Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth

Family history…

🙂 🙂 🙂

Thady Quirk has lived on the estate of the Rackrent family all his life, and here sets out to tell the story of the four Rackrents who have owned the estate over that period. The introduction in my Oxford World’s Classic edition, by Kathryn J Kirkpatrick, is nearly a third as long as the entire novella, and tells us that “Castle Rackrent has gathered a dazzling array of firsts – the first regional novel, the first socio-historical novel, the first Irish novel, the first Big House novel, the first saga novel.” Whew! But the question is, is it good? And for me the answer is it’s rather underwhelming, not helped in truth by all these accolades and high-flown claims which set expectations too high.

In fact, it is a rather slight novella, taking a humorous look at the Anglo-Irish Protestants who were given land in Ireland in order to subdue the Catholic natives, but then mismanaged it through incompetence or lack of interest. The Rackrent heirs show all the fecklessness of their class, and all the different weaknesses that lead them to gradually lose their fortune and control of their estates. Spendthrifts, gamblers, drunkards – the Rackrents have one thing in common; they do nothing to improve the estate, but expect it to provide enough income to pay for their vices. We see the evils of absentee landlordism and, of course, of rack-renting – demanding extortionate rents from tenants on threat of eviction. And we see the slow downfall of the family, helped along by the manipulations of Thady’s wily son, who rises to be the estate manager and in time to help the Rackrent dynasty come to its end.

Book 4 of 80

It’s written in a form of dialect but clearly aimed at an English readership as much as Irish, so not at all difficult to read. Edgeworth has included what she calls a glossary to explain some terms and traditions which may be unfamiliar to English readers. These take the form of explanatory notes, and are interesting and quite fun, containing some anecdotes to illustrate points she raises in the novella itself.

A mildly entertaining read, then, but I feel its fame is probably mostly for all those “firsts” and for the academic analysis of what the story has to say about the period. As you can probably tell from this lacklustre review, it didn’t inspire me to lavish either praise or scorn – a couple of weeks after reading it, it has faded almost completely away.

This was the book chosen for me by the Classics Club Spin #29.

Amazon UK Link

39 thoughts on “Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth

    • It’s not one I’d either recommend or not, really – it’s a perfectly enjoyable read that just didn’t set off any fireworks for me! So I’m fairly sure that as a minimum you’ll enjoy it.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. It sounds as though this could have had real potential, FictionFan, but didn’t live up to it. It’s an interesting topic, anyway, and I’m glad you found some things to like about it. Funny, isn’t it, how all that hype builds you up for something; I think we feel it even more keenly when a book doesn’t come up to the hype.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, I wonder if I’d happened across it without knowing all the hype if it might have impressed me more. But I went into it expecting something special, and I’m sure it was at the time if it really was all those “firsts”, but it seemed pretty unsubstantial now. Oh well, I don’t suppose she’ll mind my lukewarm review… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • So did I! Which I think may have been part of the problem. I wouldn’t try to put you off reading it though. I enjoyed it well enough for what it was – it just didn’t blow me away…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your description of this book plot reminds me of the old saying, “Clogs to clogs in three generations.” Otherwise, I find it quite funny that the intro is so long. Sounds like a grad student’s thesis bent on dissecting and extolling the virtues of its subject.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, yes, I couldn’t even be bothered to finish the intro in the end – it seemed far too much analysis for such a short book! And it seemed to want to claim her as having influenced everyone from Sir Walter Scott to the Russians! How do you spell hyperbole?? 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, not for me, I guess, but I’m glad it wasn’t a complete waste of your time, FF. After all, it did knock a book off your TBR … and wasn’t too awful to read, right?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I do think that some classics suffer as much from over-hyping as any new release, and it does them no favours. It’s perfectly enjoyable, just not as wonderful as the claims for it suggest.

      Liked by 1 person

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