The Lottery


This year I decided to create my own short story advent calendar by choosing twenty-four of the pocket Penguins which I have collected like whisky miniatures over the years but (like the contents of those tiny bottles) never tasted. The selection each day will be random, so it can only be serendipitous that the first out the bag (literally – a fortuitous discovery of brown paper pokes with a Santa emblazoned on the front having saved me the tedious task of wrapping each one) is Maria Edgeworth’s The Lottery. (Rather unfairly, this was not published by Penguin but by Orion Books in imitation; it’s easily available online should you wish to try it).

Edgeworth is yet another prolific and previously famous writer whose work has been gradually removed from the literary consciousness. While contemporary Jane Austen has gone on to a successful film career, Edgeworth has been relegated to one-hit-wonder status with her first novel Castle Rackrent. (Having said that, Sort Of Books has mounted a recent comeback campaign with the strapline ‘Jane Austen’s best-selling rival,’ having reissued Helen and Patronage).

Edgeworth began as a children’s writer and the finger-pointing morality that is acceptable for the development of young minds is unfortunately still in evidence wagging away in her later work, of which The Lottery is no exception. She’s a little like those Primary teachers that cannot adjust to talking to adults and continue in the same sing-song tone. The lottery, by the way is bad, as the voice of virtue, William explains:

“But what is gaming but trusting ones money, or somewhat, to luck or hap-hazard?”

Unfortunately his friend, Maurice, is so brow-beaten by his cousin Mrs Dolly that he succumbs anyway, selling a cow to buy a ticket in the worse bovine exchange since Jack and those magic beans. With Jack’s luck, however, he wins five thousand pounds thereby proving that lotteries are worthwhile after all…

Or not, because Edgeworth’s real moral is that money has to be earned, which is of course what all those who are born into wealth think. There are entertainingly tense decisions to be made about what to do with the money with Mrs Dolly favouring a coach and Maurice’s wife, Ellen, suggesting they set up a shop to provide a steady income. Most importantly their son, George, is able to avoid becoming a drunkard, despite his aunt’s insistence he should, like her, spend his leisure time pouring alcohol down his throat, a resistance that wins him a rich friend (always useful for happy denouements). Any pleasure at George’s sobriety is taken from them (and us), however, when we discover that Maurice (whose absence from the narrative I had put down to weak characterisation) was, in fact, gambling away all their money.

The Lottery is an entertaining tale but, as Edgeworth herself said, “I have been reproached for making my moral in some stories too prominent,” and that was before I even had a chance to reproach her. Repentance or painful death awaits those who have acted immorally, while those who have not will be rewarded, cash in hand.

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6 Responses to “The Lottery”

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings Says:

    What a clever idea Grant! Look forward to hearing about whatever comes out of the bag each day! In the case of this one, I suspect I would have found the moral aspect just a bit trying…

  2. JacquiWine Says:

    As I was saying on Twitter the other night, this is such a brilliant way to read these Penguins, and it looks as if you have plenty of treats to look forward to in the run-up to Christmas!

    When I saw the title of this post, I though it might be Shirley Jackson’s story, The Lottery, also published by Penguin along with several of her other shorts. (It might not be available as a standalone though.) I’m a little ashamed to say that I had never heard of Maria Edgeworth – probably not one to rush out and buy, but I enjoyed your review nonetheless.

    • 1streading Says:

      Shirley Jackson would have made an ideal writer for these short books, though I don’t think she’s ever been included.
      I did read Castle Rackrent years ago but that’s my only previous encounter with Edgeworth.

  3. bookbii Says:

    That’s the best idea for an advent calendar ever! Hopefully the ‘chocolates’ will improve as you work through it, but either way it sounds like an enjoyable enterprise. I look forward to hearing about all your reads.

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