Maria Edgeworth was one of the most popular writers of her time, a sharp and witty observer of society manners, and a favorite author for Jane Austen.
“Ormond,” published in 1817, is a “coming-of-age” novel, tracing a young man’s development as he approaches the age of majority. When we meet him, Harry Ormond has his “heart in the right place,” but is unsettled of character, naïve and impulsive. The central issue is: “What kind of man will he become?”
In part, Harry is influenced by the books he reads: Fielding’s “Tom Jones,” Richardson’s “Sir Charles Grandison,” and works of the French Enlightenment. More important, however, are influences from the company he keeps, much as Prince Hal in Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” takes shape as a reflection of the people around him. As an orphan, Harry had been adopted by Sir Ulick O’Shane, a man of society, full of subtlety and strategies, who exploits his public trust for private advantage (a practice known at that time as “jobbing”). Harry also spends time with Sir Ulick’s cousin Cornelius, a Falstaffian figure of hearty good cheer and eccentric rural lifestyle. (He enthrones himself on a tiny island in an Irish lake, calls himself the “King of the Black Islands” and nicknames Ormond “Prince Harry.”) Later, Harry follows Cornelius’s daughter to Paris, where he witnesses the glamorous dissipation of French society in the years before the Revolution.
This novel explores the challenges of bringing together apparent oppositions: reconciling promised loyalty with assertion of self, Anglo-Irish landlords with their Irish tenants, Catholics with Protestants, and the impulsive heart with the rational head.
“Ormond” is named in the reference list “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.” - Summary by Bruce Pirie