Conservation or Catastrophe: Reflexive Regionalism in Maria Edgeworth’s Irish Tales
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Offered to the public in 1800 as “a specimen of manners and characteristics, which are perhaps unknown in England,” Castle Rackrent: An Hibernian Tale Taken from Facts, and from the Manners of the Irish Squires, Before the Year 1782 represents itself as an ethnographic depiction of Irish manners (CR 97). The history of the estate and its Anglo-Irish owners is narrated in the voice of an Irish servant, Thady, who recounts the landlords’ consumptive habits overshooting the estate’s resources. Unlike the limited, individualistic vision of his Anglo-Irish rulers, Thady’s continuing, interconnected history of four generations evinces a Burkean, intergenerational view of property management in which each individual heir is merely a “life-renter.” Due to their continued lack of intergenerational imagination and responsibility, the four inheritors of the Rackrent estate are constantly confronted with the predicament: “When there’s no cash, what can a gentleman do but go to the land?” (CR 75)1 The heirs thus illustrate Burke’s argument that the failure to consider past and future generations when making decisions about land use will render communities into individuals who “commit waste on the inheritance, by destroying at their pleasure the whole original fabric of their society; hazarding to leave to those who come after them, a ruin instead of an habitation” (R 192).
KeywordsDomestic Economy Social Ecology Estate Management Duty Work Absentee Owner
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- 20.Douglas Reichert Powell, Critical Regionalism: Connecting Politics and Culture in the American Landscape (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2007), 5.Google Scholar
- 51.Maurer argues, “I read Edgeworth’s plots as centering around the instability of identity and mutability of tradition that make all possession random and illegitimate.” “Disowning to Own: Maria Edgeworth and the Illegitimacy of National Ownership,” Criticism 44.4 (2002): 364Google Scholar