"The Absentee": an interpretation - an analysis of Maria Edgeworth's novel

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2008

17 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Absentee
2.1 Maria Edgeworth
2.2 Ireland in the Nineteenth Century
2.3 Summary
2.4 Classification of the Novel
2.5 Language in the Novel

3. Approaches of Interpretation
3.1 The Novel as a Love Story
3.2 The Novel as a Regional Novel
3.3 Educational Purpose of the Novel
3.3.1 Absenteeism
3.3.2 Prejudices
3.3.3 Individualism

4. Intention of ‘The Absentee’

5. Critique

6. Conclusion

List of References

1. Introduction

The following term paper deals with Maria Edgeworth’s novel The Absentee. Written in 1812, it is the author’s third book about Irish life. As all three novels it refers to her own life, this paper begins with a short biography, which reveals this connection. The next section of the paper is about Ireland in the nineteenth century, the setting of The Absentee, which clarifies the historical background. In the following section the novel is summarized briefly. After that, the classification of the novel, gives the reasons, why it is considered a regional novel. One aspect of Irish regional novels is treated in more detail in the chapter that follows: the language of The Absentee. After these chapters, which analyze the novel, it is interpreted. Three different approaches of interpretation are used; the novel as a love story, the novel as a regional novel and the educational aspects in it. The last approach can be concluded from the two before. Maria Edgeworth gave advice, while she was describing the relationships between the characters as well as between the characters and the places where they had lived. This advice on how to behave and how to live can be divided into three aspects. The first is her opinion on absenteeism. The second is her criticism of prejudices. The third advice is on individualism. After that section, the different approaches are brought together and summarized; the intention of The Absentee is worked out. The next chapter, critique, shows the novel’s weaknesses. The last part of the paper is the conclusion, which summarizes the previous chapters.

2. The Absentee

2.1 Maria Edgeworth

Maria Edgeworth was born in 1767 in Oxfordshire.[1] Her father was an absentee landlord.[2] Her mother died when she was six, so she grew up with her father and several stepmothers. At the age of fifteen, Maria Edgeworth settled in Ireland, in Edgeworthstown.[3] Her father did not want to be an absentee any longer but instead wanted to return home to his estate because of a new sense of national identity.[4] Maria began writing when she was twenty. In 1800, the year of the union of Great Britain and Ireland, her first novel, Castle Rackrent, was published. Three years after, at the age of thirty-six, she returned to England. In 1812 The Absentee was published. Other novels followed till 1834.[5] Then she recognized that her programme of creating a better relationship between Great Britain and Ireland had failed because of the great famine. Maria Edgeworth died in 1849.[6] The Absentee is influenced by her life in several aspects. First, lady Clonbrony, like Maria Edgeworth herself, was born in Oxfordshire. The theme, not being an absentee anymore, is exactly what happened in her family. Her father decided to return to his estate. There, in Edgeworthstown and its neighbourhood, the author found most of the place names for her novel.

2.2 Ireland in the Nineteenth Century

The nineteenth century began with the Act of Union. The Irish parliament voted for its own abolition. That was the origin of the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland”.[7] All public trials to break off this union failed. Since the end of the seventeenth century many people, especially Catholics, had to suffer because of the Penal laws. Not until the 1830’s, when Maria Edgeworth nearly quit writing, were the laws revoked. The conditions at the time when Maria Edgeworth was writing were very bad; the thing she had to criticize most was the lack of unity. Of course there was no real unity between Great Britain and Ireland but there was no unity within Ireland, either.

However, it would be mistaken to think of The Absentee as being preoccupied, like Ennui, with the political act of Union. By the time The Absentee was written, arguments regarding Union were well in the past, and the immediacy of the Edgeworths’ personal involvement in those issues had faded. The novel is not so much concerned with Union between England and Ireland, as with the need for unity within Ireland itself. The dominant theme of the political apologue is a plea for unity, a unity which involves a psychological and social commitment to Ireland by all Irish people, whatever their background may be.[8]

These unities were the last and most intensive challenges Maria Edgeworth dealt with. She died immediately after the great famine. The last development in Ireland she saw was the death and flight of many Irish. Her programme failed because of the great famine. She died before others began to strive for the same aims, until the war of independence. These efforts did not achieve unity, but at least they showed patriotism and commitment to Ireland.

2.3 Summary

The novel The Absentee deals with an Irish family, living in London and trying to become a part of London’s high society. Lord and lady Clonbrony live with their niece, Grace Nugent, and their son lord Colambre, who just returned from Cambridge, where he was educated. The Clonbronys cannot afford their high standard of living anymore, so lady Clonbrony wanted her son to marry miss Broadhurst, an heiress. Colambre did not want to marry a person he did not love, even if he held her in high regard. Another reason why he was unwilling to marry miss Broadhurst was that he was already in love with his cousin, Grace. Therefore, he decided to leave London and to visit Ireland where he wanted to see the country and form an impression of his father’s estate. Having arrived in Ireland he came into contact with different people, some from poorer and some from higher society. He makes friends with some of these people, who accompany him on his travel though Ireland. From one of these friends, lady Dashfort, he heard that Grace Nugent’s mother had an illegitimate child: his beloved Grace. He decided that because of that their love must not be and tried to forget about marrying her. When he reached his father’s estate, he saw that it could be divided into two parts. One, including Colambre, the town named after him, is in very good condition. Its agent is Mr. Burke. The second part, including Clonbrony, where Clonbrony Castle lies, is in very bad condition. Its agent is Mr. Garraghty. Lord Colambre decided to convince his family to return to Ireland and take care of their people and estate. Back in London he offered his father, who was highly in dept, financial help if he returned to Ireland. He even convinced his mother, who strongly refused to return for several years. While preparing to move, he was visited by his Irish friend, count O’Halloran, from whom he had heard that Grace was a legitimate child. While trying to prove this new information he found out, that Grace was also an heiress. Able to marry her without besmirching his family name, all family members return happily to Ireland and quit being absentees.


[1] Cf. Edgeworth, Maria. The Absentee. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988. P.[xlv].

[2] Cf. Breuer, Rolf. Irland: Eine Einführung in seine Geschichte, Literatur und Kultur. München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2003. P. [92]

[3] Cf. Edgeworth, Maria. The Absentee. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988. P.[xlv].

[4] Cf. Breuer, Rolf. Irland: Eine Einführung in seine Geschichte, Literatur und Kultur. München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2003. P. [92]

[5] Cf. Edgeworth, Maria. The Absentee. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988. Pp.[xlv-xlvi].

[6] Cf. Breuer, Rolf. Irland: Eine Einführung in seine Geschichte, Literatur und Kultur. München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2003. P. [92]

[7] Ibid. P.[212].

[8] Hollingworth, Brian. Maria Edgeworth’s Irish Writing: Language, History, Politics. Basingstoke: Macmillan Press, 1999. P. [153]

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"The Absentee": an interpretation - an analysis of Maria Edgeworth's novel
University of Paderborn
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Yvonne Müller (Author), 2008, "The Absentee": an interpretation - an analysis of Maria Edgeworth's novel, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/88277


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