Maria Edgeworth, at one time the most prominent novelist writing in English, had a long and varied career. In works explicitly designed for different classes of readers, Edgeworth manifested a sustained interest in relationships between writing and social position. Her fiction often connects literacy and social mobility, and uses copying to represent access to social power. Copying is also an element in Edgeworth’s conception of herself as author. In Edgeworth’s final novel, Helen, a concern with copying is accompanied by an interest in the contemporary cult of the autograph, which the novel uses to explore the proper limits of celebrity and the commodification of the author in the market place. Walter Scott figures significantly in the novel. Edgeworth’s relationship with Scott, her interest in issues relating to Scott’s hand, and the sale of the Waverly manuscripts at public auction are a suggestive context for Edgeworth’s reflective treatment of modern authorship.
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