Maria Edgeworth

Portrait of Maria Edgeworth

Maria Edgeworth: (1768-1849) was an Anglo-Irish novelist of realist adults and children’s literature. She was born in Black Bourton, Oxfordshire, England on 1st January 1768 and died in Edgeworthstown on 22nd May 1849 aged 81.

Major Works

“Letters for Literary Ladies” (1795) 
“The Parent’s Assistant” (1796)
“Practical Education” (1798)
“Castle Rackrent” (1800)
“Moral Tales” (1801)

Biography Timeline

Maria Edgeworth was born at Black Bourton, Oxfordshire, England on 1st January 1768. She was the eldest daughter of her father Richard Lovell Edgeworth and his first wife Anna Maria Elers. Her father was an Anglo-Irish politician, writer and inventor who was active in the Lunar Society of Birmingham. She spent her early years in Northchurch in Hertfordshire, England with her mother’s family.

1773: Her mother Anna dies of puerperal fever in March following the birth of her fifth child. Her father remarries three months later to Honora Sneyd of Lichfield, England. Maria travels with her father back to his estate, Edgeworthstown in County Longford, Ireland.

1775: She goes to Mrs. Lattafière’s school in Derby after the illness of her stepmother and thereafter transfers to Mrs Devis’s school in London.

1777: The Edgeworthstown estate in Ireland begins to become run down in the absence of the family.

1780: Her stepmother Honora dies and her father marries her sister Elizabeth. This was then not socially acceptable but still legal. 

1781: She nearly loses her sight due to an eye infection. 

1782: She returns home during the summer and becomes her father’s assistant in managing the Edgeworthstown estate. She tutors her younger siblings, aged 14, and is home schooled herself in law, literature, politics and economics by her father. She also begins a lifelong academic collaboration with her father and mixes with the local gentry, including Kitty Pakenham the future wife of the Duke of Wellington. She also starts writing to other members of the Lunar Society.

1786: Recently an unpublished manuscript has been found of her early work “The Double Disguise”.

1795: Her first published work was “Letters for Literary Ladies” which championed women as writers.

1796: She publishes a collection of children’s stories “The Parent’s Assistant” which includes the short story “The Purple Jar”.

1797: Her step mother Elizabeth dies.

1798: She co-authors “Practical Education” with her father, which is well received and gains her international fame. It is based on her own experiences of teaching children. Her father remarries to Frances Beaufort, the daughter of an Anglican priest in May. Frances is a year younger than Maria but they remain great friends for the rest of their lives.

1800: She publishes her first work of fiction set in Ireland, “Castle Rackrent” in January. The family travel to London. She writes that she agrees with the recent Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland and that boys and girls should be educated equally, following up on ideas put forward by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

1801: The comic novel “Belinda” is published about a heroine trying to find true love in London’s difficult social world. She also writes “Early Lessons” and “Moral Tales for Young People”.

1802: The family tour the English Midlands and then the continent. They move on from Brussels and Maria turns down a marriage proposal in Paris from the Swedish scientist Count Abram Niclas van Clewberg-Edelcrantz even though she claimed to love him. She publishes “Essay on Irish Bulls”.

1803: The family return to Ireland due to the resumption of the Napoleonic Wars. Maria begins writing “Tales of Fashionable Life”, “The Absentee” and “Ormond” mainly about Irish life.

1804: She publishes “Popular Tales”.

1806: Her novel “Leonora” is an experiment in writing in the letter format.

1809: She publishes the novel “Ennui” and “Tales of Fashionable Life” and becomes the most commercially successful writer of the age and she is compared favourably with Sir Walter Scott and Jane Austen. She uses the money to subsidise her brothers and sisters.

1812: “The Absentee” receives the best critical reception of all her works. 

1813: She visits London where she is feted in literary circles and meets Lord Byron, whom she did not take to, and the chemist Humphry Davy.

1814: She publishes “Patronage” and begins to correspond with Sir Walter Scott after the publication of his novel “Waverley” in which he acknowledged her influence.

1815: She receives a letter from Rachael Mordecai in America complaining about the depiction of Jews in “The Absentee”. She sets about working on an apology to the Jewish Community (later entitled “Harrington” which is published in 1817). It is a fictitious autobiography about overcoming antisemitism.

1817: Besides “Harrington” another novel “Ormond” is published about the growth of a male hero. They both appear in June just before the death of her father. She also publishes “Comic Dramas”. She then begins to edit her father’s literary memoirs filling in with biographical details of her own.

1820: Her memoir of Richard Lovell Edgeworth’s life is published. 

1823: She visited Walter Scott at his home Abbottsford House in Scotland and he takes her on a tour of the region.

1824: Scott returns the visit to Edgeworthstown. 

1834: Even though she claimed she had lost enthusiasm for writing fiction her last novel “Helen” is published. It is set in England and she tells her publisher that she has deliberately set out not to use morality too prominently.

1837: She is made an honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy. 

1848: She works for the relief of Irish peasants during the Great Famine and writes “Orlandino” for the Relief Fund.

Maria Edgeworth died suddenly of a heart attack in Edgeworthstown on 22nd May 1849. She was buried alongside her father in the family vault in the churchyard of St. Johns, Edgeworthstown, Ireland.

Further Information

List of books by Edgeworth in chronological order.

Scroll to Top