I read Maria Edgeworth’s unique little novel, Castle Rackrent (1800) the other day, when I was in need of something Austen-esque but didn’t want to do any rereading. I’d never heard of Edgeworth (1767 – 1849) but went looking for an Austen contemporary, found her, got her work from Gutenberg and spent an enjoyable day with her style.
In Castle Rackrent, loyal steward Thady Quirk tells the story of four generations a noble Irish family. He is a devoted servant our Thady, and quick to overlook the vices and flaws of each successive Master. The book is really a nod to the working class and how much more efficient and intelligent they are, but it also illustrates how terrible it must have been to be a poor farmer on one of these estates, squeezed to the last drop by the irresponsible, careless or downright greedy nobility. It was a fun read, although the jumping through each generation made me wish for a contained story along the same lines.
Edgeworth has a rich collection of novels, treating various subjects like interracial marriage, absentee landlords, fallen women and so forth. Gutenberg has a 10-volume collection of her Tales and Novels, which seems to include nearly everything. And they also have her letters; she corresponded with Sir Walter Scott for years. Treasure!
My search for an Austen contemporary gave me a few other names to try, including Fanny Burney (whom Austen liked) and Ann Ward Radcliffe (whom it seems she didn’t, if I am remembering correctly, Austen makes fun of Radcliffe’s novel The Mysteries of Udolpho in at least one of her books). I’ve got Burney’s first novel, Evelina, as well as The Mysteries of Udolpho, which sounds like a bit of fun.