Maria Edgeworth (1 January 1767 – 22 May 1849) was an Anglo-Irish novelist.
Maria Edgeworth was born at Black Bourton, Oxfordshire, the second child of Richard Lovell Edgeworth and Anna Maria Edgeworth nee Elers and thus an aunt of Francis Ysidro Edgeworth. On her father's second marriage in 1773, she went with him to Ireland, where she eventually was to settle on his estate, Edgeworthstown, in County Longford. There, she mixed with the Anglo-Irish gentry, particularly Kitty Pakenham (later the wife of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington), Lady Moira, and her aunt Margaret Ruston of Black Castle.
She acted as manager of her father's estate, later drawing on this experience for her novels about the Irish. Edgeworth's early literary efforts were melodramatic rather than realistic. One of her schoolgirl novels features a villain who wore a mask made from the skin of a dead man's face. Maria's first published work was Letters for Literary Ladies in 1795, followed in 1796 by her first children's book, The Parent's Assistant, and in 1800 by her first novel Castle Rackrent.
In 1802 the Edgeworth family went abroad, first to Brussels and then to Consulate France (during the Peace of Amiens, that brief lull in the Napoleonic Wars). They met all the notables, and Maria received a marriage proposal from a Swedish courtier, Count Edelcrantz. They came home to Ireland in 1803 on the eve of the resumption of the wars and Maria returned to writing.
Mr. Edgeworth, a well-known author and inventor, encouraged his daughter's career, and has been criticized for his insistence on approving and editing her work. The tales in The Parent's Assistant were approved by her father before he would allow them to be read to her younger siblings (he had four wives and 22 children). Castle Rackrent was written and submitted for anonymous publication without his knowledge.
On a visit to London in 1813 Maria met Lord Byron and Humphry Davy. She entered into a long correspondence with Sir Walter Scott after the publication of Waverley in 1814 and visited him in Scotland at Abbotsford House.
After her father's death in 1817 she edited his memoirs, and extended them with her biographical comments. She was an active writer to the last, and worked strenuously for the relief of the famine-stricken Irish peasants during the Irish Potato Famine (1845-1849). She died in Edgeworthstown in 1849.
Maria Edgeworth was explicit about the fact that all her stories had a moral purpose behind them, usually pointing out the duty of members of the upper class toward their tenants. However, her style did not pass muster with one of the religious leaders of the day: the Baptist preacher Robert Hall said, "I should class her books as among the most irreligious I have ever read ... she does not attack religion, nor inveigh against it, but makes it appear unnecessary by exhibiting perfect virtue without it ... No works ever produced so bad an effect on my mind as hers."