Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 February 2020
The question of realism helps us zero in on a certain puzzle about perhaps the most important Irish writer working in this important period of transition. On the face of it, Edgeworth’s relation to anything called fictional realism might seem distant. Her narratives often tend to allegory and didacticism; they tend to be highly reflexive; she often adapts or incorporates non-realist genres, such as the fairy tale or legend; and, for some critics, she belongs to an Irish tradition in which realism is thought to be impossible on social and cultural grounds. And yet Edgeworth was a leading influence on the two British novelists – Sir Walter Scott and Jane Austen – who, in their contrasting ways, are often considered as key figures in the shaping of the modern realist novel. This chapter develops a solution to this puzzle by identifying Edgeworth with ‘scientific realism’, and showing that she shaped a distinctive kind of fictional practice out of her well-established commitments to experiment, observation, and the inductive method.