Maria Edgeworth was a English author in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries who not only wrote, but worked vigorously for the relief of the famine-stricken Irish peasants during 1845. Growing up in the landed gentry of Ireland , she used her experiences to write her novels about the Irish.
Maria Edgworth was born in Berkshire , England on January 1, 1767 the daughter of Richard Lovell Edgworth, a noted inventor and author. Her mother died when she was only six years old and she was sent to school in Derby when she was seven and remained their until she was fourteen. Her father placed much importance on his daughter’s education, hoping she would be able to contribute something of substance to the world. While attending school Maria became a extraordinary story-teller and writer. Her early attempts at fiction were a bit melodramatic, but as she grew-up her literary skills grew also.
When she was still a young teen, Maria indicated her taste for literary pursuits and never seemed to wish to be married. She stayed on at home with her family, and her father assisted in developing her talent. When she was fifteen years old her father inherited Edgeworthstown, the family estate in Ireland , where they moved. There in Ireland , under her father’s direction, she pursued her studies, formed habits of sharp observation, and developed a cheerfulness that always made her beloved in society. Maria acted as his chief assistant and secretary in the management of his estates and it was here that she gained the intimate knowledge of Irish peasant life that was the basis of many of her novels.
Maria also took on the responsibility of educating her brothers and sisters, writing stories for them that were later compiled and published as “The Parents Assistant”. Her father was very careful about the stories she produced and she was compelled to submit each story to him for his approval before he would allow it to be read aloud to her sibling.
Maria’s first publication was “Letters for Literary Ladies” in 1795, which was a plea for reform of woman’s education, expressing views which closely corresponded to those of her father. The first of her novels, “Castle Rackrent”, was published in 1800 and was an immediate success. It was published anonymously without her father’s knowledge so as to avoid his demanding editing. Following this work was “Belinda”, “Popular Tales”, “Leonora”, Tales of Fashionable Life”, “Patronage”, “Hanrrington”, and “Ormond”. Her career continued without interruption until 1817.
On the death of her father in 1817, her career as an author was interrupted for a time. She did not resume her works of fiction until she had expressed her affection for her father by completing the memoirs which he had begun of his own life. Not until 1834 was her charming story of “Helen” published; and her literary career ended with the child’s story of “Orlandino”, which appeared in 1847.
The first signs of famine appeared in Ireland in 1845 and Maria and her family did what they could to alleviate the suffering of the Irish peasants. They, themselves, were not kept from the widespread hunger and barely survived. Maria died at the age of 82 on May 22, 1849.