Date of Award

2009

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

English (M.A.)

Department

English

Abstract

To encounter the novels of Maria Edgeworth is to encounter an author who is not always politically correct. She did not write as a feminist to better the world for women. She did not write in the name of equality between nations or classes. She did not write to promote racial tolerance. In fact, based on her treatment of these issues within her novels, Edgeworth could arguably be accused of anti-feminism, imperialism, and racism. Instead, what this late eighteenth-century, early nineteenth-century writer centered her novels around was a rigid set of moral guidelines. Maria Edgeworth used the novel genre as a way to promote her own codes of conduct that she perhaps thought necessary for a world caught in the midst of various upheavals. This thesis will investigate the possible events that may have inspired Edgeworth to take on the responsibility of moralizer. And of course, we will discuss the topics of education, class, gender, society, economy, fashion, and religion—all subjects which Edgeworth used to generate her codes of conduct. In a time of European unrest and change, Edgeworth, we will find, wrote to uphold the threatened status quo. In the shadows of women's reform, the economic appearance of a middle class, and revolutions leading to the end of monarchies, Edgeworth took it upon herself to speak in opposition to these and other socially disruptive changes. This all seems happily uncomplicated until we consider Edgeworth's use of textual rhetoric, the accents and dialogue of her characters, and her use of comedy which serve to undermine her moral motives. This thesis then must explore the ways in which Edgeworth inadvertently creates tension between the harmony she intends to accomplish through creating codes of conduct, and the discordant linguistic devices within her texts (rhetoric, accents, dialogue, idiom, sarcasm, irony, etc.) she employs to do so.

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