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The Papers of Maria Edgeworth, 1768-1849

Part 1: The Edgeworth Papers from the Bodleian Library, Oxford

"The publication of this microfilm edition will vastly assist readers and scholars everywhere to extend and deepen their knowledge of Edgeworth’s works, through access for the first time to the great bulk of an unusually rich archive of unpublished writings and correspondence."
Dr Marilyn Butler, Fellow, King’s College, Cambridge

Maria Edgeworth occupies an important place in the history of women’s writing. A pioneer of social realism, her novels represent a significant contribution to the literature of class, race and gender.

Castle Rackrent (1800), a comic masterpiece, is recognised as the first fully developed regional novel and the first true historical novel in English. Edgeworth’s use of dialect was innovative and her analysis of the ramifications of Ireland’s colonial status perceptive.

Jane Austen was an admirer and sent her one of the first printed copies of Emma. Sir Walter Scott acknowledged his debt to her in the Preface to his Waverley Novels in 1829. Writers such as Balzac, Chekhov, Gogol, George Sand and Turgenev were all influenced by her.

Maria Edgeworth is also an important figure in the History of Education, particularly concerning the education of women. In Practical Education (1798) she demanded that the shackles should be removed from female education:

"[A woman’s] knowledge must be various, and her powers of reason unawed by authority..."

Notwithstanding this, there has been no complete edition of her letters and the new Pickering & Chatto edition of The Works of Maria Edgeworth has only just started to appear.

This new project provides scholars with immediate access to the original manuscript letters, notebooks and manuscripts and will facilitate a deeper examination of all aspects of Maria Edgeworth’s life and work from her education and upbringing to her reading and her creative works. It brings together the two major Edgeworth collections at the Bodleian Library and the National Library of Ireland as well as further important manuscripts from scattered collections.

It provides a platform for the study of:

Anglo-Irish Literature
Female Education
Literary Life and Society, c.1789-1850
Women’s Writing and Women’s Reading
Life in Ireland c.1750-1850
The History of the Novel
Part 1 covers the Edgeworth Papers from the Bodleian Library, Oxford. These relate to Maria, Richard and many other Edgeworth family members.

This first part falls largely into three categories:

literary manuscripts
miscellaneous papers
The literary manuscripts feature over 15 notebooks with draft passages for published and unpublished works; story plans, poems and notes on reading. There are also draft and fair copies of published works, anecdotes and outlines of plays.

Among the highlights are:

Enigma, a poem by Maria Edgeworth
Notes for Harry and Lucy
Two notebooks compiled by Mrs Honora Edgeworth recording her children’s responses to lessons forming the basis of Practical Education
Drafts of On the Education of the Poor in the hand of Maria Edgeworth
Notes for The Parent’s Assistant
Two outlines for Ormond
A fragmentary draft of Harrington
An account of hawking for Helen together with a lost outline
A notebook entitled Travellers & Popular Tales
Notes for an unwritten novel about Ireland
An outline of a story entitled The Life and Death of a Divorcée
A copy of The Devil’s Thoughts by S T Coleridge, "as read by Sir Humphry Davy"
"Lines written by Mrs Barbauld in her 80th year"
The correspondence is equally rich and includes c.2000 letters from Maria Edgeworth, with many more from other family members.

The highly collaborative nature of the literary and educational work of the Edgeworth family is revealed.

Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744-1817), inventor, educator and writer was also the wealthy landlord of substantial estates in Edgeworthstown in County Longford, Ireland. Married four times, he was the father of 22 children of which Maria was the second eldest to survive. Radical and eccentric, he brought up his children to be observant and inquiring and introduced them to the ideas of his friends such as Erasmus Darwin, Mrs Barbauld, Joseph Priestley, Sir Humphry Davy, John Herschel and Thomas Day.

Richard Lovell Edgeworth played a major role in proposing topics for Maria to write on, editing her work and incorporating his own work with it. This process can be examined as can the help provided by Maria’s brothers and sisters in gathering information and details for her works.

Whilst correspondence in Part 1 is principally for the period 1818 to 1849 - after her father’s death, the correspondence in Part 2 from the National Library of Ireland principally covers the earlier period of her life.
In Part 2 we make available the substantial collection of Edgeworth Papers at the National Library of Ireland. These concentrate on the period up to 1817 - the period in which Maria Edgeworth enjoyed her greatest literary success - including the publication of: Letters to Literary Ladies (1795); The Parent’s Assistant (1796); Practical Education (1798); Castle Rackrent (1800); Belinda (1801); Moral Tales (1801); Leonora (1806); Tales of Fashionable Life (1809-1812); Patronage (1814); Ormond and Harrington (both 1817).

The correspondence files - principally letters to and from Richard Lovell Edgeworth and Maria Edgeworth - are especially rich. [See in particular MS 10166/7 (1-1409)].

The development of Maria Edgeworth’s own writing can be traced through letters discussing the origins, preliminary versions, publication and critical reception of Castle Rackrent, Letters for Literary Ladies and many other works.

Contemporary criticism of her works includes Joseph Priestley’s criticisms of Practical Education (in a letter of 1780) and Mrs Inchbald’s views of Ormond (1817).

Maria’s schooldays and family life are well documented, including her own reflections on the education and upbringing of women and consideration of works such as Rousseau’s Emile and Locke’s On Education.

Views of contemporary literature include discussions of Mansfield Park, Emma, Franklin’s Autobiography, Mme de Stael’s Delphine, Erasmus Darwin’s The Temple of Nature, Godwin’s Things as They are, Scott’s Waverley and Lady of the Lake, Barbauld’s Evenings at Home, Lewis’s The Monk, Hume’s Essays, Mrs Inchbald’s A Simple Story, and many other novels. Also discussed are subjects such as, contemporary publishing practice; fees and advances; women’s magazines; and literary society.

A whole file concerns the family’s tour to Belgium and France, August 1802 - March 1803. [See MS 10166/7 (301-361) and also Maria’s Notebook on Paris in MS 10166/7 (366A)]. There are descriptions of Bruges, Brussels, Ghent, Valenciennes, Cambrai, Chantilly and Paris; and of parties, theatrical performances, the Louvre, Morellet and his house, Mme Lavoisier, Bonaparte, the intrepid Montgolfier brothers and their ballooning exploits, French society, and Maria’s rejection of a proposal from Edelcrantz.

Richard Lovell Edgeworth’s intellectual and business pursuits are also well covered including his correspondence with Sir Joseph Banks, Sir Humphry Davy, Malthus, Newcomen, Sir Walter Scott, Sydney Smith, Strutt, Telford, Watt and Windham.

The literary manuscripts covered in this second part of the microfilm project include four albums of family verse; Maria’s Memoirs of Richard Lovell Edgeworth Esq., with numerous corrections in her own hand; a commonplace book; and two more notebooks. The collection also includes Maria’s diary for 1803 and her account books for 1826-9 and 1837-8.

As Barbara Rosenbaum observes:

"Edgeworth gathered information for her work from a wide range of sources, and her voluminous correspondence is full of material, both factual and literary, later incorporated into published works".
Barbara Rosenbaum and Pamela White
Index of English and Literary Manuscripts, Volume IV, Part 1
(Mansell, 1982)

The core of the National Library of Ireland material is to be found in the 9 boxes of Correspondence and Papers making up MS 10166/7 (items 1-1409). Box 10 has additions to this group of papers. Other important groups of material are MS 11132 (1-7) which contains correspondence to and from both Maria and her father, c.1760-1849; MS 13176 (1-50): Edgeworth - Beaufort Papers; MS 21740: 17 autograph letters from Maria Edgeworth to Louisa Hope, most of social, literary and biographical interest, 1818-43; MS 22470 (1-3): Correspondence between Thomas Day and R L Edgeworth; MS 22471 (1-7): Correspondence of R L Edgeworth on Education; MS 22472 (1-3): Correspondence of R L Edgeworth on Literary subjects; and Albums of Family Verses and other literary material - 7 volumes contained in MS 23444-8 and MS 23505-6.

Here are just two extracts from the collection of material in Part 2 to give a fuller flavour of the content:
MS 10166/7 (134): 7 November 1795 - ME to Sophy Ruxton
Hugh Trevor - Traditions - Letters for Literary Ladies

We are all much entertained by your newspaper, especially by the Ball of Fire, and the Horse of Fire - my Father is very thankful to you for your patient extract from the Repertory of Arts. We were some what disappointed to see no news in the Black Castle Paper of an intended visit to Edgeworthstown and we earnestly hope a few posts will bring a paragraph upon this subject - I think my Uncle is indeed in a lamentable situation with his History of Cork and his three odd Volumes of Novels - How enviable is my father’s situation, who has but just begun Hugh Trevor - His exclamations are of a higher note than those which he bestowed on Henry - He says that he never could doubt my Aunt’s critical sagicity, but that her preference of Hugh Trevor is a new proof of her excellent judgement - Magical Illusions are Magical Delusions ... The Book will entertain you - It is an ingenious Harlequin. Entertainment, if you can imagine a Harlequin Entertainment to be horrible instead of comic, and if you can believe and disbelieve your senses alternately, with satisfaction through three volumes - the Book belongs to Lady E Packenham, and my father’s conscience quivers. - Therefore Dear Sophy expect no Magical Delusions by Dr Nelligans Son in Law; but expect Galatea for Miss Waller if the Gentleman will be so good as to take it under his Protection - I would not trust my Galatea to any but a very careful Protector, for I set great value upon it, for good reasons which you will see written in a well known hand on a blank leaf in the Book - ... There is a little Tale called Traditions which we have all been reading - My Aunt Mary brought it from England. It is written by a very young Lady, a friend of hers; it was published by subscription for the Benefit of a French school mistress, who was reduced to distress - this young Lady had been a Pupil of hers and took this method of expressing her gratitude - I will not say anything of the Book itself, because I think we should never sound a loud trumpet in praise of what we wish to be like - the story is short and I think it may find its way to the Black Castle - ... I am still washing and dressing Literary Ladies and I hope my Aunt will not know them again after I have done - Henry sends his love to you and made a very long speech for him, when I read the paragraph about the Pump - "This is very good - I’m much obliged to Sophy - Thank’ee for telling me" ..."

MS 10166/7 (145): 19 March 1796 - ME to Sophy Ruxton
Paragraph on Dr Darwin; letter also covers Mme Roland, Gorman and his gang, Defenders, Caleb Williams as a play, views on education along with ME’s little stories printed and bound like Evenings at home and The Parents’ Assistant.

"I copy for you a passage in a letter my Father has just received from Dr Darwin, if you should not be entertained by it I shall not be angry, provided you will give me credit for my a. b. c’s and the beautious magnets, which are full as well drawn (I am free to say) as the Originals - please to observe, that this may turn out the cornerstone in a new Theory, therefore do not spread the idea abroad if you are acquainted with any Theory Builders - Dr Darwin is the most generous man in the world about his ideas as well as about everything else - He has just promised to send my Father over a manuscript of his on Education - intended for the use of girls Boarding Schools - He says he much wants a proper list of Books English, French and Italian - which he hopes to have supplied here - ... I beg Dear Sophy that you will not call my Little Stories by the sublime title of My Works - I shall else be ashamed when The little mouse comes forth - the stories are printed and bound in the same size as Evenings at Home; but I am afraid you will dislike the title - My father had sent a nice title "The Parents Friend" - but Mr Johnson has degraded the Parents’ Friend into the Parents’ Assistant - which I dislike particularly from association with an old book of Arithmetic called the Tutors’ Assistant."

The Calendar of the Edgeworth family correspondence in the Bodleian Library and the National Library of Ireland, compiled by Mrs Colvin, is made available with Part 1 of this microfilm project. Additional detailed lists of material in Part 2 appear at the front of Reels 1, 10 and 11 in Part for MS 10166/7, MS 11132 and MS 13176 respectively.

In Part 3, the concluding part of the microfilm project, we bring together other significant manuscript material such as the two volume manuscript of Helen from the British Library; an important clutch of letters from Birmingham University Library; correspondence and poems from the National Library of Scotland; correspondence between Maria Edgeworth and Joanna Baillie from the Royal College of Surgeons of England; and finally, a poem and further letters from the Bristol Record Office.

I conclude with two assessments from scholars of the importance of Maria Edgeworth:

"Today, ... her explorations of female education are regarded as lucid challenges to eighteenth-century theories of genre, gender, and the proper place of the woman writer."
Claire Connolly, Lecturer in English Literature, University of Wales
writing in the Preface to Letters for Literary Ladies
(Everyman, 1993)

"... the boldest, the most innovative and most influential contribution to English-language fiction by a woman writer before Charlotte Brontë and George Eliot."
Dr Marilyn Butler, Fellow, King’s College, Cambridge
writing in the Introduction to Castle Rackrent and Ennui
(Penguin Classics, 1992)

E: Edgeworth
E’town: Edgeworthstown
RLE: Richard Lovell Edgeworth
Mrs HE: Mrs Honora Edgeworth (née Sneyd)
Mrs EE: Mrs Elizabeth Edgeworth (née Sneyd)
Mrs FE: Mrs Frances Anne Edgeworth (née Beaufort)
ME: Maria Edgeworth
CSE: (Charles) Sneyd Edgeworth
Mrs CSE: Mrs C S Edgeworth (née Henrica [Henriette]) Broadhurst
Frances BE (FBE): Francis Beaufort Edgeworth
MPE: (Michael) Pakenham Edgeworth

Editorial introduction
Digital Guide
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