Between Worlds: Identity, Home and Nationalism in Castle Rackrent

Defining and Relating Terms of Nationalism, Identity and Home

bell hooks once wrote that “all fiction is homesickness” (George, 1). The idea that the search for identity, both of self and place, is omnipresent in fiction is not to be taken lightly. Indeed, the travel narratives of early British literature suggest that in the search for another world, authors were really defining their own boundaries and identities, both within themselves and as national identities. In order to define oneself one must be placed in opposition to an Other. Without such poles of reference, there is no need or want to define. In most cases of British Colonial expansion, the Other was easily separated by race, gender, or other visual markers of difference. However, in situations where the Other could not as easily be defined by physical dissimilarities, other factors needed to be established. This description in written form was directly aligned with the historical events of early 1500’s and into the 1800’s, when exploration of “New Worlds” allowed for mass colonial efforts and attaining “undiscovered” land masses. In the colonization of Ireland, language became the ultimate portrayal of identity (Egenolf, 848). “Whether it is patronizing approval of lyrical celticism, or horrified revulsion from the degenerate Irish accent, Irish men and women are marked by their voices, their (mis)use of the English Language,” (849).  The Irish language, as a marker, was a deformity that needed to be reformed. The move from Gaelic to English was justified under the guise of expansionism, colonialism and conceptions of Manifest Destiny that enabled the deconstruction of Irish identity through language assimilation. Paralleling the change from Travel Narratives to notions of fantasy and realism that occurred within the development of the novel was British Expansionism into Imperialism and Colonization. The Other became a source of excitement, of drama and of humor–both in novels and in realities.  In the Other one found the flaws that simply did not exist within the Self. In the Other, one found satisfaction in an ability to define and in doing so take ownership over. This Imperialist mentality of the novel is not separate from the colonizing views of the British and their perceptions of Irish peoples and land. The world was and is up for the taking. Land and people have a proper way of being that goes beyond the State of Nature so many “primitives” seem unable to escape. Property and ownership involve monetary gain and net worth.  These ideas are reflected in the development of the novel and its propagandist use in British history.British colonialism in Ireland

The development of the British novel can also be looked at as the spreading of a sort of  “Globalized English” which intended to make universal ideas of home, place and identity (George, 3-5). As the spread of this global language reached out to the periphery, in this case Ireland, from the core, Great Britain, the identities of people colonized were forced into submission and pushed down on the social ladder, being instantly transformed into the Other. However, as Globalized English melded and blended with the languages of the oppressed and colonized, so did the definitions of “home” and “home-ness”, both on personal levels and broader scales of communal and national identities (George, 5). As Homi K. Bhabha writes in The Location of Cultureattempting to find national identities ignores the “psychological force that nationness brings to bear on cultural production and political projection…the ‘nation’ is a narrative strategy…an apparatus of symbolic power…” (718). Because the British English definition of “home” implied Britain as the center, there are dimensions then that stem from British Imperialist mentalities. Home is part of the creation of the aforementioned Other, because home implies a “select inclusion of some and an important exclusion of others,” (George, 9). In this sense, home becomes a way of establishing important differences between cultures. More than that, home becomes a metaphor for something much larger.

“Metaphor, as the etymology of the word suggests, transfers the meaning of home and belonging across the ‘middle passage’, or the central European steppes, across those distances, and cultural differences, that span the imagined community of a nation-people,” (Bhabha, 717).

As home becomes the distance between poles of reference, interpretations of home in literature spread themselves over distances and in doing so, pick up multiple meanings that appear to be paradoxical to each other (George, 7-9). In this sense, then, nationalism is not a grouping of identities coming together in a supportive and developmental procedure. Rather, as Bhabha states, it is the “DessemiNation” of cultures, the division and splitting, the creation and pitting against of differences between groups of people.

“‘Nationalism is not what it seems, and above all not what it seems to itself… The cultural shreds and patches used by nationalism are often arbitrary historical inventions. Any old shred would have served as well. But in no way does it follow that the principle of nationalism … is itself contingent and accidental,’”(719).

In instances where home is reinterpreted across idiomatic differences, such as post-colonial Ireland, national identity contradicts itself in every sense. No person embodies Ireland, as the Irish are represented as immoral caricatures still developing toward British sensibilities and understandings.  The nation is assigned as such from people living outside of the nation’s boundaries. That is, those with the power to apply “nation” to Ireland are not those that live, work and breathe within its walls. Therefore, it becomes a nation that is not “home” to the powerful, but rather an “other” place. This demonstrates the shift of single persons being “others” to entire nations of “others” that need be transformed and reborn into British ideals of civility, morality and hegemony.

“To take account of this horizontal, secular space of the crowded spectacle of the modern nations…implies that no single explanation sending one back immediately to a single origin is adequate. And just as there are no simple dynastic answers, there are no simple discrete formations or social processes.” (Bhabba, 718)

By this, it is meant that the understanding of the self is an understanding of the nation, that the two are not separate and at the same time completely apart from each other. More importantly, the persons who find themselves fitting within the definition of the nation are the very same persons with the power to define. In this sense, power holding becomes the very tool that separates the rabble from the nation that wishes to encapsulate them. It also becomes a way to create groupings within nations. There are others and then there is self, but the space between the two is where confusion and contention lie.

Settler mentalities, as described by Daniel Hack and other critics, create “anxiety over priority, causality, the direction in which power and influence flow, and the differences and boundaries between self and other,” (Hack, 150). This anxiety is what Maria Edgeworth clearly and conveniently conveys in her text Castle Rackrent,where a Native Irish Narrator battles an English Editor and Glossary to demonstrate that contention.

Castle Rackrent and Edgeworth’s Contention

By the time Maria Edgeworth wrote Castle Rackrent,Irish identity” was defined by the Protestant ruling class. The “Anglo-Anglo-Irish” landowners, whose power enabled them a stance above that of the Native Irish, created boundaries of identities aMaria Edgeworthnd national loyalties through their literature (Speller, Seminar). The ties between Ireland and England were disseminated through the generations of mixed descent and Protestant Anglo-Irish land owners who governed the land in place of British militarism. Maria Edgeworth’s own position of power as Protestant landowner within Ireland at the time of her novel suggests that perhaps her portrayal of the narrator and Native Irishman, Thady Quirk, was meant to demoralize while warning of the power of Irish tradition and identity. Her closeness to the center, or to England, is felt throughout the texts portrayal of Thady, who views the Castle and the family as the real center or “home”. Her “fascination” with the Native Irish ultimately creates a degrading representation of an Irish man (Mcloughlin, 91).  Unfortunately, in many cases, Edgeworth’s power is negated by critics. Her contradictory establishment of a Native Irishman as narrator is seen as a sort of “ambivalence”, an inability to assert herself as either Pro-Union or Pro-Orange in a tenuous era of Irish history.  Though this may be true, it does ignore the fact that her role is far more Anglo than Irish (Speller, Seminar). Though she lived in Ireland, her beliefs in the British Educational system and loyalties to the crown are not to be ignored.  She once wrote in a letter to a friend “All the world is a school, the men and women merely pupils,” (Barry, 8). In comparison to Jane Austen, Maria Edgeworth has been described as a teacher of morality and virtue. “Jane writes, but Maria teaches; Jane shows what people are doing, Maria tells them they ought to be doing something else…” (Barry, 12).It is from this description that Castle Rackrent takes shape as more than just a novel of confliction. Edgeworth may have been attempting to demonstrate Thady’s underhanded and sneaky demeanor through a guise of ignorance and simplemindedness. However, in doing so, the text is problematic and authority does, for at least part of the novel, fall in the hands of the Native Irishman. In this, I am suggesting the text has an “ambivalence” that Edgeworth herself does not.

Edgeworth both perpetuates and denies the British Imperialist mentality and ideas of national home and identity in her novel, Castle Rackrent. Though she frames the Native Irish in a negative, “folky” and unreliable light, she does see and agree with the potential of the Native to develop on the linear line of humanity by way of British reason and education. Similar to Bhabba’s description of the falsities of modern national identity, Edgeworth denies the “horizontalism” of nationalism while justifying its existence (Bhabba, 718).  By using different mediums to declare supremacy over the Native Irish, Edgeworth is able to write a tale that simultaneously preserves the hegemonic epistemology of the British and demoralizes Irish history telling to a standard of folk-lore and fairy tale while, perhaps accidently, lending respect to Irish voice and cadence.

This paper will concern itself with two major focuses of contention within the text. I will begin first by looking at Edgeworth’s representation of Thady’s idiom in the narration in comparison with the Glossary. In looking at the narrator’s own way of telling the story, both the linguistic aspect and pace which is characteristic of a historically oral tradition in Thady’s narrative, there is a level of understandCastle Rackrenting between Edgeworth’s own ideologies and the Native Irish voice. However, the insertion of the Glossary often destabilizes Thady’s words. The Glossary steps in to redefine, retell, and indeed to colonize Thady’s own interpretation and remembrance. “The Irish signifier can only be validated through the English sign, and hence, the referent and reality can only be realized in terms of England and its environs,” (O’Shaughnessy, 428).  I will look at specific instances where the Glossary not only undermines Thady’s narrative, but also literally mocks the use of Irish Vernacular and storytelling techniques, emphasizing the power of the written word over that of oral tradition. In juxtaposition to that stance, I will then discuss the importance of dialect specific literature and how this emphasizes key Irish identifying factors.  Edgeworth’s own destabilization of self-identity is prevalent in the seemingly opposing and yet coexisting stance she appears to have on the subject of literacy as viewed through Thady. I will then move into ideas of the Castle, Big House and terms of “home” within the text. How Edgeworth physically describes the house lends credence to the ideas that her own identity and understanding of home are framed by a mentality similar to a settler in The New World. By this, I intend to say that Maria Edgeworth’s life in a colonial time period and land puts her own identity in contention with both Imperial Britain and the views of the Native Irish, despite her intentions.

Thady’s Narrative and Globalized English

The character of Thady is where the first depictions of conflict between the two world views are highlighted. He is described as an illiterate character, but he is described as such in print. The form of the novel to use illiteracy as a tool is, in and of itself, problematic. The issue being that Edgeworth cannot hide her own literacy, or her reliance upon that literacy to present her ideas toward a literate nationhood, or that her “illiterate” character is using to print text to tell the tale. By using the guise of Thady as illiterate she is able to portray the inherent problems that occur through literacy, while still maintaining the importance of said literacy. “’Illiterate’ Thady becomes the recorder of the perversities and absurdities that literate behavior entails. He bemusedly observes the deranging effect of English literacy upon the Irish Land,” (Fernandez, 137). Though Edgeworth and her family were strong advocates of literacy and education, there is an obvious conflict within herself and her characters that alludes to problems of forced Imperial literacy and the understanding of Globalized English.

“An obsession with the sign over the referent, which literacy breeds, leads only to loss and the impoverishment of both the sign and its owner. Sir Murtagh covets and pursues such documents as wills and title deeds. Such mania for the level of signified ownership leads, paradoxically, to the loss of what is signified as owned- namely, Irish land,”(Fernandez, 138).

Thady observes these problems but only discusses them comically. In a sense this is both a mocking and honest portrayal of someone of Edgeworth’s positionality within Anglo-Irish culture. She both appreciates and disingenuinuously portrays the character of Thady and his dialect. There is ambivalence toward the Native Irish that McLoughlin highlights in his interpretation of Edgeworth’s use of Thady and other dialect-specific narrators. “Such characters, cunning, untrustworthy, manipulative and ignorant, fulfill English readers’ suspicions of the native Irish…However the variety among Edgeworth’s Irish rogues is a clue that she does not dismiss them as stereotypes,” (91). Her characters are unique and are real; however by mimicking their dialect, she prosecutes and places them in a specific location of culture and identity within colonial Ireland.

In looking at the Preface, where Edgeworth describes Thady’s narrative as “perhaps…scarcely intelligible”(4) to her English audience, the reader can see that she does not think Thady’s language to be proper, but she respects it as his own way of story-telling. She goes on to say that “Thady’s idiom is incapable of translation, and besides, the authenticity of his story would have been more exposed to doubt if it were not told in his own characteristic manner”(5). The claim that Thady’s narrative stands well enough alone would suggest to readers that Edgeworth honors the language, but the insertion of the Glossary denies that idea. It is not simply a tool to help readers understand the text. Rather, it is to subalternate the voice of the Irish to that of the Educated British English speakers. The institutionalized epistemology of Britain at the time was centered on learning and education, and Thady’s idiom was not that of the Anglo-Irish educated member of the gentry. Similar to the idea of “killing the Native to save the Man” that grew out of colonization of the New World, Edgeworth’s idea of linear growth from a State of Nature to Civilization is represented and enforced in the form of Thady’s unreliable narration being subjugated to the Glossary.

Hack discusses Edgeworth’s use of Irish idiom in his article. He writes:

“‘Edgeworth’s ‘imagined self-loss’ – like Iago’s, ‘conceals its opposite: a ruthless displacement and absorption of the other’…This chiastic substitution, in other words, puts Edgewoth in the place of an Irishman and makes this Irishman an author, but towards the end of an Irish ‘loss of identity’: there is nothing even about the exchange. It is worth recalling that the Edgeworth’s, however well intentioned, are amongst those who, in Swift’s words, ‘do not come hither to learn the Language,’” (149).

Here it is apparent that Edgeworth, because of and in spite of her role as Irish land owner, is subject to the colonizing and imperialistic mentalities of British influence. Thady’s identity, therefore, is also subject, and like Edgeworth’s, is tied to his family and some sort of national identity. “[Thady’s] identity, like the colonized subject, is dependent on the dominant force, that is, the family. Without it he is lost. It is from the family that he draws the power of discourse, to speak his own identity…” (O’Shaughnessy, 431). The speaking of his identity which comes from his placement in societal roles is presented to us by his language, a mixture of British English and Gaelic, more English than Irish. Unfortunately, his language also separates him from the readership and the Glossary, and he is once again denied the ability to define himself within the larger modern readership, or nation. His own language is reverted into the past while the British English Glossary moves the novel into the present.

Claire Norris describes the ability of language to maintain identity within a colonial land when she writes “To the English, Ireland and the Irish language are a commodity and any real identity is meaningless…For Ireland to keep hold of its national identity, it seems that it needs to keep hold of its language,” (110). Perhaps this is why Edgeworth allows Thady’s narrative to run alongside the Glossary as a veiled equal before destabilizing it with Editors notes and a British English translation. Though she gives no credit to Gaelic language, Edgeworth does see that the English spoken in Ireland is not the same as the Globalized English the British were attempting to rapidly spread. This suggests that no language can globalize at all; the ability for a language to globalize dies upon contact with indigenous languages, changing to a dialect that cannot ignore the First People’s identity while incorporating Imperialist views and processes. Hence, Thady’s narration is a denial of Globalized English while at the same time accepts the stereotypical idiocracy that is placed upon those who do not speak “correctly”.

Even more important in looking at  language identity is the time period of the narrative’s existence. Consistently we are reminded that Thady’s tale is of the past. It cannot exist in current times because to do so would imply the power of the Irish to maintain ways of living that are unstable and uncivilized through colonial indictment. By highlighting that “these are tales of other times” in the preface and title, Edgeworth would seem to imply that the Native Irish are a dying race, perhaps something similar to that of the Vanishing Indian in the American colonies. However, as Hack points out, “…Castle Rackrent actually invites such a reading of the tale as a contemporary portrait, even while disavowing it,”(161). Again we are able to see that Edgeworth’s own identity, as presented through Thady’s tongue, and her national ideas of home and place, are in time and space between that of British progress and Ireland’s current existence.

The use of the dialectic narrative is more than simply a “linguistic blackface” as Egenolf described (Egenolf, 850). In her article, she claims that Thady’s narrative is an excuse to highlight the differences between cultures, to mock Thady and specifically to demonize the Native Irish. She claims that Edgeworth’s linguistic mockery of Thady attempts to “re-inscribe a system of benevolent patronage in Ireland” (852). Though this is true, it is not out of direct intention but rather a subsequent part of the power Edgeworth has in identifying “authentic factors” of Irish identity and placing them upon her Irish characters (King). This common tactic of British literature is relevant. The colonizer often makes the use of the Native tongue “less than”.  In order to create domination, authors often used language as a tool for assimilation. “Language becomes the medium through which a hierarchical structure of power is perpetuated, and the medium through which conceptions of ‘truth’, ‘order’, and ‘reality’ become established…” (What, 7). However, in the preface, Edgeworth describes the English readers as “ignorant”, suggesting that Thady’s narrative is not solely incorrect in its use of Irish dialect. Rather than it being the Irish narrator who is less educated, Edgeworth seems to say that the British reader is lacking in skill sufficient enough to read. This is common of many post-colonial texts, where the periphery reestablishes itself as center. The power of the colonizer is negated through the use of a peripheral subject’s authorative voice (What, 7).  The text itself, intentionally or not, stands as a form of resistance to British views on education, literacy, and language use. In fact, there are moments throughout Thady’s narrative that seem to mock literacy and the use of Protestant laws and ideals. At one point, he describes the lack of ability for Sir Murtagh to maintain the estate when he says: “How I used to wonder to see Sir Murtagh in the midst of the papers in his office – why he could hardly turn for them…” (15). In this moment, we can see Thady, a simple and ignorant Irishman, completely aware of the dangers an addiction to the pen and paper can create. By stepping away from the reality of issues and being glued to laws and penmanship, Sir Murtagh fails to sustain the estate, and is thusly bound by those same laws to lose it. It is here that Edgeworth criticizes both the Irish and the Protestant Ascendency. The contention between the two is the space in which the novel exists.

Is Edgeworth taking a moment to mock how Protestant Ascendency in Ireland is failing to properly govern land estates? Thady writes, “He was a very learned man in the law… but how it was I can’t tell, these suits that he carried cost him a power of money- in the end he sold some hundreds a year of the family estate- but he was a very learned man in the law, and I know nothing of the matter except having a great regard for the family…” (16). Edgeworth does appear to use Thady’s supposed ignorance as a form of incredible perception of reality outside the “truth” of law. Likewise, Edgeworth is highlighting the issues of British doctrines in a land that had pre-established governments and rulings, which had already been heavily influenced by British rule and were still continuing to thrive and fail. Though she maintains in her lifetime that education is the best way to move forward and progress, she also appears to see the issues that occur when laws disregard the ability of a people to live outside of those parameters (Barry, 12).

The Big House or the Castle

The appearance of the Big House became a staple in Irish fiction as the form of the novel rose. Edgeworth’s choice to title the book “Castle” instead of “Big House” is another area where British ideals of home and space have infiltrated Irish ideologies. An identifying feature of the Irish lands, estates and “Big Houses” were common among the country-side, pastoral landscapes. Claire Norris writes, in her article titled The Big House: Space, Place and Identity in Irish Fiction: “…the Big House novel was the most popular and enduring subgenre within the Irish novel…” (1). The Big House itself is more than just a setting for a story. According to Norris, there are three levels of “Big House” that began to infiltrate Irish writing around the time of Castle Rackrent’s publication and distribution: “…The abstract level of the nation… the visual relationship to place associated with the concept of ‘landscape’ [and] …the sensual lived experience of the local environment…”(108). Edgeworth’s intention in naming the setting of the tale Castle Rackrent is to demonstrate the parallel need for British institutions on Irish ground with the lack of ability for that “castle” to sustain itself in conjunction with the failure of the people to sustain them.

Place and displacement are common factors of post-colonial texts. However, as Rackrent is not necessarily post-colonial but rather a colonial text, written during colonial establishment, there is a struggle between home, place and displacement. In the introduction to The Empire Writes Back,there is a description of different cases of displacement:

 “A valid and active sense of self may have been eroded by dislocation, resulting from migration, the experience of enslavement, transportation or ‘voluntarily’ removed for indentured labour. Or it may have been destroyed by cultural denigration,the conscious and unconscious oppression of the indigenous personality and culture by a supposedly superior racial or cultural model. The dialectic of place and displacement is always a feature of post-colonial societies whether these have been created by a process of settlement, intervention, or a mixture of the two…” (What, 9).

In the case of the castle in Castle Rackrent,it is a “superior cultural model” that is establishing a place on Irish grounds, displacing Irish models of living and land governance. Unfortunately, the castle fails because the unjustly and improperly established ruling class still falls victim to immoral governance. This is an area of gray, where though Edgeworth see’s the need for the castle’s existence in Irish land, she is critical of Protestant Anglo-Irish to rule over it. Perphaps they fall victim to the Irish tendencies within them, forgetting their strictly British sensibilities.

Hack takes this one step further, looking past the existence of the castle and into the importance of the players within its walls which mimic its downfall. He writes that “The Irish, it seems, ‘die many times before their death’ because they have to be dead, or have already died, in order to die, just as Ireland has to have lost her identity in order to lose, or merit losing, her identity…” (154). I would posit that this falling of the Irish in order to establish an ability and need to fall is tied closely to the destruction of the Big House and the failing of the Castle upon Irish lands. Edgeworth’s own identity then, and her own understanding of Ireland, must surely be at similar contentions within themselves. That is, her narrative is uncertain of which construction of Ireland will be most beneficial for the future, but she recognizes that current change is leading somewhere and coming from something. The ambivalence her narrative has, however, lends great power and authority into the Native Irish by implying the inability of the Protestant ruling class to maintain any sort of control over the crumbling castle.

Castle Rackrent systematically-and symptomatically – denies acknowledging its knowledge of the prior presence of the English in Ireland, and the extent to which the Ireland we see in the book and the Ireland of 1800 show the effects of this prior presence. The text does not ignore the English influence but it resists naming it as such,” (Hack, 155).

Again we can compare this to the use of “Castle” rather than “Big House” in the discussion of land ownership. The use of an Imperial model, such as a castle, is outwardly English and a sign of domination, power and strength. Castles were built to defend, as strongholds of power and meant to strike fear into the hearts of those who observed them. The Tower of London is a great example of the tortuous ability of a structure to maintain such a force over those who observe it for hundreds of years. However, the placement of the Castle on the grounds of a landscape full of “fairy-mounts” and other signifiers of Irish landscapes suggest an Irish identity that cannot be completely degenerated from an already collapsing structure being placed upon them (Edgeworth, 16).  The structure, of course, is the failing British Imperialism model that was unable to completely subordinate the Irish nationalist movement. Though Edgeworth is a member of the land-owning Protestant class, she is also critical of its ability to maintain a stronghold as the strengthening Union outside of Ireland continues to de-unionize peoples within Ireland. The Castle, and those that live within its walls, are no different than the Union and those that join within its overextended arms. To live within the walls of the Castle is to accept the Castle’s inability to maintain itself, its need for the people to maintain it. Unfortunately for the Castle, the people within are ill-versed in proper Estate running techniques. Whether distracted by law, gambling, women or other dangerous devices that counter British Ideals of development, the estate holders all manage to share one failing, inability to maintain the Castle on Irish land.

The only man who does maintain his position throughout the text is the one man who admits his changes immediately for the reader. Thady, who describes his own decline as a linear transgression from “’honest Thady” to “old Thady” and then finally “poor Thady” is the only man who outlives all the previous landowners (Edgeworth, 7). He, the one who embodies all the contradictions, is the one who is able to exist within the Castle and not continually “die” for it. His son, Jason, is an extension of Thady’s own ability to live within the Castle as an Irishman, while remaining aware of the flaws and successes of the Protestant Ruling class. In looking at the character of Jason, Hack writes:

“…most dangerous of all possibilities- does his Irishness persist and combine with his education to make him, or enable him to become, an Irish nationalist? In the figure of Jason, Castle Rackrent provides an early example of what will become a common imperialist dilemma: ‘the extension of colonial hegemony requires the creation of an educated native elite without the guarantee that mastery of the instruments of domination will assure assimilation,” (161).

This is the contradiction and problem that exists within Castle Rackrent, and subsequently, within Edgeworth herself. Her own identity, which cannot nor should not be separated from her national identity within Ireland and her larger identity within the Anglo-Irish Union, is in contention with itself and the time in which she exists.  How the British imperialist mentality was and is able to pervade the walls of the Castle and into the landscapes and policies of its colonial enterprises is through the ability of the ideals to trickle down into the fictionist form of the novel and present themselves to the population as possible and real.

Conclusion: Edgeworth’s Intention and the Novels Impact

The goal of finding place within novels and consequently in reality has a heavy presence in fiction. Over time there was a movement from English literature to literature in English, and Castle Rackrent is a part of that movement. In doing so, it is a part of the redefining of home, of identity and of nationality across cultural and linguistic borders. Edgeworth’s role as an author of such a text puts her own identity, which is linked directly to Thady’s identity, in that same drive forward (George, 10). With a revolution happening in Edgeworth’s backyard, she undoubtedly felt the overwhelming need to define herself and her peers as something to be a part of. The uncertainty of Ireland’s future, and her own stance as landowner and part of the ruling class, is heavily reflected in the controversy played out by an undermined and simultaneously undermining Irish Narrator.

…the object of colonial discourse is marked by desire and derision at the same time. The colonial subject fantasizes about being in two places at the one time, about being both colonizer and colonized. The colonizer is caught up in a fantasy of power while simultaneously suffering a paranoia of persecution. Similarly, the colonized wants both to take up the colonizer’s positions but at the same time to look down at himself…” (O’Shaughnessy, 430).

Edgeworth’s text begets the question: whose land is it and who has the right to rule? The answer is hidden somewhere in Jason’s ascendency, that which parallels the protestant ascendency but is never specifically cited as such (Egenolf, 853-6). His own desire to mimic the Protestant Ruling Class without admitting to such is what grants him the power to play both colonizer and colonized. Though comical, the book hints at issues that are terrifying and looming in what was the current political instability of the time. Edgeworth is suggesting that not only were the Irish misusing the language, which needed to be reformed by the Glossary, but also the land that sprouted the roots of their voices. At the same time, the narration questions the ability for the Protestant Ruling class to govern the Irish lands.Ultimately, and in conjunction with most of the reversals Edgeworth plays upon within the novel, the conclusion is found in the first pages of her preface:

“Nations as well as individuals gradually lose attachment to their identity, and the present generation is amused rather than offended by the ridicule that is thrown upon their ancestors…When Ireland loses her identity by an union with Great Britain, she will look back with a smile of good-humoured complacency on the Sir Kits and Sir Condys of her former existence,” (4-5).

Though no one may ever really know Edgeworth’s intention in the creation of a deconstructing house, it is easy to see that the text itself, without attention to intentionality, lies between the poles of British ideology and Irish reality.


Works Cited

Barry, Florence Valentine. “Introduction.” Introduction. Maria Edgeworth: Chosen Letters. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1931. Print.

Bhabba, Homi K. “The Location of Culture.” The Novel: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory (206): 716-33. Jstor. Blackwell Publishers. Web.

Egenolf, Susan B. “Maria Edgeworth in Blackface: Castle Rackrent and the Irish Rebellion of 1798.” ELH 72.4 (2005): 845-869. JStor. The John Hopkins University Press. Web.

Fernandez, Jean. “Thady’s Grey Goose Quill: Historiography and Literacy in Maria Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent.” New Hibernia Review/Iris Éireannach Nua: A Quarterly Record of Irish Studies 13.3 (2009) : 133-146. Jstor. Western Washington University. Web.

George, Rosemary. The Politics of Home. New York: University of Cambridge, 1996. Print.

Hack, Daniel. “Inter-Nationalism: “Castle Rackrent” and Anglo-Irish Union.” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 29.2 (1996): 145-64. Jstor. Duke University Press. Web.

King, Thomas. The Truth about Stories: a Native Narrative. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2005. Print.

McLoughlin, Tim. “Settler Instability: Edgeworth’s Irish Novels and Settler Writing from Zimbabwe.” Irish and Postcolonial Writing: History, Theory, Practice. Ed. Glenn Hooper and Colin Graham. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. Print.

Norris, Claire. “The Big House: Space, Place, and Identity in Irish Fiction.” New Hibernia Review/Iris Éireannach Nua: A Quarterly Record of Irish Studies 8.1 (2004) : 107-121. Jstor. University of St. Thomas. Web.

O’Shaughnessy, David. “Ambivalence in Castle Rackrent.” Canadian Journal of Irish Studies 25.1-2 (1999) : 427-440. Print.

Speller, Trevor. Lecture/Seminar: “Castle Rackrent”.  May 21, 2011.

“What Are Post-Colonial Literatures?” Introduction. The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-colonial Literatures. Ed. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. London: Routledge, 2002. Print.

You may also like...