Women's writing Before Woolf: A Social Reference/Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849) (2)

Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849) edit

Biography edit

Maria Edgeworth (January 1, 1768 – May 22, 1849) was an English writer, most well-known for her literary children’s books, as well as her views on politics, education, and civil life. She was born in Black Bourton, a small village in Oxfordshire, England. Her father, Richard Lovell Edgeworth, was a distinguished writer, politician and inventor. Her mother, Anna Maria Edgeworth, passed away when Maria was only five years of age, at which time Maria left England to live with her father and stepmother in County Longford, Ireland, at the Edgeworth estate (Ó Gallchoir 717).

From an early age, Maria was influenced by intellectuals, and learned members of the Lunar Society. Her father initiated her education by teacher her about economics, law, literature, and science. She would later become her father’s assistant in managing their family estate, and later still, would collaborate with her father in an academic sphere – where she excelled, even beyond her father.

Edgeworth’s work was in many respects ahead of her time, and her educational research and theories were again brought to prominence in the second half of the twentieth century, with Jerome Bruner’s work on scaffolding (Jeung and Kellog 510).

Works edit

Maria’s work has been marked by her talent for social and character observation, a notable theme which had made Edgeworth a popular literary figure (Harmon 324). This practical and evidential writing style gave her work authority. Her first published work is recognised as Castle Rackrent, which follows four generations of the Rackrent family through their lives revolving around their estate (Connolly 668). The first unpublished work, which has come to the knowledge and recognition of modern scholars, is ‘The Double Disguise’, written in 1786. This juvenilia text is an example of how Edgeworth’s later work was influenced by early formations of understanding and thought in language. This play centres around Charles Westbrook, a returning soldier from war, who twice disguises himself, as a way to test the integrity and fidelity of his wife -to-be, Dolly. In the play, Edgeworth toyed with Irish colloquialisms and regional dialects (UNSW).

Maria’s follow up works include two articles ‘Letters for Literary Ladies’ written in 1795, and ‘Practical Education’, written later in 1798. The first of these articles, ‘Letters for Literary Ladies’, was a comment on the power relations between men and women in the eighteenth-century, and while the ideas discussed sought to advance women in society, they were nonetheless criticised by some women. These contemporaries offered the argument that Edgeworth’s work does little to advance women, and may even be detrimental to the integrity of women novelists (Mullen 234).

‘Practical Education’ is the first research work by Edgeworth, and focuses on educational reforms and new practices. These theories and strategies were trialled at the family estate in Ireland, on around ten of the children residing there at the time. This work draws on ideas from educational scholars such as John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and puts forth the argument that early childhood experiences are formative to the future development of humans (Chandler 95). The theories speculated also consider the process of aiding children in developing their knowledge through play, and the disadvantages of rote in certain contexts. These are theories which have been established as accepted and educational practices in the twentieth and twenty-first century (Ridout et al. 860, Ulfers et al. 1475). Edgeworth was encouraged by her father Richard, and this exemplifies the importance which a nurturing figure had in her development. Although it is noted by some scholars that Edgeworth was in a way always spurred on, by encouragement from her father, rather than taking interest in writing inherently.

Legacy edit

Maria Edgeworth was a prominent figure in educational research, and the theories which she agreed on and those which she formed herself, have in many cases been accepted in modern educational research, ratifying her observational power in relation to childhood (Jeung and Kellog). Edgeworth was also an outspoken and critical voice in the role of women in society, and the power relations which dictated women’s lives in her time. Furthermore, Edgeworth’s sympathies for the Irish made her a non-explicit protestor for the colonial rule which England enforced on its neighbour (Manly 770).

Edgeworth may also be considered as a forebearer of Young Adult fiction, and her ability to immerse herself in narrative, and form realistic and believable characters outside of herself, is a testament to her creative skill. Her experience with a large number of siblings may certainly have contributed to her understanding of the varying child identities and spectrums that exist. These multitudes of voices may have given her a small sample of what childhood across society.

Through her works, Edgeworth presented to readers the importance of civic duties, which included the relationships between humans, and the need to for patience and kindness, to grow better opportunities for future generations.

Edgeworth’s questioning of Irish identity, and identity in general, as well as pressing questions on the direction of education, made her a leading expert. Many people in Britain, Ireland, and the rest of Europe, saw her work as an important, building on the ideas of renaissance thinkers and theorists.

References edit

Chandler, Anne. "Maria Edgeworth on Citizenship: Rousseau, Darwin, and Feminist Pessimism in "Practical Education"." Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, vol. 35, no. 1, 2016, pp. 93-122.

Connolly, Claire. "The Secret of Castle Rackrent." European Romantic Review, vol. 31, no. 6, 2020, pp. 663-679.

Harmon, Mary. "Empowerment Or Ridicule? Irish Vernacular in Maria Edgeworth's Castle Rackrent." The Midwest Quarterly (Pittsburg), vol. 56, no. 4, 2015, pp. 324.

Jeung, Han H., and David Kellogg. "A Story without SELF: Vygotsky's Pedology, Bruner's Constructivism and Halliday's Construalism in Understanding Narratives by Korean Children." Language and Education, vol. 33, no. 6, 2019, pp. 506-520.

Manly, Susan. "Maria Edgeworth's Political Lives." European Romantic Review, vol. 31, no. 6, 2020, pp. 767-786.

Mullen, Mary. "Anachronistic Aesthetics: Maria Edgeworth and the 'Uses' of History." Eighteenth-Century Fiction, vol. 26, no. 2, 2013, pp. 233-259.

Ó Gallchoir, Clíona. ""A Desert Island is a Delightful Place": Maria Edgeworth and Robinson Crusoe." European Romantic Review, vol. 31, no. 6, 2020, pp. 715-729.

Ridout, K. K., et al. "Early Life Adversity and Telomere Length: A Meta-Analysis." Molecular Psychiatry, vol. 23, no. 4, 2018;2017;, pp. 858-871.

Ulferts, Hannah, Katrin M. Wolf, and Yvonne Anders. "Impact of Process Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care on Academic Outcomes: Longitudinal Meta‐Analysis." Child Development, vol. 90, no. 5, 2019, pp. 1474-1489.

UNSW Arts & Social Sciences. “The Double Disguise by Maria Edgeworth.” YouTube, September 28, 2015.