Maria Edgeworth (1768–1849) was an Irish author known for her contributions to the novel and children's literature during the early 19th century. She was a prolific writer whose works often explored social issues, education, and the relationships between different classes in society.
Maria, along with other members of her family, was involved in philanthropic and charitable activities to alleviate the suffering of the Irish people during the Great Famine. They contributed to relief efforts, providing assistance to those affected by the famine. Edgeworth used her influence and connections to raise awareness of the dire situation in Ireland and to encourage support for famine relief.
Maria Edgeworth came from a landowning family in Ireland. Her father, Richard Lovell Edgeworth, was an Anglo-Irish landlord, inventor, and educationist.
Edgeworthstown takes its name from the Edgeworth family.
In 1619, King James I confiscated land from the Gaelic O’Farrells in Longford and granted it to Francis Edgeworth.
The Edgeworths were members of the landlord class and in the initial stages – certainly for several decades -they were mainly absentee landlords.
The Edgeworth family owned extensive estates in County Longford, Ireland. Richard Lovell Edgeworth was known for his progressive views on education, and Maria was raised in an intellectually stimulating environment.
Maria Edgeworth's experiences and observations of Irish society, particularly the relationships between landlords and tenants, influenced her writing. Her novel "Castle Rackrent" is often considered a satirical commentary on the Irish landed gentry, and it provides a critical perspective on the issues related to landlords and their management of estates. While her family background was that of landowners, Maria Edgeworth demonstrated a nuanced understanding of the social and economic issues of her time in her literary works.
Here are some of her notable works:
Castle Rackrent (1800): This novel is often considered the first historical novel and is a satirical depiction of the Irish landed gentry. It is narrated by Thady Quirk, the steward of the estate, and provides a humorous and critical view of the changing social and economic landscape in Ireland.
This novel explores issues of courtship and marriage in the upper classes of British society. It addresses themes of gender roles, social expectations, and the challenges faced by women in the early 19th century.
The Parent's Assistant (1796): This is a collection of short stories and tales for children. Edgeworth is often credited with contributing to the development of the genre of children's literature. The stories in this collection emphasize moral lessons and educational values.
The Absentee (1812): This novel deals with the consequences of absentee landlords in Ireland and their impact on the Irish tenants. It provides a social and political commentary on the relationships between the English landowners and the Irish peasants.
Ormond (1817): This novel is set against the backdrop of the 1798 Irish Rebellion and follows the adventures of the titular character, Harry Ormond. The novel explores themes of identity, loyalty, and political intrigue.
Harrington (1817): In this work, Edgeworth addresses issues of class, education, and the role of women in society. The novel follows the life of the protagonist, Euphemia, as she navigates social expectations and challenges.
Maria Edgeworth's works were influential in their time, and she was admired for her ability to combine entertainment with moral instruction. Her emphasis on education and moral values, particularly in her children's literature, set her apart as a writer who was concerned with the betterment of society through literature.
Article written by County Archivist Martin Morris and published
in the book ‘o theach go teach’ a history of Edgeworthstown published in 2003
by the Edgeworthstown Historical Group:
In the period of the ‘Great Famine’ (1845-1851), the civil parish of Mostrim
consisted of thirty-four townlands and the town, covering just over 10,943
The census of 1841 revealed that it had a population of 4,933, of whom 864 (or
21%) lived in Edgeworthstown itself. As the population generally was increasing
quite rapidly, we may assume that by 1845, the parish would have had over 5,000
people. It can also be assumed that in common with the rest of Ireland, those in
the parish most dependent upon the potato crop were the small farmers, the
cottiers and the labourers. Frequently, the distinctions between those three
groups were very blurred, but the rapid rise in population from the beginning of
the nineteenth century was especially evident among them.
Constable Peter Byrnes reported from Edgeworthstown on 28 May 1846 : he
stated that there had been 300 acres sown in 1844 and 280 acres in 1845.
However, the partial failure of ‘45 meant that in 1846, there were 208 acres
planted, or almost one third less than two years earlier. During the autumn of
1846, the local relief effort expanded in response to the worsening situation. On
4 September, a meeting of the clergy, landowners and farmers of Mostrim was
held in the Market House in Edgeworthstown under the chairmanship of
Michael Pakenham Edgeworth (another of Maria’s half-brothers). It was decided
that subscriptions be collected to purchase Indian meal and other foodstuffs. A
committee was appointed with the following members: Francis B. Edgeworth,
Rev. Thomas Gray P.P., Rev. J. McNally C.C., Mr. Cowen, Surgeon Dobson, Mr.
Tynan, Mr. Rhatigan, Mr. Kenny, Mr. Green, Mr. James Kelly, Mr. Duffy and Mr.
The most important factor in determining the course of the Famine in
any area was the response of the local landlord.
If a landlord was genuinely interested in the welfare of his/her tenantry, then
their actions would quite literally make the difference between life and death.
The people of Edgeworthstown were fortunate to have, living in the ‘big house’
at their time of acute need, a lady of action – the novelist Maria Edgeworth
(1767-1849). On 30 January 1847, she completed a questionnaire for the Society of Friends Dublin Central Relief Committee which provides us with a reasonably
clear impression of conditions at that point. She estimated the population
(presumably of the entire parish) at 5,000, of which 3,000 required relief. She
worked with her stepmother, Frances Beaufort Edgeworth, to distribute food
and clothing to the poor in the area.
Edgeworth did not believe in giving relief indiscriminately – it was important for
the poor to work for themselves as far as possible, and that included women and
girls. She suggested, in a letter to Dr. Joshua Harvey of the Society of Friends,
that a small sum of money could procure materials for women for such activities
as needlework and knitting. Harvey’s committee granted £30 towards the
distribution of soup and a further £10 for providing female employment.
As a famous author, Edgeworth had friends and acquaintances in many places
and she sought the assistance of some of them. One, Miss Ryan in Cincinnati,
Ohio, persuaded the relief committee there to spend the balance of its funds –
$180 – on cornmeal to be sent to her. She also received contributions from,
among others, Professor Ticknor of Harvard University who had visited
Edgeworthstown with his wife in the 1830s, and from ‘about thirty young people
and children of Boston’ from their pocket money. An American ship’s captain
named Robert Bennett Forbes later wrote that $280 and 100 barrels of supplies
were sent from Boston to Edgeworthstown. The most lasting action by
Edgeworth in her endeavours to alleviate the suffering around her was the
writing of the novel Orlandino, a children’s story published in 1848, the proceeds
from the sale of which would go to famine relief.
Regarding mortality in the Edgeworthstown area, Maria informed her sister
Honora Beaufort, in a letter of 8 May 1847, that it was ‘not so much as a third’
above the normal level. However, the writer did not always remain in the
comfort of her house and listen to the tales of others. We have an extraordinary
eye-witness account from Biddy Macken of Pound Street, who worked as a
servant to the Edgeworth family and, in 1912, recounted some of her poignant
memories of the years of the ‘Black Praties’ to Richard Hyland N.T.
Then a teenager, Biddy recalled: “I went around with her (Maria) from house to
house in this town and far outside it carrying a big basket filled to the brim with
food. No house was passed by Maria without calling. Not only food was given but
turf and warm clothing purchased in the town. She was barely able to walk then
and had a short “cruben” stick to help her along. The “favor” was in a lot of houses
but Maria did not mind. When she visited the poor she was always cheerful and
had a way of “making them laugh”. She was short of breath often when we were
going up that hill (Pound Street) and often she had to sit down weary and tired in
the “parlour” when she got home."
The Maria Edgeworth Centre is located in in Edgeworthstown, County Longford, Ireland.
The center is dedicated to celebrating the life and works of Maria Edgeworth, a prominent Irish writer, and her family. It serves as a museum, cultural center, and a place for educational activities.
Address: Maria Edgeworth Centre, Edgeworthstown, County Longford, Ireland.
Website: Maria Edgeworth Centre
Phone: +353 43 667 1801