Ennui Background

Ennui Background

In a way, Maria Edgeworth is to turn of the 19th century British literature what Edith Wharton is to turn of the 20th century American literature. Like Wharton, Edgeworth fashioned a series of novels that traced the declining fortunes of a wealthy society vainly trying to stick to ways of life that an evolving society around them simply had not use for. For Wharton, the collapse of the Gilded Age and those members of elite New York City society clinging to ritual allowed her to expand upon the specific and create a scathing critique of American capitalism. In novels like Ennui, The Absentee and Ormond, the economic system ripe for metaphor was that of absentee British landlords owning and renting Irish property.

Edgeworth was already four years removed from the acclaim which had greeted her most famous novel Castle Rackrent. That novel initiated her interest in revealing the demise of a way of life and economics in rural Ireland. Despite completing an initial draft in 1804, however, Edgeworth would deem her fictional memoir of a certain Lord Glenthorn in need of extensive revision before finally it was finally published in 1809, nearly a full decade after Castle Rackrent. Not that Edgeworth was idly obsessive during that period. Between her first novel and Ennui, in fact, Edgeworth published a number of books including on a variety of subjects.

Ennui’s placement a volume within a broader collection of like-minded novels is more central to her legacy and reputation. This collection broadly grouped together under the umbrella title Tales of Fashionable Life seeks to mark out what she successfully saw as the inevitable decline and fall of the British Empire. The title of Ennui is more telling than the actual plot as it can be applied as the underlying cause behind this eventual decline: boredom arising from focusing efforts upon fleeting sensual pleasures rather than making actual emotional connections with family and members of different classes rises to the surface in these novels as the true villain working silently behind the scenes to bring about the collapse the empire upon which the sun once never set.

All of this recalls how Edith Wharton would unwittingly predict the collapse of American values by tying the pursuit of status to the accumulation of wealth used primarily to continually re-establish the state of their status. In a way, Ennui could could also serve equally well as an ironic title of Wharton's closest analogue to Edgeworth's novel, The House of Mirth.

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