by Maria Edgeworth
Read on Amazon Kindle
I'm writing this review looking over my shoulder at the specter of Jane Austen. Maria Edgeworth's, The Absentee was published in 1812. Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811, and Austen had three other hits in the next five years (with two hits published after she died.) The fact is, every single novel that Austen completed is a major, major, world-wide hit, and it is hard not to look at influences and contemporary authors without seeing the shadow that Jane Austen casts over the development of the Novel as an art form. Austen def. counts as an Artist who "wasn't appreciated at the time." Whereas Edgeworth was quite notable in 1812 as a result of 1800's Castle Rackrent.
Thus, a critic/reader/audience member in 1812 or 1813 might have thought that Maria Edgeworth would be a writer "for the ages" and not have heard of Jane Austen. While Austen was reeling off hit after hit, and not having an immediate Audience for her work, Edgeworth was also continuing to write additional novels, but these have no where near the level of Audience as ALL of Austen's books.
At the same time, The Absentee was an enjoyable read for me, and I'm dreading each and every one of the six Jane Austen novel's I'm about to read, and that is because Jane Austen's books are all so familiar. Writing a review of a Jane Austen book is like writing an album review about a Beatles record: You can do it, but you won't be adding anything to the discussion.
Maria Edgeworth was the daughter of a Jean-Jacques Rousseau reading English Lord who had an estate in Ireland. Initially, Edgeworth wrote with/for her father, only gradually expanding into her own right as Author. It's clear that one of the main differences between Edgeworth and Austen is that Edgeworth was in innovator/radical, and Austen was a classicist- perfecting an already existing form. Edgeworth and Austen read each other, and they both read Frances Burney. Both purchased Burney's Camillia, published in 1796 by mail-order subscription.
Personally, I found The Absentee to much more enjoyable, though perhaps less advanced in structure, then Castle Rackrent. Although The Absentee takes aspects of the picaresque and marriage plot from various sources, the social concern expressed is entirely novel, and the pacing and language is far more sophisticated compared to that in Camillia. In The Absentee we begin to see expressed some of the most critical themes of the Victorian novel as exemplified by Austen, Dickens and their cohorts: social concern, and a heightened awareness of pacing and use of language- themes that continue to characterize the Novel as an art form.
Edgeworth is a good Author to have in your back pocket in case you run into any serious Jane Austen fans in your life.