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Irish Short Story Week – Edgeworth

March 16, 2011
Maria Edgeworth

Image via Wikipedia

In honor of St Patrick’s Day, Mel U at The Reading Life is hosting Irish Short Story Week.  Today I am reading stories by Maria Edgeworth, who is considered one of the first realist writers in children’s literature. 

The first story I read was “The Purple Jar.”  On the surface the tale is about consumerism and choosing the aesthetic over the practical.  A young girl goes shopping with her mother and is given the choice of her mother buying her shoes for her feet that are hurting or a pretty purple vase she sees.

“This month! that’s a very long time, indeed! You can’t think how these hurt me; I believe I’d better have the new shoes. Yet, that purple flower-pot. Oh, indeed, mamma, these shoes are not so very, very bad! I think I might wear them a little longer, and the month will soon be over. I can make them last till the end of the month, can’t I? Don’t you think so, mamma?”

The girl chooses the vase.  When  she gets home she is disappointed as the vase that appeared purple is really clear and filled with a dark liquid.  She has to go a month without good shoes and her father is disgusted with her unkempt appearance.

It has been debated that this story is about a girl’s first menstrual cycle.  Perhaps with the jar representing the cycle and her father’s disgust with her condition it hints at how a child’s first experience is.  I myself have trouble seeing this and see more the consumerism aspect of the story.  How one must think before they buy and how buying for an aesthetic value is often a mistake.

The second story read was “The Limerick Gloves” which is about prejudices of the English against the Irish.  In this story a well meaning Irish glover gives his English lover a pair of “limerick” gloves.  When her parents find out, their prejudices against the Irish come out and they ask her to remove the gloves.  Her father imagines all kinds of conspiracies against the Irishman from blowing up the cathedral to stealing his dog.  The glover himself is a gentleman who throws balls and helps the poor, but the neighbor’s and especially his lover’s father can’t see past his Irish exterior.

“I took a mortal dislike to that Mr. Brian O’Neill the first time I ever saw him. He’s an Irishman, and that’s enough, and too much for me.”

This story is about looking beyond someone’s nationality and seeing who they are.  It mocks the behavior of the father and shows us how following prejudices can make you look rather silly in the eyes of others.

The final story I read was “The Orphans.”  After their mother dies four children are forced to leave their home and live in the ruins of a castle.  Each work hard to earn money for the family.  The children are known as being immensely honest and earn respect and benefactors in the community through this.  They find a pot of gold in the ruined castle they are living at and instead of keeping it they return it to the agent of the landowner.  This great show of honesty creates trouble and drama, but is rewarding as well.  The overall lesson in this tale is that the children don’t rely on luck, but rely on their hard work and integrity which they are rewarded for in the end.

Maria Edgeworth is a pleasure to read.   All of her stories seem to have moral lessons and flow rather nicely.  I found her stories for free online here.


Irish Short Story Week
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