Maria Edgeworth was born in Oxfordshire, at the home of her grandparents, but spent most of her life in Ireland on her father's estate. Her early efforts at fiction were melodramatic, one of her schoolgirl novels featuring a villain who wore a mask made from the skin of a dead man's face. She grew up in the landed gentry of Ireland, with the families of Kitty Pakenham (later Wellington's wife), Lady Moira, and her aunt Margaret Ruston at Black Castle for company. She acted as manager of her father's estate, later drawing on this experience for her novels about the Irish.
In 1802 the Edgeworths went abroad, first to Brussels and then to France (during the Peace of Amiens, that brief lull in the Napoleanic wars). They met all the notables, and Maria received a marriage proposal from a Swedish count. They returned to Ireland and Maria returned to writing. After her father's death in 1817 she edited his memoirs, and extended them with her biographical comments. She was an active writer to the last, and worked strenuously for the relief of the famine-stricken Irish peasants during 1845.
Mr. Edgeworth, a well-know author and inventor, encouraged his daughter's career, and has been criticized for his insistence on approving and editing her work. The tales in The Parent's Assistant were approved by her father before he would allow them to be read to her younger siblings (he had four wives and 22 children). Castle Rackrent was written and submitted for anonymous publication without his knowledge. She admitted that all her stories had a moral purpose behind them, usually pointing out the duty of the upper class toward their tenants. However, her style didn't pass muster with one of the religious leaders of the day: the preacher Robert Hall said, "I should class her books as among the most irreligious I have ever read ... she does not attack religion, nor inveigh against it, but makes it appear unnecessary by exhibiting perfect virtue without it. ... No works ever produced so bad an effect on my mind as hers." True, her characters are agnostics when compared to the typical uplifting novels of the time.
Partial List of Published Works