Sunday, 18 March 2012

Jane Austen Quote of the Week 187

I have been bombarding myself with ‘Downton Abbey’ lately, including the basic circumstances that required Lord Grantham to invite Matthew Crawley to Downton (because his previous heir died during the Titanic accident, God bless their souls). I then remembered how similar things still were in 1912 with early 19th century when Jane Austen wrote Sense & Sensibility and Pride & Prejudice. Just take a look at a paragraph from SS Chapter 1 Volume 1:

The old Gentleman died; his will was read, and like almost every other will, gave as much disappointment as pleasure. He was neither so unjust, nor so ungrateful, as to leave his estate from his nephew; - but he left it to him on such terms as destroyed half the value of the bequest. Mr Dashwood had wished for it more for the sake of his wife and daughters than for himself or his son:- but to his son, and his son’s son, a child of four years old, it was secured, in such a way, as to leave to himself no power of providing for those who were most dear to him, and who most needed a provision, by any division of the estate, or by any sale of its valuable woods.

Thus Mrs Dashwood and the girls had to leave Norland, but thankfully not without meeting Edward Ferrars first (at least for Elinor’s sake).

And of course, in PP, we have Mr Collins, who, as Mr Bennet said in Chapter 13 Volume 1, “…when I am dead, may turn you all out of this house as soon as he pleases” to which his dear wife replied with “Oh! my dear…I cannot bear to hear that mentioned. Pray do not talk of that odious man. I do think it is the hardest thing in the world that your estate should be entailed away from your own children; and I am sure if I had been you, I should have tried long ago to do something or other about it.”

All of these conversations gave me a very strong desire to understand why the entail had to be designed as such to put women in such a disadvantage situation. I think it has been enacted since early 13th century. Pemberley has a link about an entail, including a very complicated Male Primogeniture Succession that explained that any entailed properties were inherited by the nearest male-line descendant (instead of female line).

My primary question is, is it still happening? If not, when did it cease? If it is, I cannot believe it. England is a modern country after all, now. But… even in Indonesia, inheritance is given to the eldest son, not daughter, until now. So why am I still surprised?

Rachel &c, care to explain it to me?

Pic: Norland Estate, from Jane Austen's World


Linda Fern said...

Oh dear, such an involved subject. I have 2 links that may answer some of your questions, but they are very long, so if you have the time enjoy.

One is in the Jane Austen Information pages here:


Next is from the Pemberley archives where a lively discussion was held here:

Entails discussion

I hope I made those links correctly.

Yrs aff'ly,
Linda the Librarian

Rachel said...

It is indeed an interesting subject. In the UK most people would leave a will which would declare their wishes in terms of inheritance. I believe that if there is no will in place the inheritance would be split equally between all children regardless of their gender. I think thats correct.
When I visited India last year I was alarmed by the state of inequality that is still practiced. I remember asking my male friend, who is from India, how many cousins he had. The conversation was in the context of his grandfathers land and he replied that he had only one cousin. When I explored further I realised that he only had one male cousin. He did not think to mention that he also had three female cousins because they would not be in the picture when it came to the inheritance of the land.
Mmmm I think this is an area of much debate!
What is also interesting is that in the UK the laws of gender in the monarchy have ONLY just changed. Late last year it was announced that sons and daughters of any future UK monarch will have equal right to the throne. As it stood before then, a younger son would take priority over his older sister in the race for the throne.
Anyway I will stop now. Thanks for the post Icha.

Rachel said...

The links Linda has posted above do not quite work but here they are:

Entails =

Entails discussion =

Icha said...

Wow... I didn't know all that. Thanks a lot for the information, Rachel. So, are you entitled to half the rights now, if you have a brother with you to share an inheritance?