the spontaneity of her nature. She did everything, no less in life than in novel-writing, with the same elaborate scrupulousness. A relation of mine once got a servant from her. The 'character' filled three sheets of paper. She does the same with the people of her novels. She sends them out into the world with a careful and long-considered judgment attached to each one.’ (p.35; end. )

[ Note - the extract occupies pp.36-92 - substantially the entirety of that novel, with footnotes faithfully reproduced but with no Glossary items - i.e., the work of R. L. Edgeworth has been purged excepting insofar as the notes are actually his.]

[ top ]

Emily Lawless Maria Edgeworth (1904) [on Castle Rackrent]: ‘Admiration for the book’s own singular merits is enhanced, moreover, I think, when we consider both the difficulty of the subject, and the antecedent improbability of any one in the position of its author being able to surmount them. “Honest Thady”, although calling himself a steward, is in reality a peasant, with all the ideas and instincts of one; an eighteenth century peasant, one who has always lived, and whose forebears before him have always lived, under the same lords, and to whom therefore their little peculiarities have come to be as it were a law of nature, no more to be disputed than the over-frequency of wet days, or the inclemencies of the winter. All peasants are difficult and elusive creatures to portray, but perhaps an Irish peasant - alike by his good and by his bad qualities - is the most elusive and the most difficult upon the face of the earth. Any one who has ever tried to fling a net over him knows perfectly well in his or her own secret soul that the attempt has been a failure - at best that entire realms and regions of the subject have escaped observation. A whole world of forgotten beliefs, extinct traditions, lost ways of thought, obsolete observances, must be felt, known, understood, and realised, before we can even begin to perceive existence as we are expected to see it by such an one as Thady. Especially was this the case at that date with regard to certain mysterious institutions known as “masters”; beings born, in the old Irish phrase, to “reign over” the rest of the world, and as little expected to be trammelled by the ordinary rules of right and wrong as any Olympian deities. An ingenious friend of the present writer not long since remarked that the only parallel for the ways of Sir [89] Condy and his predecessors which is to be found in literature is that of the equally admired and respected Noor ad Deen of the Arabian Nights. This worthy, it may be remembered, gives away his father’s houses and lands to any one who happens to take a fancy to them, and being upon one occasion somewhat pressed for debt, he sells his wife - with her entire approval - in the market-place. Finally, he meets with her again; they escape together; and, being rather hungry, he is so overcome with gratitude to a fisherman who has given him a couple of fishes, that he not only forces him to accept of all his remaining gold, but of his wife into the bargain, this time without that lady’s consent or approval.’ [Cont.]

[ top ]

Emily Lawless Maria Edgeworth (1905) [on Castle Rackrent]: ‘To what extent the parallel can be said to hold good I leave to more discriminating minds! Certainly, to our sober notions, the code of honour and morals, as we see them through Thady’s eyes, is to the full as mysterious as any Eastern one could be. How Miss Edgeworth - daughter of an irreproachable father, one who never got drunk, even when common politeness might have required him to do so - managed to, so to speak, “get behind” such a standpoint, will always remain a puzzle. Fortunately, as regards the actual production of the book, we are not left entirely to our own unassisted guesses, since we have its author’s account of the matter, one written many years later in response to an appeal for enlightenment from a correspondent. Although printed, this account has also never, I think, been published before [quotes letter of 6 Sept. 1834, as infra]. (Cont.)

Emily Lawless Maria Edgeworth (1905) [on Castle Rackrent]: ‘Further than this we cannot get. The book grew-as most of the good books the world possesses have [91] probably grown-by a process peculiar to itself, a process not to be fully explained by its author, and still less therefore by any one else. One fact, at least, is clear to our satisfaction, namely, that it came into existence by a process the exact opposite of all Mr. Edgeworth’s theories as to the methods which conduce to the production of superior literature. So subversive is it of these, so wholly independent and revolutionary, that some wonder arises that he did not-upon his return from those duties which had so fortunately detained him during its inception-order the cancelling, or the complete remodelling, of anything so heterodox. Had he done so, we cannot doubt that it would have been condemned by its creator without a qualm. Happily he abstained; Castle Rackrent survived, and Sir Murtagh, Sir Kit, and Sir Condy have remained to be the amusement and the bewilderment of three generations of appreciative readers.’ [Cont.]

Emily Lawless Maria Edgeworth (1905) - Conclusion: ‘[…] This little book will have been written to remarkably small purpose, if I have not made it clear that amongst this short list of eminently likable writers Maria Edgeworth appears to me to stand. Such a view is so entirely a personal one, that no sense of presumption can attach to the proclaiming of it. She was not - even a partial biographer must be frank - in the first flight of great writers, for although in Castle Rackrent she made a magnificent start, the promise which that book contained cannot be said to have been ever thoroughly fulfilled. She lost hersel - elle se perd dans votre triste utilité, as Madame de Staël expressed it, in writing to their joint friend M. Dumont, - and she never thoroughly found herself again. What she might have been had her surroundings been different, it is idle now to speculate, and we must be content therefore to take her as she was. For my part I am abundantly content, seeing that I regard her as one of the very pleasantest personalities to be met with in the whole wide world of books.’ (p.212; for longer extract, see attached; full text available at Univ. of Pennsylvania “A Celebration of Women Writers” [online; accessed 24.06.2005].)

[ top ]

Maurice Egan, ‘The Irish Novel’, in Catholic University Bulletin, 10, 3 (1904), ‘Thady, the teller of the story of the family of Castle Rackrent was not, as a creation surpassed by Scott; one may yawn over the talk and the tribulations of Miss Edgeworth’s fine ladies and gentlemen, but her common people are always very much alive and racy of the soil that alone could give such beings birth.’ (p.334.)

Edith Somerville: ‘Its [Castle Rackrent] effortless composure, its tranquil reliance on idiom and mental outlook, rather than on misspellings and expletives, might have been a lesson to its successors, had they had the intelligence to perceive and the wisdom to accept the example it offered.’ (Strayaways, 1919, p.252).

[ top ]

Daniel Corkery: ‘Maria Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent is the best specimen of this style of literature. No other book did as much in the creation of what was to prove the most favoured of the moulds which subsequent writers were to use. This Colonial literature was written to explain the quaintness of [7] the humankind of this land, especially the native humankind, to another humankind that was not quaint, that was standard, normal. All over the world is not that the note of Colonial literature? The same note is found everywhere in Kipling’s Indian books. From Edgeworth’s Absentee to John Bull’s Other Island is a far cry […; W]hat scores of books have been written in which an Englishman is brought to Ireland and is taken around while a current of comment is poured in his ear, not that he may really understand what he sees, but that he may know that what he sees is only the scum of the milk: he may be a bit of a fool, this Englishman, but still be is normal; he is not one of a lesser breed; and it is really his unsuspecting normality that makes it necessary for the guide to hint that things even more strange lurk unknown to him in the background. In this way the writer can also prove his own intimate acquaintanceship with the life of a strange land and a stranger people. Instructed through history, through the poetry written in Irish by the quaint ones in the background, what an exhibition of crass obtuseness that assumption of intimacy now appears to us! / It was natural for the Ascendancy folk of this second period to write in this Colonial manner, for what are all their books but travellers’ tales? [… &c.]’ (Synge and Anglo-Irish Literature, 1931; Mercer Press Edn. 1966, p.8.) Further: ‘Castle Rackrent lives by English suffrage, but Gerald Griffin’s The Collegians lives by Irish suffrage’ (Ibid., p.10).

Stephen Gwynn, ‘Maria Edgeworth loved Ireland and understood the mere Irish, as an Englishman may love and understand the Italians.’ (Irish Literature and Drama, London 1936, p.55.)

Robert Lee Wolff, [Edgeworths] ‘arguing for an Ireland for Protestant and Catholic alike, linked politically to England, in which the Anglo-Irish gentry should have rejected absenteeism and accepted their responsibilities toward their tenants’ (Introduction to R. L. and M. Edgeworth, Essay on Irish Bulls, London: Garland Publ. 1979, pp.xx).

[ top ]

Thomas Flanagan, The Irish Novelists 1800-1850 (Columbia UP 1959): ‘Castle Rackrent was to be the brilliant requiem of the Protestant Nation, for Maria Edgeworth has seen its history as the life of a family which rose from obscurity, fought bravely, lost meanly, and at last perished in squalor and pride.’ (p.23.) Further: ‘When Irishmen fell to squabbling over their fiction and to testit it for “Irishness”, they fond cause to regret that Maria’s youth had been spent in England. She had not drawn from the soil [... nevertheless] she knew a great deal [...] because like any good writer she listened to what all kinds of people said, and she put what she hear to good use.’ (p.67; quoted in Kendra Reynolds, UG essay, UU 2011.) Note that two subsequent chapters - Chap 4: ‘Maria Edgeworth - the Crisis of the “Protestant Nation”’ (pp.53-68), and Chap. 5: ‘Castle Rackrent’ (pp.69-79) - are devoted to her.

Thomas Flanagan, The Irish Novelists 1800-1850 (Columbia UP 1959) - on Castle Rackrent: ‘it purports to be an account, dictated by an illiterate servant called Thady M’Quirk, of the fortunes of four generations of the Rackrent family, whihc has ceased to exist in name, though not, perhaps, in blood. Thady is a partisan of the family, or, rather, of “the honor of the family”. Only when the story is finished does the reader realise that Thady has his own wry view of the matter. But, even so, he does not fully understand the story which he is telling. The meaning and passion with which he instinctively invests the words “honor” and “loyalty” lead him to bring forth evidence which prompts the reader to a quire different judgement of the Rackrents.’ (Quoted in John Cronin, ‘Castle Rackrent’ [chap.], in The Anglo-Irish Novel - Vol. I: ‘Nineteenth Century’, Belfast: Appletree 1980 [ref. n.p.]

Thomas Flanagan, ‘The Big House of Ross Drishane’, in The Kenyon Review, Jan. 1966, pp.54-78: ‘Only when the story is finished does the reader realise that Thady has his own wry view of the matter. But, even, so, he does not fully understand the story he is telling.’ (p.69.) Further: ‘He assigns Rackrents their role in the family legend in proportion as they are generous to him or make life easy for him. [...] He comes at last to believe his own myth, and even, disastrously, to communicate a sense of its glamour to Condy.’ (ibid. p.77).

[ top ]

Vivian Mercier, ‘Thady seems never to realise that their worst enemy could hardly have given a more damning account of the Rackrents than he does. He never denounces even those whom he plainly reveals to have been grasping and cruel; as for his favourite, Sir Condy, he praises him to the skies while showing him to be a heedless fool and a drunkard.’ (The Irish Comic Tradition, 1962, p.196.)

[ top ]

Walter Allen, The English Novel (1954): ‘Miss Edgeworth occupied new territory for the novel. Before her, except when London was the scene, the locale of our fiction had been generalized, conventionalized. Outside London and Bath, the eighteenth-century novelist rarely had a sense of place; the background of his fiction is as bare of scenery almost as an Elizabethan play; and when landscape came in for its own sake, with Mrs Radcliffe, it was there not because it was a specific landscape but because it was a romantic one. Maria Edgeworth gave fiction a local habitation and a name. And she did more than this: she perceived the relation between the local habitation and the people who dwell in it. She invented, in other words, the regional novel, in which the very nature of the novelist’s characters is conditioned, receives its bias and expression, from the fact that they live in a countryside differentiated by a traditional way of life from other.’ (Quoted in John Cronin, The Anglo-Irish Novel - Vol. I: ‘Nineteenth Century’, Belfast: Appletree 1980, p.25 [ref. n.p.].)

Walter Allen, The English Novel (1954) - on The Absentee: ‘The novel opens in London - and it might almost as easily be Moscow or St. Petersburg. There is Lady Clonbrony, the wife of an absentee Irish peer, busily at work striving to stake a claim to a position for herself in fashionable society, perverting her native Irish good humour and simplicity into a comic parody of English aristocratic manners and behaviour; a figure of fun to the ladies who flock to her balls and routs; a source of endless expense to her weak-willed husband, whose Irish estates must be mortgaged to enable her to keep her foothold in the great world, and whose tenants must be fleeced and screwed for ready money to keep the usurers at bay. Lord and Lady Clonbrony might be landowners from a remote province in a Russian novel who have at last got to Moscow. For in The Absentee Maria Edgeworth had seized upon the essential situation of her country at the time of writing: the absence of its landowners in England and the stranglehold their agents had on a helpless peasantry. And when we visit Ireland in the company of Lord Colambre, the Clonbronys’ son, whose aim it is to induce his parents to return to their native land and take up their proper duties there, we might be in nineteenth-century Russia, in that world of sequestered petty landowners, culturally almost indistinguishable from their peasants, among whom every kind of eccentricity flourished.’ (p.100; quoted in Patrick Sheeran, “The Novels of Liam O’Flaherty: A Study in Romantic Realism”, Ph.D., UCG 1972, p.172; For full text, see RICORSO Library, “Irish Critical Classics”, via index, or direct.)

Alan Warner, A Guide to Anglo-Irish Literature, Gill & Macmillan 1981): ‘The bare outline of the Rackrent story suggests a grimly moral tale of extravagance and ruin, but it is, in fact, richly comic’; ‘The simple loyality of Thady is used to make a devastating exposure of the utter selfishness and irresponsibility of Sir Kit.’ Further: ‘The ironic contrast between Thady’s words, and the actual behaviour of the masters he professes to love and honour, provides the main comic element of the book, but some commentators have found a deeper and harsher irony in thady’s own behaviour […] Thady is not consistent, and his behaviour is certainly ambiguous, but his character is wholly convincing and alive. By using him as a narrator Maria Edgewroth achieves a warmth and humour in this book that is not found in her more conventional novels and tales.’ (pp.44, 45, 46, 47.)

[ top ]

James Newcomer, Maria Edgeworth the Novelist (1767-1849), A Bicentennial Study (Texas Christian UP/ AUP 1967): ‘It [Castle Rackrent] was something entirely new, for it treated the Irish character, aristocrat and peasant, with absolute authenticity and integrity.’ (p.62.) ‘The character of each man, each woman [in Castle Rackrent], is made naked. Among them all there is no wisdom, common sense, forbearance, generosity, kindness, clear-sightedness, or even common decency.’ (Ibid., p.65.) ‘So skilful is Maria that the quick and careless reader may finish the story without detecting the guile with which Thady had managed to turn his employers’ weaknesses to his own advantage. Every word of praise is actually a perceptive revelation of the Rackrents’ errors and the Quirks’ avid quickness at taking advantage of them.’ (Ibid., p.66.) [On Edgeworth’s sympathy for Irish peasants:] ‘She could not have these feelings without loving her country. Scott was right, she was a patriotic writer.’ (p.132.)

James Newcomer (Maria Edgeworth the Novelist, 1967): ‘The Thady whom we now recognise is a more important creation than Thady the unreflecting servant. Far from being simple, he is relatively complex. The true Thady reflects intellect and power in the afflicted Irish peasant, who in generations to come will revolt and revolt again. He is artful rather than artless, unsentimental rather than confused, calculating rather than trusting. There is less affection in our view of the true Thady, but now we have to feel a degree of admiration for him.’ (Quoted in John Cronin, ‘Castle Rackrent’ [chap.], in The Anglo-Irish Novel - Vol. I: ‘Nineteenth Century’, Belfast: Appletree 1980, p.27; ref. n.p.) [See remarks on Newcomer’s interpretation under Brian Hollingworth, infra.]

James Newcomer, ‘A Tour in Connemara’, in Éire-Ireland, 6, 4 (Winter 1971), pp.95-103; Newcomer retraces Maria Edgeworth’s tour of Connemara, including her visit to Oliver St. John Gogarty’s home, Renvyle House (pp.101-03), and the Marquis of Sligo’s home, Westport House (pp.103-04).

[ top ]

John Cronin, ‘Castle Rackrent’ [chap.], in The Anglo-Irish Novel - Vol. I: ‘Nineteenth Century’, Belfast: Appletree 1980): ‘A close reading of the novel will find Thady neither ingenious nor malign. What Maria Edgeworth has given us is this, her greatest achievement in the realm of characterisation in a magnificently realised slave, a terrifying vision of the results of colonial misrule. There must have been a moment of clearly deliberate artistic decision in which she realised that what needed to be said must be said through one of the submerged people. [Daniel] Corkery and critics of his [36] type may be justified in their own way when they lament the silence of the vast mass of the Irish people in the literature of the age but surely Castle Rackrent is the most powerful condemnation in existence of the forces of misrule which Corkery so thoroughly deplored? The remarkable combination of viewpoints which Maria Edgeworth achieved in Thady is a triumph beyond carping criticism. It is, in the circumstances of the time which produced it, a marvel of artistic vision and control. The novel’s essential power derives from a relentless realism in the writer which enabled her to see present evils and their past causes, combined with a profound imaginative sympathy for the figure to whom she assigns the telling story. (Ibid. p.36-37.)

John Cronin, ‘In Castle Reckrent, her listening, looking and reading had been bodied forth into one of the most incisive, profound and colourful creative fables in the whole of Anglo-Irish fiction’ (John Cronin, The Anglo-Irish Novel - Vol. I: ‘Nineteenth Century’, Belfast: Appletree 1980, q.p.) ‘Faithful Thady, indeed […] It is not difficult to remain in service to the family whose possessions are flowing from their pockets into his own’ (ibid, q.p.; quoted in James Cahalan, The Irish Novel, [Gill & Macmillan] 1984, p.20).

John Cronin, ‘Maria Edgeworth, 1768-1849’, in Family Chronicles: Maria Edgeworth‘s “Castle Rackrent”, ed. Coilín Owens (Dublin: Wolfhound Press 1987): ‘It is generally accepted that Edgeworth and her father shared the same rationally optimistic political views about the governance of Ireland. Edgeworth agreed with her father that the Enlightenment tenets of education, behaviour guided by reason, and a sense of belevolent responsibility could save Ireland from the corruption of the tenancy system [...] Richard Edgeworth and Maria Edgeworth believed that Ireland’s salvaton lay in English intervention, through the Anglo-Irish establishing nonsectarian schools and manifesting a dutiful generosity of talent.’ (Q.p.; quoted in Ciaran Anderson, UG Essay, UU 2011.)

[ top ]

W. J. McCormack: ‘The sensibility which directs her [Maria Edgeworth’s] activities as a novelist is not a constant position, a fixed star, but a particular openness to the historical quality of contemporary experience …. Thus the sectarian elements - Catholic and Protestant intermarriage, as well as an indeterminate relation to the politics of union, make it a political tract that one cannot read.’ (Ascendancy and Tradition in Anglo-Irish History 1789-39, OUP 1985).

W. J. McCormack (Ascendancy and Tradition, 1985) - further suggests that the physical scale of the Rackrent house [qua ‘big house’] is misleading; more than that, that Edgeworth avails of textual possibilities to delineate a house of imcompatible parts, which, in the one aspect, stands splendidly alone in its own grounds, and, on the other, has a door to the street. This is not so much a matter of its being a small house, more “towny” than the title itself suggests, but of being as many Anglo-Irish houses - in varying relations to the wider Irish population - as the narrative requires. Further, ‘The sensibility which directs her activities as a novelist is not a constant position, a fixed star, but a particular openness to the historical quality of contemporary experience …. Thus the sectarian elements - Catholic and Protestant intermarriage, as well as an indeterminate relation to the politics of union, make it a political tract that one cannot read [i.e., interpret].’ See also extensive remarks and notes in McCormack’s World Classics edition of The Absentee (OUP 1988), emphasising the connections between the characters of the novel and others in Irish and Anglo-Irish society such as the Nugent family, the Brookes (Henry and Charlotte), and Sylvester O’Halloran.)

[ top ]

Mark Bence-Jones, Life in an Irish Country House (London: Constable 1996): ‘There had been a terrible row in the kitchen between the cook and the kitchenmaid as a result of which the cook had been dismissed on the spot: “such scenes of lying and counter-lying”. She [Maria] may have had this and other domestic altercations in mind when, on a visit to Paris in the following year, she engaged a deaf-and-dumb [117] washerwoman for the new laundry that was being built at Edgworthstown. Maria described her to her half-sister as “an elderly woman with a very good countenance always cheerful and going on her own business without minding other people’s”.’ (pp.117-18.) Bence-Jones notes also that Walter Scott stayed at Edgeworthstown in August 1825 and also Maria had the Church of Ireland Bishop and the Roman Catholic bishop for dinner in 1833 - feeding the latter with some ‘Godsend venison’. Wordsworth visited while she was temporarily ill and confined to a sofa: ‘snatches’ of his conversation led her to write, ‘I think I had quite as much as was good for me’. In 1827 she played a game in which she was asked whom she would like to visit next, and answered Herschel - only to find the celebrate scientist at her door the next day by sheer coincidence. A fire took hold of Edgeworthstown in 1828. Edgeworth received 120 barrels of flour from American admirers during the Famine (1845 seq.)

Note: A Thady Quin, extracted [descended] from the O’Quin Gaelic dynasty, built Adare Manor, Co. Limerick, on lands acquired on the River Maigue at the end of the 17th century. Valentin Quin represented Limerick in the Irish Parliament and was raised to the peerage as Lord Adare in 1800; an elder son married Caroline Wyndham, occasioning a change in the family name to Wyndham-Quin is recognition of her superior fortune; created Earl Dunraven, 1822; the 2nd Earl converted [back] to Catholicism like his friend Aubrey de Vere. (See Bence-Jones" chapter on Adare Manor.)

[ back ]

[ top ]

[ next ]