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by Maria Edgeworth
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From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Erica Bauermeister
Thady Quirk - or "honest Thady" - having lived on the estate of Castle Rackrent for most of his long life, takes it upon himself to "publish the MEMOIRS of the RACKRENT FAMLY." Speaking in Irish vernacular, he describes the masters he and his family have served under: Sir Patrick, who fills his house with guests and drinks himself to death; Sir Murtagh, his heir, a "great lawyer," who refuses - "out of honor" - to pay Sir Patrick's debts; and Sir Kit, who gambles and eventually sells his estate to Thady's son. Through Thady's memories of these landowners (and the tenants who all too often had to pay for the landownders' indulgences) we gain a picture of fedual life in Ireland before the Irish Revolution. Thady is an unreliable narrator who, it appears, cannot - or does not - tell the whole story. Which leaves a question. Is Thady a naive and loyal servant or is he a clever and self-serving man who knows how to get his point across and his plans accomplished without seeming to know what he is saying or doing? Adding to the underlying irony of the narrative is the contrast between Thady and the anonymous, condescending British voice of the mock glossary of terms. Humorous and biting, Castle Rackrent is a largely unrecognized jewel of social satire. -- For great reviews of books for girls, check out Let's Hear It for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14.
With an Introduction by Anne Thackeray Ritchie
The author of the following Memoirs has upon these grounds fair claims to the public favour and attention; he was an illiterate old steward, whose partiality to the family, in which he was bred and born, must be obvious to the reader. He tells the history of the Rackrent family in his vernacular idiom, and in the full confidence that Sir Patrick, Sir Murtagh, Sir Kit, and Sir Condy Rackrent's affairs will be as interesting to all the world as they were to himself. Those who were acquainted with the manners of a certain class of the gentry of Ireland some years ago, will want no evidence of the truth of honest Thady's narrative: to those who are totally unacquainted with Ireland, the following Memoirs will perhaps be scarcely intelligible, or probably they may appear perfectly incredible. For the information of the ignorant English reader, a few notes have been subjoined by the editor, and he had it once in contemplation to translate the language of Thady into plain English; but Thady's idiom is incapable of translation, and, besides, the authenticity of his story would have been more exposed to doubt if it were not told in his own characteristic manner.
From the Back Cover
Set in Ireland prior to its achieving legislative independence from Britain in 1782, Castle Rackrent tells the story of three generations of an estate-owning family as seen through the eyes -- and as told in the voice -- of their longtime servant, Thady Quirk, recorded and commented on by an anonymous Editor. This edition of Maria Edgeworth's first novel is based on the 1832 edition, the last revised by her, and includes Susan Kubica Howard's foot-of-the-page notes on the text of the memoir as well as on the notes and glosses the Editor offers "for the information of the ignorant English reader." Howard's Introduction situates the novel in its political and historical context and suggests a reading of the novel as Edgeworth's contribution to the discussion of the controversial Act of Union between Ireland and Britain that went into effect immediately after the novel's publication in London in 1800.
About the Author
Susan Kubica Howard is Associate Professor of English, Duquesne University.
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