Maria Edgeworth was born Oxfordshire, England in 1768 and moved to County Longford, Ireland when she was five. She become a successful author and was one of the first women to be a successful novelist.
She was known as the ‘Irish Jane Austen’, and wrote for adults and children. She wrote about Irish culture and tried to change the caricatured Irish image that was found in writing of the day with accurate representations of the people. Her writing style was full of common sense, humour and an easy-reading style.
Professor Suvendrini Perera said her novels showed “the gradual anglicanisation of feudal Irish society. Edgeworth’s goal in her works was to show the Irish as equal to the English, and therefore warranting equal, though not separate, status”.
Edgeworth believed that education was important to individual and national improvement. She said: “Education is the foundation of the well-governed estate and the foundation of the well-governed nation.” She thought boys and girls should be educated equally and together.
Edgeworth wanted women to have self-awareness, and stressed the importance of the individual. She strove for women to have a greater say in politics, and supported Catholic Emancipation.
She helped her father to manage their Edgeworthtown Estate in County Longford. Maria and her father worked to improve the living conditions of the poor in Edgeworthstown. They provided a school for local children whatever their religion.
However, it is not known how popular she was as there is contradictory evidence of how the estate workers viewed her. One visitor to the estate wrote: “We found neither mud hovels nor naked peasantry, but snug cottages and smiles all about.”
While another wrote; “The residents of Edgeworthstown treated Edgeworth with contempt, refusing even to feign politeness.”
She was a complex character and worked very hard to raise money for the starving Irish peasants of the famine. She wrote Orlandino (free eBook available here) to boost the funds of the Relief Fund.
She wrote many times to the Quaker Relief Committee describing the dire conditions and struggles of the tenants in Edgeworthstown, and America sent funds to help the Irish peasants.
Although she worked hard to improve the conditions of the starving Irish peasants during the Irish Potato Famine, Edgeworth stipulated that only tenants who had paid their rent in full would receive relief. She also punished her tenants who voted against her Tory beliefs.
She died of a heart attack, aged 81 years in Edgeworthstown on 22 May 1849.