I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Midlands Enlightenment

Midlands Enlightenment

Fergus O’Ferrall
Maria Edgeworth’s Letters From Ireland, by Maria Edgeworth, edited by Valerie Pakenham, Lilliput Press, 420 pp, €25, ISBN: 978-1843517191 If you visit Edgeworthstown House in Co Longford today you may notice on the pillars at the entrance that there are, unusually, three plaques: one is for Maria Edgeworth, 1768-1849, “author and educationalist”; the second is for Richard Lovell Edgeworth, 1744-1817, “road-builder, inventor, politician, educationalist and writer”; and the third is for Francis Ysidro Edgeworth, 1845-1926, “economist and statistician”. This may suggest that you are at a locale of some importance for enlightened learning and practice. Interest piqued, you might consult the Dictionary of Irish Biography, published in 2009, and find that there are no fewer than six Edgeworths liste there: in addition to the three noted on the plaques there are accounts of Abbé Henry Essex Edgeworth, 1745-1807, who famously attended Louis XVI on the scaffold during the French Revolution; Kenneth Essex Edgeworth, 1880-1972, soldier, engineer, economist and astronomer; and Michael Pakenham Edgeworth, 1812-1881, botanist and administrator in India. You have stumbled upon the remarkable Edgeworth phenomenon that begs further exploration. The publication of Maria Edgeworth’s Letters From Ireland is a wonderful place to begin this exploration: it is also most timely in marking the two-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of the birth of Maria Edgeworth on January 1st, 1768. In this anniversary year there are exhibitions and conferences in Ireland – including a very successful weekend in Edgeworthstown organised by the local Edgeworth Literary Society – and abroad, exploring aspects of Edgeworth’s life and highly significant career as educationalist, novelist and correspondent. For example, the Royal Irish Academy includes Maria Edgeworth in its 2018 Exhibition Prodigies of learning: Academy women in the nineteenth century: she was one of only three women elected as honorary members of the academy in the nineteenth century and she advocated for women to be admitted to the body, of which her father, Richard Lovell Edgeworth, had been a founding member. As we explore the Edgeworth phenomenon we discover from Maria Edgeworth’s correspondence an unexpected but very particular locale of the Irish Enlightenment – Co Longford and the Irish midlands. Valerie Pakenham’s selection of letters and her editorial guidance as one reads letters from 1776 to 1849 is a brilliant entrée to Edgeworth studies for those unfamiliar with her life, work and contexts. For those who are more familiar with the novels and related academic studies, which have flourished since the 1960s after a…

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