Set in Ireland, Maria Edgeworth's Castle Rackrent follows four generations of the castle's heirs. Their story is told by Thady Quirk, their elderly steward. The novel, published in 1800, is thought to be both the first historical novel and the first novel to feature an unreliable narrator.
The first man to preside over Rackrent is Sir Patrick, who claims to have invented raspberry whiskey. He's affable, generous, and a big drinker. When he dies, Castle Rackrent is inherited by his polar opposite: Sir Murtagh the tightwad, who dies in a fit of rage. His equally cheap wife, Lady Murtagh, pillages Castle Rackrent for anything of value and moves to London.
Castle Rackrent is next passed to Lady Murtagh's younger brother, Sir Kit. He goes to England to find a rich wife who will pay off the estate's mounting debts. He succeeds, but there's no love there, and they fight frequently. Sir Kit locks his wife in her room for seven years, and he's later killed in a duel. Once freed, Lady Kit ditches Castle Rackrent for London, too.
The next heir is a distant cousin of Sir Kit: a profligate politician named Sir Condy. He befriends the neighbor's daughter, Isabella, who falls in love with him. He's in love with Thady's beautiful niece, Judy. Sir Condy flips a coin to decide whom he should marry, and it's Isabella. Together, they run the estate out of money.
Meanwhile, Thady's son, Jason, has been plotting to take over Castle Rackrent while heir after heir bumbles through their tenure at the castle. Sir Condy is forced to sell the castle, and when he dies, Isabella and Jason go to court over its ownership. Popular opinion is split over who will win, but Jason the steward's son has succeeded in transforming himself into a "high gentleman."
After the death of Sir Patrick O’Shaughlin, his fine and generous master, Honest Thady Quirk finds himself working at Castle Rackrent for the heir, Sir Murtagh, a penny-pinching owner with a vicious temper. Lady Murtagh is also more interested in money than in the happiness of her tenants. After Sir Murtagh dies in a fit of temper, she strips Castle Rackrent of its treasures and goes to live in London. The estate passes to her husband’s younger brother, Sir Kit Rackrent, a wild, carefree man. Finding the estate in debt and heavily mortgaged, Sir Kit goes to England to marry a rich wife who will repair the estate and bring a dowry for his support.
At last, Sir Kit comes back with a wealthy wife, a Jew he married while staying in Bath. It is soon apparent to Honest Thady that there is no love between the honeymooners. One serious difficulty arises over the presence of pig meat on the dinner table. Lady Kit insists that no such meat be served, but Sir Kit defies her orders. When the meat appears on the table, Lady Kit retires to her room, and her husband locks her in. She remains a prisoner for seven years. When she becomes very ill and appears to be dying, Sir Kit tries to influence her to leave her jewels to him, but she refuses. It is...
(The entire section is 1,154 words.)