Born in Oxfordshire, the second child in the family, Maria was educated in England, but came to Ireland permanently when her family returned there in 1782. Her father was Member of Parliament for Edgeworthstown, County Longford, and she became his chief assistant in running his estate and took a major part in educating his many other children. Her works expressed many ideas on education and society, showing clearly the influence of her father's unusually progressive views on such subjects, drawing ultimately on Rousseau's Emile, but exploring them in her own manner.
Her first novel, Castle Rackrent, was an immediate success, and Sir Walter Scott acknowledged that he attempted "in some distant degree to emulate the admirable Irish portraits drawn by Miss Edgeworth."
With her father, she composed An Essay on Irish Bulls, and they continued to collaborate in her later work, for which he suggested plots and even wrote sections of the narrative for inclusion. She broadened her knowledge of the world by visiting Brussles and Paris in 1802, and turned down a proposal of marriage from a Swedish aristocrat out of a sense of duty to her family.
Apart from her novels of Irish life, she wrote other stories for and about children, and her Practical Education, written with her father, was well before its time in recommending play and spontaneity as necessary elements of childhood.
After her father's death in 1817, she wrote little more, but continued to manage the family estate with great skill. During the Irish Famine of 1845-7, she worked energetically to relieve the plight of the starving poor. She died at the family home in Edgeworthstown fifteen years after the publication of her last novel.
The Parent's Assistant (1796)
Castle Rackrent (1800)
Tales of Fashionable Life (1809)
The Absentee (1812)
Other Writings: |
Letters to Literary Ladies (1795)
Practical Education (1798)
Essays on Irish Bulls (1802)