First published at the turn of the 19th century, Maria Edgeworth's surprisingly brief 'Castle Rackrent' sees the author rather uncharateristically adopt the first-person voice of an Irish worker, Thady, who looks after the master and the property of the Castle, Rackrent; and his recollections of four of the Castle's masters - Sir Patrick, Sir Murtagh, Sir Kit and Sir Condy; as well as providing a chronicle of the sorts of changes of Ireland throughout the 18th century. There's no doubting that 'Castle Rackrent' was a hugely praise text of its time, but it's sometimes a little confusing upon modern readings, to ascertain why (outside of its use of an original kind of Anglo-Irish voice). There's no doubt that the text is a fairly enjoyable read, that its mild social commentary is agreeable enough, and that it never outstays its welcome, but it's hard to find anything brilliant about Edgworth's text; and though the perceptible bias of Thady towards and against certain of the novel's figures adds another dimension, this sort of social commentary and idea of authorial subjectivity is done better in certain other novels of the time. Equally, the fact of the novel's being one of the first historical novels, and arguably the first Anglo-Irish novel are both interesting facts, but besides a general appeal, aren't really indicative in anything that exceptional within the text (at least from a present-day perspective)
Equally, though the novel's brevity saves it from becoming boring, it also means that we never get a full enough picture of any of the masters of the Castle for neither Edgeworth or the reader to be able to build up the kind of social critique which the novel hints at, but never quite puts into practice; except in its rather routine explanations of Thady's son Jason's selfishness after his return from a more urban lifestyle. For those who want a readable and somewhat useful chronicle of 18th century Irish aristocratic life, or fans of Edgeworth's other works, 'Castle Rackrent' is worth a read, and is by no means a 'bad' novel for anyone else; but there's a sense that more could have been made in the novel, and that the witty erudition of 'Belinda', or the strong social conscience of 'The Absentee', (two superb Edgeworth novels) is missing; and that 'Castle Rackrent' is more of a stable novel, than a classic.