The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

May 22, 2013

May 22, 1849

Maria Edgeworth (January 1, 1768 to May 22, 1849) was born in England. Her family owned land in Ireland though, and she spent most of her life there, at the family home Edgeworth House, near Edgeworthtown, which is in County Longford. Edgeworth wrote novels and participated in the intellectual currents of her time. Her novels, Castle Rackrent (1800), The Modern Griselda (1804), Ennui (1809), The Absentee  (1812), Patronage (1814), Harrington (1817) and, Ormond (1817), as examples, strike the modern ear as excessively didactic.

The article on Edgeworth in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography stresses her importance to her fellow writers. Her ...vied with that of Jane Austen in certain areas of critical esteem. Edgeworth was also well rewarded for her work, receiving £1050 for Tales of Fashionable Life (2nd series), and becoming the most commercially successful novelist of her age...Scott was by far the most important reader of her work. He was prompted by The Absentee to unearth his incomplete manuscript of what became Waverley in 1814. Indirectly, Edgeworth helped to launch the historical novel across Europe, even if her own contribution to the genre was limited to Ormond. What she demonstrated was a means of relating one cultural tradition to another, whether across a long passage of time or in a tense contemporary setting (the stories of emigres, for instance). Scott's public acknowledgement of the debt came in the collected edition of his works (1829-33), when Edgeworth's star seemed to have waned........ [And later] William Makepeace Thackeray [was indebted to Edgeworth for].... her hero-less social novels [as] has been remarked on.

Maria also edited and added to her father's last work: Memoirs of Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1821) He was that type--the well-bred eccentric --which Britain does so well. He had four wives, 22 children, and was given to referring to his current wife, when speaking to the children as, "your present mother."

In one of the many biographies of Maria herself, Maria Edgeworth (1904) by Emily Lawless, 

we find the incident recounted, quoting a letter Maria wrote. The background is the revolution that broke out in Ireland in 1798, and the subsequent French invasion of Ireland.

It all sounds remarkably pleasant, and not at all unlike the report of some unusually successful picnic! That there was another side to the matter — that the country had narrowly escaped from a most formidable peril; that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of deluded peasants were at that moment paying for their folly and ignorance with their lives, and the destruction of their homes — all this seems hardly to cast a shade over the picture. The latest record which Miss Edgeworth has left behind her of this year of terror, massacre, and invasion refers to the family cats! —

"I forgot to tell you of a remarkable event in the history of our return; all the cats, even those who properly belong to the stable, and who had never been admitted to the honours of sitting in the kitchen, all crowded round Kitty with congratulatory faces, crawling up her gown, insisting upon caressing and being caressed when she re-appeared in the lower regions. Mr. Gilpin's slander against cats as selfish, unfeeling animals, is thus refuted by stubborn facts."

In this manner—with the cheerful return of the family to their customary occupations, and amid the rejoicings of the cats—the grim tale of the year 1798 comes to an end.

Maria never married but she had her last decades the comfort of a dear friend and relation, her father's last wife, who was devoted  to her step-daughter. They were the same age, and Maria never ceased to address her as "Mother."

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