JOE LONERGAN profiles the remarkable Longford writer of literature for adults as well as children who was born on New Year’s Day

The year 2018 saw various literary groups and associations across the British Isles recognise the 250th anniversary of the birth of one of literature’s truly great writers – Maria Edgeworth.

That historical event so celebrated as a gift not just to adults’ literature, but also children’s literature, occurred in Black Bourton, Oxfordshire, England, on the 1st of January, 1768.

Maria was the second child of Richard Lovell Edgeworth (who eventually fathered 22 children by four wives) and Anna Maria Edgeworth (née Elers).

Maria spent her early years with her mother’s family in England, until her mother’s death when she was five. When her father married his second wife, English writer Honora Sneyd, in 1773, Maria went with him to his estate in Edgeworthstown, in Co. Longford.

Maria Edgeworth’s childhood was unhappy: she was neglected by her father, who was too much involved with his new wife, and she was deemed to be a difficult child.
With the collapse of the health of her stepmother Honora in 1775, Maria was dispatched to Mrs Lattafière’s school in Derby, where she entertained her fellow pupils with her story-telling in the dormitories, and later in 1780 to Mrs Devis’s flashier establishment in Upper Wimpole Street, London.

Diminutive in height, she was subjected to stretching, being held by the head with her feet off the ground.

However, in 1871, her father’s attention became fully focused on her when she almost lost her sight to an eye infection. Returning home at the age of 14, Maria took charge of her many younger siblings and was home-tutored in law, Irish economics and politics, science, and literature by her father.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own