Upon finishing Maria Edgeworth's Castle Rackrent, King George III is reported to have sat up in bed and exclaimed, "Now I understand my Irish subjects." What does this novel tell us about Ireland and the Irish?.
Castle Rackrent is a historical novel, which was set before 1782, and was written by Maria Edgeworth at the height of the United Irishmen activities. Due to the United Irishmen activities the Edgeworth's had to leave their Castle Rackrent estate and take safe refuges in Longford town. Maria Edgeworth is a writer that can be thought of as a starting point of Irish Literature. Castle Rackrent was published as a response to the 'Act of Union' in 1800 and is the first 'Big House' novel. The novel Castle Rackrent follows the fortunes of the last four heirs of the Rackrent estate in Longford, Ireland in 1700s as told through the eyes of Thady Quirke and their devoted stewards. The narrator of Castle Rackrent is Thady Quirke, the seemingly loyal family servant, who was based on the Edgeworth's own steward Mr John Lagand.
The Anglo-Irish identity that the Edgeworth's shared is important in the novel. Throughout the novel, there is a clear distinction between the Irish working class that the Rackrent's exploit such as Thady, and the Anglo-Irish aristocracy that spends like mad and the Lady Rackrent's that conduct themselves in a wild manner, despite their supposedly noble and genteel natures. The anomaly in the cast is Jason – he is the son of an Irish peasant who works his way up and ends up owning the Rackrent estate, he is the only character to work his way up. Sir Kit falls in love with an Irishwoman who is being raised amongst the Irish peasantry but ended up marrying a noble Anglo-Irish woman instead who drives him to drink because of her mad spending, speeding up the ruin of the estate. The first Lady Rackrent is the most interesting of all the wives as she exposes Thady's xenophobia.