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Woolf, Virginia, her copy) Edgeworth, Maria, ed.

Memoirs of Richard Lovell Edgeworth.


Virginia Woolf's Copy
Edgeworth, Richard Lovell, Esq. Memoirs of Richard Lovell Edgeworth, Esq. Begun by himself and concluded by his daughter, Maria Edgeworth. In two volumes. London: R. Hunter, 1820.
2 vols., 8vo.; frontispiece illustrations; fold-out illustration in volume one; marbled paper-covered boards; three-quarter brown morocco, spines stamped in gilt.    
First edition of the memoir that Edgeworth left for his daughter to complete-but not to edit-at his death in June 1817. Despite negative publicity at the hands of the Quarterly Review, a second edition was issued in 1828 and a third, for which Edgeworth revised her own contribution, in 1844. Signed on the front endpaper of each volume, "Virginia Woolf." Though these volumes bear no annotations by VW, the pleasure she derived from reading them is clear in her review, which appears in the essay "The Lives of the Obscure" in The Common Reader (1925). Her assessment of Edgeworth as he presents himself in his memoirs stands among the most captivating of her non-fiction writings for its humor and vivacity. After introducing Edgeworth as "the portentous bore," she explains,
…that is the way he has come down to us in his two volumes of memoirs-Byron's bore, Day's friend, Maria's father, the man who almost invented the telegraph, and did, in fact, invent machines for cutting turnips, climbing walls, contracting on narrow bridges and lifting their wheels over obstacles-a man meritorious, industrious, advanced, but still, as we investigate his memoirs, mainly a bore. …
She pictures him in a variety of unusual situations, each presenting a rare opportunity for exploration and growth. But Edgeworth, she writes, "was impervious to the romance of the situations in which he found himself. Every experience served only to fortify his character. He reflected, he observed, he improved himself daily. You can improve, Mr. Edgeworth used to tell his children, every day of your life." VW's interest in the lives of Edgeworth's wives-as sketchily illuminated by their husband and as more crisply envisioned by herself-makes an interesting pairing with her copies of the correspondence of Jane Welsh Carlyle:
His wife and friends and children are silhouetted with extreme vividness upon a broad disc of interminable chatter. …For instance, we conjure up all the drama of poor Mrs. Edgeworth's daily life; her bewilderment, her loneliness, her despair, how she must have wondered whether any one really wanted machines to climb walls, and assured the gentlemen that turnips were better cut simply with a knife… But it was no use complaining to her husband. Edgeworth said, "She lamented about trifles". He went on to say: "The lamenting of a female with whom we live does not render home delightful."
Maria Edgeworth, the eldest of nineteen children born of her father's four wives, enjoyed a richly intellectual relationship with him that led to several collaborative writing projects. Though she claimed sole authorship of Letters to Literary Ladies (1795), a treatise on the necessity for female education with which VW must have been familiar, her better-known Practical Education (1798) was their most successful joint work. In light of her reading of Constance Hill's Maria Edgeworth and her Circle in the Days of Buonaparte and Bourbon, a work entirely lacking in probity, VW describes Edgeworth as "strikingly modest": "Her habits were such that no one would have taken her for a remarkable person, but it is scarcely necessary to be at such pains to prove it. She was diminutive in figure, plain in feature, and wrote demurely at her desk in the family living room." Still, she was a linguist and scholar, an avid reader, writer, and listener, a competent and broad-viewed conversationalist, and a "sprightly and sensible" young woman who attracted much attention on her visits abroad. (TLS, December 1909; posthumously reprinted in Books and Portraits, 1977.)

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