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Castle Rackrent
By Maria Edgeworth

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Castle Rackrent

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Castle Rackrent
By Maria Edgeworth
Read How You Want, (2007)
EasyRead Large Print, in 16 Point Font
(This volume is available in five different large print font sizes from 16-24 point font, as well as in Braille, DAISY, Audio, and eBook formats)
ISBN: 9781425036027
Genre: Classic, Historical Fiction

Reviewed by Auggie Moore - June 22, 2009

I've long been a fan of such authors as Jane Austen, Wilkie Collins, Charlotte Bronté, Sir Walter Scott, and other fiction masters of the British Romanticism period which ran from about 1790 to 1830. Time and time again I was told that I should read some of Maria Edgeworth's novels. Pressed for time, I passed her over time and time again for the 'bigger names' in the field. Now, after making her introduction through my reading of Castle Rackrent, I wish I had listened to my compatriots and started reading her books years ago - now I have a lot of reading to catch up on!

Castle Rackrent is a unique book on many fronts. It was originally published in 1800 and is considered to be one of the first 'family saga' novels to have been published in English. It is one of the first 'regional' books to be published in English. It is also one of the first English novels to make use of a narrator of whom the reader cannot always trust due to his/her personal biases. These firsts aside, it is also an amazingly detailed, gripping, and satirical book that will resonate with readers as much today as when it was first published.

The story follows the adventures, or should I say, misadventures, of the Rackrent family. The Rackrents are Irish nobility, and the story follows four generations of the family, led in succession by Sir Patrick O'Shaughlin (who was forced to take the name of Rackrent in order to secure the estate, Sir Murtagh Rackrent, Sir Kit Stopgap, and Sir Condy Rackrent. The story follows them as they run the Rackrent estate into the ground, and the family nearly into bankruptcy, and how this noble family is saved from complete ruin by the son of a family servant - Jason Quirk. The story, itself, is set in Ireland in the late 1700's, a period in which Irish landlords where notorious for the general mismanagement of their estates, sometimes by shear neglect and other times by ignorance and ill training for the job. In this case, the story of the Rackrent family is told by Honest Thady Quirk, father of Jason Quirk, and one of the Rackrent's life-long servants who rose to become the estate's steward.

If you are unaware of it, the term rack rent was a term used to denote an extortionate rent, a plight faced by many in Ireland at this time who were being pinched by their 'noble' landlords who were in dire need of funds to cover their own debts, or who used them as a means of driving tenants off the land. Within the course of this novel, Edgeworth exposes the problems faced by tenants of these large estates, ongoing political divisions in Ireland during this period, and the ongoing move to cement an Irish-Anglo alliance. She also touches upon various problems that continue to haunt Ireland to this day: conflicts between Protestants and Catholics, the rich and the poor, and ongoing distrust and shared destiny of the Irish and English. Throughout this novel, you will discover a host of literary allusions and satirical use of words and names, the humor of which would have been quickly grasped by most of her Irish readers of the time. For readers in England, Edgeworth thoughtfully added a glossary of terms that equally serves modern day readers of this novel, as well as those in the past.

From the very beginning, I was instantly drawn into this story by Thady's quaint Irish humor and unspoken objective in telling the Rackrent's story. Edgeworth's depictions of Irish life during this period are graphic and memorable, and her writing engrossing. Castle Rackrent is a throughly compelling read, and one which has propelled me out of my lethergy and into a reading frenzy to devour all of Edgeworth's books. I'm sure that you will enjoy this book as much as I did. However, I must warn you. If you are as interested in history as you are in historical fiction, be prepared to read up on Irish history - a little knowledge in this area will make this book even more edifying and entertaining. Happy reading!!

Castle Rackrent is available from Read How You Want, an on-demand publisher that makes books available in a variety of formats including Braille, DAISY, and five different large print formats. This range of formats makes this, and other books, available to not only visually impaired individuals, but also anyone with a reading or physical disability that makes reading standard print books difficult.

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