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|The Inheritance Issue
Written by BarbaraB
(9/5/2009 3:39 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Inheriting Norland, penned by Barbara
Discussions on this topic in the last group read and some of the readings I have done in the interim have gone a long way to help me understand why "the old Gentleman" changes his mind in favor of having Norland proceed through the generations in the Dashwood family. I believe, as you have pointed out in another post, that the first line of the novel points the way to his ultimate decision. The baby obviously reminds him of his duty to maintain the Dashwood property down the line. I read a statement recently that referred to the process in this way: that the "owners" of these estates were actually renters from future generations because this system demanded that the property be kept intact as it passed through the family.
On the other hand, I do have a problem with the human side of the equation. While I agree with everyone who believes that unkindness was not intended, it doesn't seem to me that he succeeded at being truly kind either. I know it could have been worse; he might have left them empty-handed. The fact is though, that he had no original intention to deprive Henry and his family of inheriting the legal rights to the estate. When he made the decision to detract the great wealth of Norland and all it entails (no pun intended) from their lives, the amount he provides in its place is rather paltry. As someone has already said (Reeba, I think), I don't think he gave it much thought. I don't think he took the time to realize the possible impact this could have on the lives of the women in the future. Some of the men of this time (as characterized in JA's novels) appear to me to have lived and depended a great deal on assumptions.
]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?
I think that in the beginning when he was legal inheritor it was okay for him to think his chances were good at keeping the estate, especially since there didn't seem to be any inclination on his uncle's part to change the status. Henry probably thought or at least hoped that his uncle saw it as he did, that John was already wealthy and not in need of accumulating more wealth whereas his wife and daughters were in great need. But once Harry was born, having an understanding of how things could go when it came to the continuity of property down family line, and knowing that the old Gentleman could override his legal status with a will, realistically he should have realized that his chances had shrunk to a more 'very unlikely' range.
Henry Dashwood, when on his deathbed, should have been more specific in his expectations of his son. By making a broad request, he left a loophole for the worm to wiggle through.
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