Edgeworth, Maria (1767–1849)
Born in England of an Irish land-owning family, Maria Edgeworth began her career as amanuensis and co-author to her father Richard Lovell Edgeworth, the educator and amateur inventor. Her first publications were a series of moral tales for children (The Parents’ Assistant, 1796, and Early Lessons, 1802) which aimed to instil the virtues she saw as essential to a ‘good’ individual and so a ‘good’ society: honesty, frugality and hard work. These characteristics match rather precisely those of Adam Smith’s ‘prudent man’ in the Wealth of Nations. Her tales teach the value of a work ethic, sharply contrasting the evils of sloth and idleness with the pleasures of diligence and achievement. Indeed, her attitude towards this aspect of labour did not exclude her own privileged class of landowners, who, as she witnessed in her own country, frequently abused the landlord-tenant contract.