Form and Content
Maria Edgeworth wrote two series entitled Tales of Fashionable Life. The first was published in 1809, and the second, to which The Absentee belongs, appeared three years later. Although The Absentee is an important work of Irish fiction, it may also be seen as a commentary on London’s life of fashion and on the moral consequences of such a life.
In one sense, The Absentee resembles a travel work, a form in which Edgeworth was very interested, to which numerous members of her very large family contributed in their letters, and to which she made her own contribution later in her writing career. The disturbed state of Europe during the Napoleonic period caused many to rediscover the remoter areas of the British Isles, Ireland among them. Although Edgeworth does not use Europe as a point of comparison, she does adapt the travelogue to explore some of its cultural and narrative underpinnings. These explorations, in turn, have the effect of internalizing the travel experience, so that the end of the protagonist’s journey is self-discovery. Such a conceptual framework is used in Ennui (1809), the other work in Tales of Fashionable Life that has an Irish background, and in a later Irish work, Ormond (1817).
Despite its debt to the travel book, the landscape of The Absentee is a somewhat generalized entity. Lord Colambre’s travels introduce him to generic features of the Ireland that existed in the wake of the passage of the Act of Union. This piece of...
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