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Written by Barbara
(9/15/2012 3:05 p.m.)
The novel starts off with the legal implications of the choices Henry Dashwood's uncle made in leaving Norland to him.
I've often found it confusing to see Henry Dashwood referred to as "the legal inheritor of the Norland estate, and the person to whom he [old Mr. Dashwood] intended to bequeath it," because it seemed to me that this was saying the same thing twice.
In fact, these are two different things. Henry Dashwood was the 'legal inheritor' of Norland because he is the eldest male descendant in that family line. If there were no will or any other stipulations, the property would go to him because he was, by law, next in line for it since old Mr. Dashwood was unmarried and childless.
However, because the property is not entailed, old Mr. Dashwood had the right to leave the property in the way he wanted to leave it--and this is the 'person to whom he intended to bequeath it' part of the equation.
I don't know all the legal ins and outs, but I suppose that means he could have left the estate to Henry Dashwood outright, with no conditions on who would inherit it after him, or he could have divided it among his grand nieces somehow, among other options. Property that was not entailed could be left to women. As we also see in this week's reading (Ch. 3) "Edward Ferrars was the eldest son of a man who had died very rich; and some might have repressed it from motives of prudence, for, except a trifling sum, the whole of his fortune depended on the will of his mother."
We have debated before on this board whether Jane Austen seriously meant what she says in Ch. 1 that he essentially decided to tie up the property in line for Henry, then John, then little Harry was primarily because he thought Harry was cute:
Considering what came before this in the chapter--the emphasis on the long family history and pride in land ownership--I think Jane Austen's intention there was to be ironic. Yes, the little boy probably did captivate the old uncle with 'many cunning tricks' etc., but no one, in that time especially, would leave a family estate to someone for that reason.
With the family history and reputation at stake
the ability to tie that land up and secure it intact for at least another 3 generations would obviously, IMO, far outweigh anything the old man could have felt for his nieces, no matter how good they were to him.
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