Bernard Canavan – an Edgeworthstown artist living in London attended the recent Maria Edgeworth Conference in York University held on the 29th and 30th June and sent on the following report from the event
I attended last weekend a conference on Maria Edgeworth in the lovely city of York as part of the city’s department of Eighteenth Century studies at the University; and learned that it will be followed by another conference in Trinity College, Dublin, at the end of the year. Such was the calibre of the speakers and papers from across Ireland, Europe and the wider world that to me, as a mere Edgeworth enthusiast myself, I was left with the impression of being present at the re-discovery of a major lost Irish female voice from the past. Those that were present were long time Edgeworth scholars who held professorship in renowned universities, and they were joined by a number of young researchers just starting off on their Phd topics which augers well for the future. Some were from European, Australian and American universities, who were exploring the ever widening impact of the Edgeworth family, father and daughter, on events in the new American Republic, the Scottish Enlightenment and even the British empire. It was a gathering of experts, but the originality of their research will ensure that there will be ever widening ripples of interest focusing on the little Irish town in the midlands where the family lived. I have no doubt that it will make the town – as it had been during Maria’s lifetime – once again a place of pilgrimage for visitors who want to know more.
The other striking feature about the weekend – as you can see from the programme and the photographs below – was the preponderance of female speakers – understandable, of course, as the subject was a woman writer, but nevertheless worth remembering given the paucity of material by, and about, women’s opinions in in the Eighteenth century. Maria, I venture, will be a figure of ever greater importance, particularly as we reap the harvest of enthusiasm and scholarship that conferences like this have sown.
It is perhaps invidious to mention any one paper, but I found two or three concerning Edgeworth links about which I had been previously been completely ignorant as memorable. Jane Randall’s, from York University, paper, which must have been the product of a life-times research on the Edgeworth’s Scottish connections when Edinburgh was known as the Athens of the north, was very exciting; as was Jenifer Orr’s account of the Edgeworth’s links across the old and new world, ‘Cosmopolitism and the transatlantic emigrant community’. And finally the conference was ended by Susan Manley’s magisterial ‘Copley Lecture’ on ‘Maria Edgeworth and Political Life’. I hope that we can see all these talks in print in a conference volume in the nearer future. A wonderful weekend.