This is not the Book Snap that I had originally planned a few days ago. We were meant to spend yesterday at Dicky Beach, near Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast, catching up with friends from South Australia. Dan was very excited about going to the beach and knowing that we were going to be at the beach, it was a great opportunity for a beach themed Book Snap. I even had a suitably beach themed book already chosen. However, while we were on the way to the coast, our friends rang to say there had been a confirmed case of Corona virus in Caloundra and there were concerns about the area being declared a hot spot. To be on the safe side, we called off our beach get together and went for a drive around Esk and Crows Nest instead, but there was a very disappointed boy in the back seat of the car. He wasn’t alone – I had been looking forward to a trip to the beach too.
Instead, this week’s book snap is Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth, the text we are currently studying in How to Read Great Books. The actual story of Castle Rackrent is quite short, but the Norton editions we use in English Lit also contain a range of articles about background and literary criticism which come in quite handy when it’s time for writing essays. Castle Rackrent is set in Ireland in the late 18th century, just before the union before Ireland and Great Britain, and follows four generations of the Rackrent family through their mismanagement of their estate to their eventual bankruptcy. Since Ireland is also known as the Emerald Isle, due to its lush green landscape, Castle Rackrent is pictured in a patch of lush green grass that has enjoyed some recent rain.
I didn’t know much about Ireland, except for Baileys, leprechauns, St. Patrick’s Day and the Celts, and even less about Irish history. However, the Irish have a long literary history. The Irish language has the third oldest literature in Europe, after Greek and Latin. Famous Irish writers include Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and Bram Stoker. Furthermore, three out of the four Irish Nobel prize winners originate from Dublin, which apparently makes Dublin the birthplace of more Nobel laureates than any other city in the world.
Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849) wasn’t born in Ireland, but she did spend most of her life growing up in Ireland on her father’s estate at Edgeworthstown. She was a prolific writer, producing many stories and novels for adults and children, as well as having a prominent role in the development of the novel in Europe. Edgeworth tried to depict a more realistic view of the Irish and their daily lives to combat the mostly stereotypical representations of the Irish. She was a vocal proponent of education, especially for girls, believing that education was the key to progress and improvement, not just for individuals, but also for the nation as a whole. Some of her other novels include Belinda (1801), The Absentee (1812) and Ormond (1817). Castle Rackrent was her first novel and published anonymously in 1800, leading most critics of the time to assume it was a male author. Typical.
As we dig into Maria Edgeworth and Castle Rackrent, it will be interesting to think about the importance of the story and its place within the literary canon. We will have to brush up on our knowledge of Irish history too, because literature is always political.