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PUTTING DOWN THE REBELLION: NOTES AND GLOSSES ON CASTLE RACKRENT, 1800 KATHRYN KIRKPATRICK introducing his Oxford edition of Castle Rackrent, George Watson argues that Maria Edgeworth wrote the Wrst half of her novel in the mid-1790s. This dating of the early stages of composition, now generally accepted, is for Watson evidence which “usefully destroys the myth that Rackrent is a novel occasioned by the rebellion of 1798.”1 Here Watson invokes the same static relationship between Edgeworth and her sociopolitical environment that he had apparently sought to dismiss. The Irish Rebellion of 1798 was not a self-contained, isolated incident, but rather the culmination of a decade of political turmoil and rural disturbance with which, well before 1798, Maria Edgeworth was more than passingly familiar. To say that Castle Rackrent was not “occasioned” by the events of 1798 is thus to formulate the issue of writer and context in a falsely dichotomized way. Unlike their anxious counterparts among the English gentry, Edgeworth and her Anglo-Irish family were faced with more than rumors of revolution in the 1790s. Throughout the decade, the frustrations of small farmers, cottiers, and laborers found a voice in Defenderism, which was openly anti-Protestant, anti-English and anti-settler.2 Yet, this period of political crisis formed an oddly liberating context for Edgeworth as a writer. Until that time, most of Edgeworth’s writing had been inXuenced by her father, and had taken the form of educational works and instructive children ’s stories. Richard Edgeworth’s preoccupation with the threat of imminent invasion and his frequent absence from the Edgeworth estate in NOTES AND GLOSSES ON CASTLE RACKRENT, 1800 77 1 George Watson, Introduction to Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. xxi. 2 For more on Defenderism, see Thomas Bartlett, “Select Documents XXXVIII: Defenders and Defenderism in 1795,” Irish Historical Studies, 24 (1985), 373-380. County Longford during the latter half of the 1790s created an environment in which Edgeworth wrote without his supervision and produced her Wrst novel, Castle Rackrent. Edgeworth’s work was thus marked by the ebb and Xow of patriarchal control during this period, both within and outside her household. Consequently, in Castle Rackrent the voices vying to articulate the issue of Irish national identity during the 1790s emerge correspondent to Edgeworth’s own struggles for an independent authorial voice. In examining Edgeworth’s narrative, it is important to keep in mind Mary Poovey’s formulation of writing as an imaginative and symbolic response . During this period, the rhetorical strategies employed by women writers suggest a kind of double consciousness: Within the domain of literature, nearly every woman who wrote was able to internalize a self-concept at least temporarily at odds with the norm. . . . [T]he legacy of this period is a repertoire of the strategies that enabled women either to conceive of themselves in two apparently incompatible ways or to express themselves in a code capable of being read in two ways: as acquiescence to the norm and departure from it.3 The multiple frames and competing voices of Castle Rackrent provide a good example of this kind of symbolic response to the contradictions of female authorship. Castle Rackrent is eVectively a polyphonic narrative: in addition to the narrative proper, told in Wrst person by the Irish servant Thady and containing its own explanatory footnotes, the novel is framed by a preface and postscript written by the “Editor”; this “Editor,” who is referred to in the text as “he,” is also the implied author of the extensive glossary which interrupts the narrative no fewer than twenty-one times. The history of this layered narrative is complicated as well. According to Marilyn Butler, the Wrst half of the text proper was written by Edgeworth in the mid-1790s, probably between 1794 and 1795. The last half was written “in the years 1796-8, when Ireland’s endemic local unrest became politicized, and far more threatening to an England at war with revolutionary France.”4 Fearing the novel’s implications in this dicey political climate, Edgeworth’s family and friends urged her to qualify and dilute her essentially radical narrative with the last minute...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1550-5162
Print ISSN
0013-2683
Pages
pp. 77-90
Launched on MUSE
2017-08-31
Open Access
No
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