by Maria Edgeworth
Originally published in 1800
Oxford World's Classics Series
published 1964, edited by George Watson
introduction, bibliography by Kathryn J. Kirkpatrick, 1995
this edition published in 2008.
Maria Edgeworth is either described as "the Irish Jane Austen" or "the lady Walter Scott," two comparisons that show you what a killer Maria Edgeworth was in the Novel writing game at the beginning of the 19th century. Edgeworth was the daughter of protestant Anglo landlord's who had been in Ireland since the beginning of the 17th century.
The introduction written by Kathryn J. Kirkpatrick is a good argument for why you would buy this specific book rather then reading a public domain copy. Edgeworth is certainly not as popular as Jane Austen, a taste for Maria Edgeworth is a little "inside baseball," if you know what I mean. As Kirkpatrick puts it, "Innovative, prophetic and artistically masterful, the book both borrows from and originates a variety of literary genres and sub-genres without fitting neatly into any of them. This protean quality may account for the novel's ambiguous status in the literary canon as well as its pervasive influence. Combining the subtle wit of the French tale, the Gaelic cadences of Irish oral tradition, and Gothic intrigue over property and inheritance, Castle Rackrent has gathered a dazzling array of firsts- the first regional novel, the first socio-historical novel, the first Irish novel, the first Big House novel, the first saga novel."
I know that female novelists of the 18th and early 19th century aren't generally thought to be subversive or counter-cultural, but I really see the emergence of Jane Austen/female novelists as a seminal moment in world cultural history, akin to the invention of the piano or the use of perspective in Renaissance painting.
Edgeworth both precedes Austen and writes from the perspective of the literary outsider. Considering the future history of the "local" novel- i.e. eventually dominating serious literature in the 20th century, Castle Rackrent being the first "local" novel is important. Castle Rackrent is also less then a hundred pages, and when you compare her compact, descriptive prose to the sprawling digressive quality of a Frances Burney, the reader is much closer to "now" in Castle Rackrent vs Burney's Camilla: EVEN THOUGH THE TWO BOOKS WERE WRITTEN WITHIN FIVE YEARS OF ONE ANOTHER.
Edgeworth is on a different style planet then is Burney. The hey-day of the Victorian novel is imminent when Castle Rackrent was published. Castle Rackrent was, in fact, a direct influence of writers like Walter Scott and Jane Austen because not that many books were published back then- perhaps a little more then a hundred. The fact that Castle Rackrent was published at all, meant that it would be noticed by people "in the scene."