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 experiences that led to her most important novels.
In 1795 Maria Edgeworth published...
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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.)