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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

XIII. The Growth of the Later Novel

§ 10. Maria Edgeworth

To say that Maria Edgeworth herself holds really an outlying position in the group of revolutionary novelists may seems absurd to some readers; but there are others who will take the statement as a mere matter of course. In both temper and temperament, no one could have less of the revolutionary spirit; but the influence of the time, and, still more, that of her father, coloured the whole of her earlier and middle work. There is no doubt that Richard Edgeworth—who was a sort of John Buncle revived in the flesh and with the manners of a modern gentleman—affected his daughter’s work very much for the worse, by the admixture of purpose and preachment which he either induced her to make or (in some cases, pretty certainly) intruded on his own account. But it is possible that, without this influence, she would have written less or not at all.

The influence was itself derived from the earlier and less aggressive—or, at least, less anarchic—side of the French philosophe movement—ethical, economic, humanitarian, rather than politically or religiously revolutionary. Marmontel (not only or mainly in the actual title Moral Tales) was, perhaps, the most powerful single influence with the Edgeworths; there is practically nothing of Voltaire or Diderot, and not much of Rousseau, except on the educational side. If, as was admitted above, this element may have had a certain stimulating effect, it certainly affected the products of that stimulation injuriously. But, fortunately, Miss Edgeworth’s native genius (we need not be afraid to use the word in regard to her, though Scott may have been too liberal in applying it to Bage) did not allow itself to be wholly suppressed either by her French models or by her father’s interference. It found its way in three different directions, producing, in all, work which wants but a little, if, in some instances, it wants even that, to be of the very first class.