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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

§ 12. The Absentee; Ormond

The second group of Maria Edgeworth’s novels with which, as has been said, the first, as in The Absentee to some extent, coalesces, has been better luck, and, perhaps, deserves it. This consists of the Irish stories from which Sir Walter Scott professed to have derived at least part of the suggestion of his own national kind; these began early in 1800, with the striking but rather too typical and chronicle-fashioned, Castle Rackrent; and which, later, produced its masterpieces in the already mentioned Absentee (1809) and in Ormond (1817). There is not any room here for particularising the merits of these most agreeable and still fairly well-known books; but, from the historical point of view, there is one thing about them which deserves much study and which was probably what Scott honoured. The utilisation of national or pseudo-national or provincial peculiarities as an attraction in fictitious treatment of life had originated with the drama, though we find traces of it in that rich seed-heap, the French fabliau. Now, the drama almost always exaggerates; it may drop the actual cothurnus and mask, but it always demonstrates their reason for existence. When Smollett borrowed the device for the novel, he kept its failing, and so did others; Miss Edgeworth did not. In the first division of her work, and, even, in the third, to which we are coming, she may, sometimes, especially in her dialogue, miss that absolute verisimilitude and nature which the critical genius of Dryden had first detected in the creative genius of Chaucer and Shakespeare. In her dealings with Irish scenes and persons, she never misses it. She cannot touch her ancestral soil (it was not exactly her native, and one might draw fanciful consequences from the relation) without at once acquiring that strange creative or mimetic strength which produces in the reader of fiction—poetic, dramatic or prosaic alike—a sudden, but quiet, undoubting conviction that these things and persons were so and not otherwise.