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Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth

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Introduction

Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth is a work containing elements of satire, portrayed through Thady. It is to these satiric elements that it owes much of its subtlety. Castle Rackrent is an achievement because of what lies in the subject matter and the narrative methods through which Maria Edgeworth presents her characterisation, language, imagery, tone and satire. These methods are wrapped in the subtlety that comes from total control. The most substantial and remarkable aspect about the novel is the subtlety of its implications. In her dealings with the Edgeworthstown tenants Maria Edgeworth gained first hand knowledge of Irish peasant life and of the peculiarities of Irish peasant character, which form the basis for the success of Castle Rackrent both as a social document and as a work of fiction. At the centre of Maria Edgeworth's work is the 'Big House' itself, which is the symbolic focus of the Protestant Ascendancy's preoccupation with its own decline. 'The big house', the manor houses of the Anglo Irish ascendancy, are often used as a 'metaphor which might allow the author to explore the socially disintegrated world of the protestant ascendancy' Castle Rackrent was published in 1800, 'the first "Big House" novel set on an ascendancy estate, was the first Irish family chronicle, and the first fictional book to make Irish history and politics central to its story and theme'. ...read more.

Middle

Only when the story is finished does the reader realise that Thady has his own wry view of the matter. Even so he does not fully understand the story, which he is telling. The meaning and passion with which he instinctively invests the words 'honour' and 'loyalty' lead him to bring forth evidence which prompts the reader to a quite different judgement of the Rackrents.' Thady tells the story of the Rackrents with a hint of satire running through it. A memorable satiric piece within the novel made with Sir Kit's cruel vengeance on his Jewish wife in having pig meat of all kinds brought to her table against her wishes, even though she has visited the cook in her kitchen for the precise purpose of averting this. Satirically, when she is unexpectedly released after seven years, by Sir Kit's death, her first act is to sack the cook. Thomas Flanagan states that the effective satiric detail here is shown throughout the book, particularly in the first part, where the madness of the Rackrents seems to rage most wildly. Thady quirk is the most alive and complete of all Miss Edgeworths character creations and one critic has considered him 'The most subtly drawn and skilfully presented character in the whole course of the Irish novel'. ...read more.

Conclusion

Castle Rackrent has considerable historical importance. There is a good deal of evidence that represents Edgeworth's attempts to capture the speech, rhythms and idioms of the Irish peasants with whom she came in contact. Maria Edgeworth's novel confused fiction and history. In her preface to Castle Rackrent, Edgeworth attacked conventional histories as unreliable while claiming that the recollections of an Irish servant were more genuine and important as a historical record. Edgeworth claims that in her novel the civilisation of Irish life involved its Anglicisation in every facet and that she presented a stereotype of the native Irish, designed mainly to convince an English audience of the validity of her preferred approach. Edgeworth's colonialism was a benevolent one and she stressed the amenability of the Irish character to this, and by contrast its degradation by the abrasive and tyrannical colonialism, which she felt still characterised Irish society. Her fascination with and delineation of, Irish character focussed on language, and in particular its exploitation as a mechanism of survival by the vulnerable servant. Thady makes an effective use of irony and uses it as a satiric weapon against Sir Murtagh's wife. 'She was a strict observer, for self and servants, of Lent and all fast-days, but not holidays. One of the maids having fainted three times the last day of Lent, to keep body and soul together we put a morsel of roast beef into her mouth, which came from Sir Murtagh's dinner, who never fasted, not he;............................ ...read more.

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