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|Inheritance of an estate.
Written by Rachel G
(9/18/2012 12:39 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Not about spoiling him, penned by Barbara
Very well said, Barbara. You make some important points.
I think the question of the inheritance of Norland is a good example of the many ways in which JA's world was very different from our own, as were the social attitudes of the time. If we apply our modern notions of fairness and equality, particularly gender equality, to JA's novels we risk misinterpreting her characters and misjudging their actions, IMO.
Whatever we might think today, the reality in JA's England was that influence and power were closely allied to the possession of wealth tied up in land ownership. So for a family to maintain it's social position or move up the social hierarchy, it was essential to keep the estate together and if possible to increase it. The system of inheritance by male primogeniture (eldest son gets the lion's share) made perfect sense in that context.
The alternative approach was 'partible inheritance' (equal shares for all), which would not answered the purpose at all well. It would have meant splitting an estate into smaller holdings, and would result in several families each of whom would be significantly worse off both financially and socially, than the previous generation.
Off topic but perhaps of interest:- There was a tradition of partible inheritance in some areas of Britain, especially the Highland areas and in Ireland, and it was apparently favoured by settlers in New England. It worked well when there was plenty of land available, but numerous land holdings too small to support a family contributed to the catastrophic effects of the potato famine in mid-19th century Ireland.
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