Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849) was the second child of Richard Lovell Edgeworth, a political liberal and enlightened educator. Her four regional novels and novels of manners, from Castle Rackrent (1800) to Helen (1834), commanded unprecedented advances and were major best-sellers. She was read and admired by Jane Austen, Walter Scott, Byron, Stendhal, Turgenev and Ruskin - who declared her novels "the most re-readable books in existence". John Mullan is a Professor of English at UCL. He hosts the Guardian Book Club, and contributes regularly to Newsnight Review, LRB and New Statesman.