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Written by Barbara
(9/5/2009 1:56 a.m.)
The entire first section of the first chapter deals with the particulars of how Norland was inherited first by Mr. Dashwood from his uncle and then by John Dashwood from his father only a year later. Since this inheritance is really what sets the acdtion of the novel in motion, it's a good place to start with our group read. There are also a number of legal/inheriting property issues there that are not easy for someone in the 21st century to understand!
We first read that Mr. Dashwood was the 'legal inheritor' of the estate, but also that he was the person to whom his elderly uncle 'intended to bequeath it' When I read it, I always feel that is saying the same thing twice. If he was the legal inheritor, could his uncle's 'intent' to bequeath the estate to him mean he might not inherit Norland, if the elder Mr. Dashwood changed his mind?
Here is a thread I dug up from the S&S archives that explains the difference between the two.
What's interesting is that the film adaptations, and S&S2 in particular, make it seem that there was no possible way that Elinor, Marianne and Margaret could have inherited anything from Norland, no matter what. That was not precisely the case. The property was not entailed when their old uncle had it, and single women (or widows) were allowed to inherit or own property at that time--they just risked losing control of it upon marriage until the Married Woman's Property Act came into effect late in the 19th century.
(See L&T archive post: Women owning property)
In fact, the narrator in S&S sounds both disappointed and surprised that the girls did not get anything from their uncle except their 1000 pounds a piece, with language such as 'severe disappointment' and 'destroyed half the value of the bequest' On the other hand, when the Dashwood famiy history is recounted and we read there were "many generations" that had been "long established in Sussex", it is perhaps more surpising that Henry Dashwood expected or hoped his uncle would do anything different than what he did. A childless elderly man had the opportunity to know his family estate would be passed down for at least three more generations, fully intact, in the Dashwood line.
Does it really seem to anyone, upon a close reading of Chapter 1, that Henry Dashwood ought to have realistically expected to inherit anything more for his wife and daughters than what they got?
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