New Year’s Day marked the anniversary of the birth of Anglo-Irish author Maria Edgeworth (1767 or 1768-1849). Edgeworth was one of the most prolific and successful novelists of the early 19th century.
Edgeworth’s earliest publications were children’s stories and treatises on education, but in 1800, she burst on the scene as a novelist with Castle Rackrent, a satire of the English landowner class in Ireland. Edgeworth’s fiction deals with moral, political, and social issues of the early 19th century. Her novels were both popular and influential; Sir Walter Scott acknowledged the influence of Edgeworth’s historical novels on his own best-selling fiction, and Jane Austen mentions the novel Belinda in her own Northanger Abbey. Some scholars believe that Austen’s spirited heroines were inspired by Belinda and other Edgeworth characters.
Special Collections owns a number of examples of Edgeworth’s work, including the second edition of her early treatise Practical Education and first editions of her novels Leonora (1806) and Harrington (1817). Another important Edgeworth holding in Special Collections, the children’s book Harry and Lucy Concluded (1825), was inscribed by the author to two of her siblings and features her personal corrections.