Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Maria Edgeworth was an important figure in the development of the novel. She was one of twenty-two children born to Richard Lowell Edgeworth, an Irish educator. Her mother was Anna Maria Elers, the first of Richard Edgeworth’s four wives. Spending her earliest years in Litchfield, England, and ignored by parents whose marriage was not a success, Maria was taken to Ireland in 1773 when her mother died and her father remarried. Between 1775 and 1782 she returned to England to attend school, first in Derby and later in London. In response to Maria’s rather lackluster letters to her family, her father began to request that she write stories for him. He also began making the first of a great many suggestions about writing—suggestions that Maria would follow throughout her long writing career. When an eye infection threatened Maria’s sight, Richard Edgeworth decided that it was time for her to rejoin her family, and by mid-1782 she had returned to Ireland, where—except for extended visits to England, Scotland, and France—she made her home in Edgeworthstown, surrounded by her numerous siblings and nurtured by a protective father.
During the 1780’s Maria occupied herself by serving as her father’s bookkeeper and assistant in the management of the Edgeworth family estate. Thus began her dependency on her father, who saw in her the means by which he could test his theories about the education and training of children and young people. A great deal of critical controversy has focused on the relationship between Maria Edgeworth and her father. Many commentators have concluded that his influence on her was negative, but a number of scholars suggest that Richard Edgeworth’s character may have been at least partially misread; certainly he should be credited with instilling in his daughter the habit of critical thinking, rare among women of her class and era. He was also responsible for the freedom with which Maria moved about the Edgeworth estate and acquired the...
(The entire section is 850 words.)
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Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Maria Edgeworth’s life, stranger than fiction, is the fountainhead of her literary work. Born at her mother’s home in England to Richard Lovell Edgeworth and Anna Maria Elers, Maria was one of her father’s twenty-two children and her mother’s five children. When, in 1773, her mother died in childbirth after an unhappy marriage (Maria recollected her crying most of the time), Edgeworth four months later married another Englishwoman, Honora Sneyd. Eight months after her death in 1780, he married her sister Elizabeth. Finally, in 1798, six months after Elizabeth’s death, he married Frances Beaufort, an Anglo-Irishwoman a year younger than Maria who had illustrated The Parent’s Assistant. This marriage posed a considerable threat to Maria. By allowing that her father could love a new wife without altering his love for her, Maria forced Frances to wish only “to make one side with Edgeworth and Maria of an equilateral triangle.” Coming to Edgeworthstown during the violent era of the 1798 Revolution, Frances was welcomed by the children of the former three wives and added six of her own to complete Edgeworth’s family in his sixty-fifth year.
Maria, who never married, rejected the proposal of a Swedish gentleman in Paris during her travels to England, France, and Scotland between 1802 and 1803 because she was unable to leave her father and the security of Edgeworthstown. In 1813, Maria, her father, and Frances spent a season in London,...
(The entire section is 531 words.)
Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
January 1, 1767, is usually accepted as the birth date of Maria Edgeworth, but, in Maria Edgeworth: A Literary Biography (1972), Marilyn Butler asserts that Maria herself “seems to have considered 1768 correct, and the Black Bourton records on the whole support her.” This is one of the few uncertainties in a life dedicated to family, friends, and literature. Edgeworth was born in England, the child of Richard Lovell Edgeworth (an Anglo-Irish gentleman with extensive estates in county Longford, about sixty miles from Dublin) and his first wife, Anna Maria Elers Edgeworth, who died when Maria was five years old. By all accounts, Maria got along well with her three siblings, two sisters and a brother (another child died before she was born), and with her father’s next three wives and her seventeen half brothers and half sisters, most of whom she helped to rear. The general harmony in the Edgeworth household may be seen as all the more remarkable when one considers that Richard Edgeworth’s last wife, Frances Anne Beaufort Edgeworth (with whose family Maria became quite friendly), was a year or two younger than Maria.
Much of this impressive concord can be credited to Richard Lovell Edgeworth, a man of enormous confidence and personal force. He took the not untypical eighteenth century view that, as the father in the household, he was the lord and master in a literal sense. Fortunately, he was a benevolent master. Although he believed firmly that he knew what was best for all his wives and children, what he believed to be best was their relatively free development, confined only by his sense of what was morally right and socially proper. Maria evidently accepted her father’s guidance to the point of seeking and welcoming his advice.
Richard Edgeworth had such confidence both in the good sense of his children and in his own principles of education, which were patterned on those of his eccentric friend Thomas Day (author of the once-famous novel of education The History of Sandford and Merton, 1783-1789), that he informed his family of the reasons for nearly all of his decisions, and certainly for the important ones. The most important of these was his resolve to settle on his family estate in Ireland (he had been living in England for a number...
(The entire section is 936 words.)