Alex Howard, “The Pains of Attention: Paratextual Reading in Practical Education and Castle Rackrent” (pp. 293–318)
In Practical Education (1798), Maria Edgeworth and Richard Lovell Edgeworth’s treatise on rationalist pedagogy, the authors define attention as a form of painful “mental labour.” The habit of concentrating, they suggest, must be carefully cultivated before the intellectual pleasure can outweigh the “fatigue” of thinking—and to do so, “those who expect to succeed in the art of teaching” must always remember “that we can attend to but one thing at a time.” Edgeworth’s ironic annotations to Castle Rackrent (1800), however, gleefully flout these rules. By formalizing the separation between narrative and contextual material, the Editor’s footnotes diversify—and intensify—the annotated novel’s claims on its reader’s attention. This essay reframes the Editor’s paratextual interruptions as deliberate pedagogical challenges to the “lazy” adult reader’s stunted faculty of attention. Investigating the phenomenology of paratextual reading, I argue that Edgeworth’s novel aims to empower its readers to gather, to process, and to retain the information that will guide them toward more responsible political judgments and more nuanced methods of knowledge production. Ultimately, by juxtaposing the habits of pleasurable attention required of responsible intellectual laborers with the realities of labor relations on the Irish estate, Edgeworth presents the novel’s pedagogy as a necessary intervention into Anglo-Irish labor relations at the critical moment of Union.
- © 2014 by The Regents of the University of California