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Reviews by AlasAndAlack

The Absentee

by Maria Edgeworth

Any commentary that describes Maria Edgeworth as "a few potatoes short of a bushel" cries out for rebuttal, compelling one to rise to the defence of this woman whose importance to Irish history and to the history of literature the reviewer seems unaware.

Maria Edgeworth's novels Castle Rackrent and The Absentee did much to "raise the consciousness" of the public to the plight of the tenant farmers in nineteenth-century Ireland. Her influence resounded in the political debate for decades afterward. In this regard, Edgeworth is no less important to Irish history than is Harriet Beecher Stowe to American history.

Wikipedia cites the scholarship of Kathryn J. Kirkpatrick as it notes that Edgeworth's Castle Rackrent "is often regarded as the first historical novel, the first regional novel in English, the first Anglo-Irish novel, the first Big House novel, and the first saga novel." Potatoes and bushels, indeed.

In her novels, Edgeworth placed much of the blame for the condition of the tenants on what we can call "rule from afar:" that human tendency to slide into casual misrule when distant from those whose lives one controls. History abounds with examples.

If the political ideology we see in the review has blinded the reviewer to this essential lesson of The Absentee, then that ideology serves him ill indeed.

Reviewed on 2010.07.22

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