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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 233

Through its representation of a long line of inept (and hard-drinking, litigious, abusive, and so on) owners, this short novel pokes fun at the Anglo-Irish, a class of people living in Ireland who are descended from the English. They participated in the Ascendancy: the era extending from the seventeenth century through the beginning of the twentieth century when Protestant English landowners held all economic and political power in Ireland. The novel also seems to herald this group's eventual and inevitable demise, as the Rackrent estate is eventually sold by Sir Condy, the final family owner of the estate, to the son of the steward who narrates the text. Thady Quirk's son, Jason, eventually exploits the financial situation in which Sir Condy finds himself when he runs out of money (due, in part, to his generosity), and his wife's father refuses to help them financially. The castle itself falls into disrepair, an appropriate symbol of the future breakdown of the Anglo-Irish. Jason purchases both the castle and the land around it, waving golden guineas in Sir Condy's face, knowing that the nobleman who has not had cash in a long time will be unable to resist. The fact that the nobility no longer has money while Jason, an attorney, is flush with it also seems to point to the idea that, at some point, a new social and political order will arise in Ireland.

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 805

While Maria Edgeworth’s name was not unknown to the reading public when Castle Rackrent was first published, nothing that she had previously written could have prepared even her most devoted reader for her first novel. In theme, tone, and form, Castle Rackrent is entirely original, and its originality is not merely a matter of fashion but endures so as to make this work a landmark in the development of fiction as not only an art but also a powerful form of cultural discourse. Even the story of Castle Rackrent is one that had either been taken for granted or inadequately handled. The political and economic decline of the Irish landlord class, the ramshackle and unproductive lives that this class allegedly lived, and the rather miserable country in which all this took place featured in English fiction largely as clichés. While Edgeworth handles the subject satirically, there is an intimacy between author and subject that created a permanent change in the way such material could be approached.

Two features of the story merit special attention. The first is the representation of decline as a gradual, generational phenomenon. The mismanagement and recklessness of successive generations of Rackrents, from Sir Patrick to Sir Murtagh to Sir Kit and culminating in the extended treatment of Sir Condy, the last of the line, is not merely one of the novel’s satirical strategies. It also facilitates the introduction of a historical component to the text, which the author’s editorial apparatus supplies. This inclusion of such material draws attention to the fact that Edgeworth’s intention is not to deride the Rackrents but to represent them as an object lesson from which a new social dispensation among Irish landlords may be drawn.

The novel’s second noteworthy feature is its impersonation of the family retainer, Thady Quirk. This feat of mimicry gives at least the semblance of a presence to the class dependent on the landlords. Such an act of recognition also articulated Edgeworth’s didactic intent. In this case, the lesson is one of harmony between master and man, with an emphasis on the desirability of integration between the classes and a tacit belief that such an outcome would do nothing to impair or diminish the human qualities of the dependents. Edgeworth’s attachment to those beneath her on the...

(The entire section contains 2289 words.)

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