(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The discrepancy between Thady’s tone and the historical and social significance of the material that he is addressing places Castle Rackrent squarely in one of the most enduring traditions of Irish writing. This tradition is satire, and it was initiated in Anglophone Irish writing by Jonathan Swift, though its existence in Irish-language writing is far more ancient. Rather than attacking head-on the social conditions of which she strongly disapproves, Edgeworth allows them effectively to condemn themselves through Thady’s untenable account of them. On one level, the overall effect of the gap between the steward and his stewardship is that of a broad comedy of manners, a genre that Edgeworth’s most important subsequent writing refines. At another level, however, it is possible to see Thady’s narrative as more of an indictment than a comedy. This view underlines the originality with which Edgeworth invokes and deploys race, class, and gender as structuring elements in Thady’s tale. The racial element is emphasized primarily in the language Thady uses. Its convolutions, contradictions, and self-deceptions are an accurate reflection of life on the Rackrent estates. His language is an expression of the quality of consciousness that such a life evinces from those who are trapped within it. Edgeworth’s emphasis is on the degree to which Thady’s consciousness manifests entrapment. His loyalty may be perceived as a perhaps crude but nevertheless telling...

(The entire section is 520 words.)