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Entailment and Inheritance Laws in the 18th century regarding woman

Page history last edited by Şeyda ÇEŞMECİ 14 years, 9 months ago


Question:In many of Jane Austen’s novels (e.g. “Pride and Prejudice”, “Sense and Sensibility”), the idea of the entailment of a father’s property to the nearest male relative is a major concern for her heroines. What was “entailment”? What were the British inheritance laws in the 18th century regarding women? What major changes have occurred in the inheritance law for women to the present date?


     Jane Austen was one of the premier authors of her time, she wrote about women and the conditions in which they lived. Jane Austen showed the standards of eighteenth and nineteenth century society, the situation in which women had no status except as a daughter and a wife. Both Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility dealt with the standards of the times and the pressures of society to marry, female dependency on men.

     The dependency of women on men comes from the idea of entailment. Entailment refers to prevent a landed property from being broken up, and from descending in a female line. Thus, entailed property was usually inherited by the nearest male descendant of the original owner. For example; in Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Bennet realizes that if her husband dies, she and her five daughters' would have to all live off the family's estate and their standard of living would fall considerably. Therefore; Mrs. Bennet, urges her daughters to marry wealthy husbands before their father dies. In addition, if an heiress married, she would be inherited by her sons, and the land would be transmitted along her husband's male-line. Austen expected her readers from her time to understand and sympathize in the Bennet daughters', and women's in general, pitiful predicament. Similar to this case, Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters, Elinor, Marianne,

and Margaret, are deprived of their home and inheritance after her husband dies. For Marianne and Elinor, marriage is not a choice, but a necessity. Briefly, since women were deprived of the liberty to earn or inherit money, marriage was their safety from poverty and despair; thus, women felt that their only alternative was to marry.

     The inheritance law has progressed since Austen's time. Today in England the owner is permitted to convey the entailed land by a simple deed or even by will.

Şeyda Çeşmeci



Comments (1)

Ali Yılmaz said

at 3:22 pm on May 29, 2009

we should analyze the historical events and obstacles from the perspective of its own age. If not, we will find ourselves sacrificing our thoughts and ideas for unnecessary things. In this period, people were in a position that they were judged by their socal status and wealth as well. expecting from someone to show respect to and kind of female creature would be incorrect and illogical. sexual differences and discriminations have lived since the existince of them and they are unfortunately likely to go on..

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