Maria Edgeworth – Regency Promenade by Nancy Mayer

In our Regency Promenade today, Nancy Mayer looks at Maria Edgeworth, a prolific writer of adults’ and children’s literature who held advanced views on estate management, politics and education.

Maria Edgeworth by John Downman 1807
Maria Edgeworth by John Downman 1807

Maria Edgeworth 1767-1849
“As a woman, my life, wholly domestic, can offer nothing
of interest to the public.” Maria

 Maria Edgeworth was one of three children born to her father’s first, and least loved, wife.

Richard Edgeworth had four wives and twenty-one children. He had a large estate in Ireland.  He experimented with education, using his children as subjects.  Maria adored her father.

He brought her home from school when she was sixteen and set her as an assistant teacher to her siblings.

Maria Edgeworth
Maria Edgeworth

Maria’s family knew her as a warm, practical, volatile, loving person.

She became agitated over little upsets but was calm and efficient in major upheavals; she scoffed at the use of the supernatural and overly comic in books but enjoyed reading about them with her family.

She accepted her father’s philosophy of utilitarianinism and incorporated its lessons in her stories for children.

Miniature of Maria Edgeworth by Adam Buck c1790
Miniature of Maria Edgeworth by Adam Buck c1790

She believed that a woman’s best profession was that of wife and mother, but never married.

She considered herself a critic of the feminist movement of Wollstonecraft and Mary Hays, but  her writings mark her as a closet feminist; she also demonstrated an interest and competence in “masculine subjects” such as science, accounting, and logic.

At first,  Maria wrote  her books in collaboration or with the suggestion of her father. However with Letters for  Literary Ladies and Castle Rackrent she wrote both of them without the knowledge of her father.

Castle Rackrent was immensely popular. Maria wrote other novels such as Belinda. Her popularity continued for most of her life though.

Maria was loved as a person.

Some of her books:

1798 First edition title page to Practical Education by Maria Edgeworth 
1798 First edition title page to Practical Education by Maria Edgeworth

Letters for Literary Ladies – 1795
An Essay on the Noble Science of Self-Justification – 1795
The Parent’s Assistant – 1796
Practical Education – 1798 (2 vols; collaborated with her father, Richard Lovell Edgeworth)
Castle Rackrent (1800) (novel)
Early Lessons – 1801
Moral Tales- 1801
Belinda – (1801) (novel)
The Mental Thermometer- 1801
Essay on Irish Bulls – 1802 (political, collaborated with her father)
Popular Tales – 1804
The Modern Griselda – 1804
Moral Tales for Young People – 1805 (6 vols)
Leonora – 1806 (written during the French excursion)
Essays in Professional Education- 1809
Tales of Fashionable Life – 1809 (first in a series, includes The Absentee)
Ennui – 1809 (novel)
The Absentee – 1812 (novel)
Patronage – 1814 (novel)
Harrington – 1817 (novel)
Ormond – 1817 (novel)
Comic Dramas – 1817
Memoirs of Richard Lovell Edgeworth – 1820 (edited her father’s memoirs)
Rosamond: A Sequel to Early Lessons- 1821
Frank: A Sequel to Frank in Early Lessons- 1822
Tomorrow – 1823 (novel)
Helen – 1834 (novel)
Orlandino- 1848 (temperance novel)

Besides writing novels, Maria took an active part in management of the estates.  I think it unfair that her father left the estates to less capable males just because they were males, than to Maria who often had to teach her brothers and nephews how to keep the estate productive.
Maria did not appear to mind this discrimination.
She was a female author who made money. She never married though she had received a proposal or two. She traveled on the continent when possible.

Her last step-mother was younger than she, but Maria nevertheless called her mother.


 Regency Promenade is written every month by Nancy Mayer, Regency researcher extraordinaire.

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