Edgeworth and the Lunar Enlightenment
Abstract

Abstract:

Maria Edgeworth was arguably the most important novelist writing in English during the early Regency period. Her narrative art was informed by her influential educational theories, and in its turn it decisively shaped the very different oeuvres of Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott, whose successes in fiction would somewhat eclipse hers. If Edgeworth’s novels came to seem puzzling in their design, the reason may lie in the distinctive disciplinary context from which they emerged. For Edgeworth followed her highly accomplished and polymath father in engaging with the projects of the Lunar Society of Birmingham, which included diverse intellectuals such as James Watt, Erasmus Darwin, and Joseph Priestley. The Lunar commitment to improvement through experiment, I argue, not only set the terms for the agricultural, mechanical, and educational efforts carried out by Richard Edgeworth and his daughter on their Irish estate, it also helps to make sense of the novels and tales Maria wrote there, especially her remarkable analysis of contemporary fashionable life in Belinda (1801).