October 24, 2003

Help!

The Ten-Year-Old is rereading Pride and Prejudice, and is asking questions that neither Ann Marie nor I can answer about entails, specifically, about how Longbourne is so entailed that it must be inherited by the odious and obsequious Mr. Collins.

Me, I'm wondering why Mr. Collins is behaving like such an obsequious toady to Lady Catherine de Burgh. Mr. Collins does have great expectations now that Mrs. Bennett is ten years into menopause, and surely somebody in London would be willing to lend him money until his happy day comes...


UPDATE: Thanks to DanlWebster, the answer to the Collins/Bennett conundrum:

pemberley.com: Mr. Collins is not the son of a deceased sister of Mr. Bennet. Not only is it said at the beginning of Chapter 7 that "Mr. Bennet's property... unfortunately for his daughters, was entailed, in default of heirs male, on a distant relation", but also the standard type of entail by male primogeniture doesn't indiscriminately favor males over females -- rather, it favors males who can trace a male-only line of descent from a past owner over all other descendants, both males and females. Therefore inheritance by or through females only happens after all the sons, and sons of sons etc., of past owners have died off; and when such female inheritance occurs, a male estate-owner's daughters are preferred over his sisters, and the son of a woman who is in line to inherit can't have more rights than the woman herself did (see the handy chart of succession to the inheritance of such an entail); this default entail is the type that Jane Austen knew would be in her readers' minds if she did not specify any further legal details, and is also implied by the legal term "heirs male" used in the quote above.

(The type of inheritance in which the nearest living male relative inherits -- so that a daughter's son is favored over the daughter of a deceased son -- is known as "heirs male whatsoever", and apparently was applied in some cases in Scotland, but was not the usual way of doing things in England.) The reason that Mr. Collins has a different surname than Mr. Bennet, even though they are patrilineal relatives, is undoubtedly that someone in one or the other of their two lines (i.e. either Mr. Bennet, his father, or paternal grandfather, etc.;or Mr. Collins, his father, or paternal grandfather, etc.) changed his surname on receiving an inheritance from a non-patrilineal relative. This was done relatively frequently among the "genteel" classes, and there are several examples of changing surname, or adding another surname hyphenated to one's original surname, among Jane Austen's near relatives (her brother Edward and his children changed name from "Austen" to "Knight" when he became the heir of a cousin and cousin's wife named "Knight"; Jane Austen's uncle added the surname "Perrot" to become "James Leigh-Perrot" upon inheriting from his great-uncle Thomas Perrot; and later Jane Austen's nephewJames Edward Austen changed his surname to "Austen-Leigh" after inheriting from James Leigh Perrot and his wife).

Posted by DeLong at October 24, 2003 08:15 PM | TrackBack

Comments

The estate was bequeathed to Elizabeth's father only for the duration of his lifetime. Today you would carry out a will like this in the form of a trust, whereby the trustees would control the assets of the estate after the principal's death.

Mr. Collins is a toady, a suckup, and sees Lady Catherine as his ultimate benefactor and his only access to upper-class society. It must be the way many look at Rush. ;)

Allistair Cooke once pointed out that this book is frequently mistaken for a romance novel. It is, in fact, a parody of a romance novel.

Posted by: Alan on October 24, 2003 08:55 PM

I forgot to mention that the scene in which Lady Catherine instigates a showdown with Elizabeth and is sent packing is probably one of the best examples in all literature for how to deal with a bully.

Also (I'm jumping around here) a young reader should note how the word "condescending" is used by Mr. Collins. It had then quite the opposite polarity with respect to virtue compared with today.

Sort of like the word "liberal."

Posted by: Alan on October 24, 2003 09:03 PM

One last thing, while I'm thinking of it. The reason this blog gets so many repeat posts is that there is something broken in the protocol that the popup window uses.

I use both Internet Explorer (latest) and Mozilla 5.1.

When you hit "POST" it sends the data and just sits there with the status line saying "waiting...". It has actually made the post, but never gets to the screen that is intended to show you what the comments look like post-POST. Some users will hit POST several times, resulting in several posts. If you follow.

If you go back to the main page and hit the "Comments(--)" link, you get to where the POST button was supposed to take you.

You might want to get your tech guru on that.

Posted by: Alan on October 24, 2003 09:08 PM

From www.pemberley.com/jane.info/pptopic2.html
"An entail was a legal device used to prevent a landed property from being broken up, and/or from descending in a female line. This is a logical extension of the then-prevalent practice of leaving the bulk of one's wealth (particularly real estate) to one's eldest son or "heir"

Mr. Bennet had no sons, so the estate moved on to the next male heir, Mr. Collins.

Posted by: H on October 24, 2003 09:15 PM

But, asks the Ten-Year-Old, if the entail prohibits the property descending in the female line, why is Mr. Collins named Mr. Collins and not Mr. Bennett?

That's something I do not understand.

Posted by: Brad DeLong on October 24, 2003 09:25 PM

I am sure that you can find out from the Lady Catherine de Beurre . . .

Posted by: Bobby on October 24, 2003 09:29 PM

Sh*t! I spelled it wrong!

Posted by: Bobby on October 24, 2003 09:30 PM

Alan, the problem with the site is just damned slowness--it does come back eventually. I've stopped waiting--I just close the window & don't worry about it.

Posted by: Randolph Fritz on October 24, 2003 11:52 PM

From
http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/austen-l.html#collinsbennet
which is well worth checking out.

The reason that Mr. Collins has a different surname than Mr. Bennet, even though they are patrilineal relatives, is undoubtedly that someone in one or the other of their two lines (i.e. either Mr. Bennet, his father, or paternal grandfather, etc.; or Mr. Collins, his father, or paternal grandfather, etc.) changed his surname on receiving an inheritance from a non-patrilineal relative. This was done relatively frequently among the "genteel" classes, and there are several examples of changing surname, or adding another surname hyphenated to one's original surname, among Jane Austen's near relatives (her brother Edward and his children changed name from "Austen" to "Knight" when he became the heir of a cousin and cousin's wife named "Knight"; Jane Austen's uncle added the surname "Perrot" to become "James Leigh-Perrot" upon inheriting from his great-uncle Thomas Perrot; and later Jane Austen's nephew James Edward Austen changed his surname to "Austen-Leigh" after inheriting from James Leigh Perrot and his wife).

Posted by: DanlWebster on October 24, 2003 11:53 PM

I think he's being obsequious (you know, it's not kind to make a girl type obsequious at this hour. twice.) because you didn't have to live in your living. You could, in effect, sublet a living to someone who was willing to work for a fraction of what you were being paid, and only come by very occasionally yourself.

Lady Catherine (who he assumed would eventually come into control of the livings that were in Darcy's patronage) would be able, if she wanted to, to set him up very nicely financially.

Posted by: julia on October 25, 2003 12:18 AM

Oh, and his expectations weren't completely secure as long as there was a possibility that Mrs. Bennet, never a terribly well woman, would pass on and leave Mr. Bennet free to have a child with a younger woman.

Posted by: julia on October 25, 2003 12:19 AM

Re name changes in Austen, note that in her (arguably) best novel Mr Frank Churchill is the son of Mr Weston, having been given after the death of his mother to her (rich and flatterable) relatives.

Posted by: rilkefan on October 25, 2003 12:43 AM

The effect of entail was indeed to keep aristocratic property intact, and so also the social and political pre-eminence of the aristocratic class. Much property in Virginia was subject to entail before the revolution, until Jefferson abolished it as part of his revision of its laws. He considered this a crucial democratic reform

Posted by: Roland on October 25, 2003 06:39 AM

Entail, along with primogeniture was a way to keep an estate or fortune in the hands of one individual, which would maximize the power of the family. I suppose this practice could be called anti-democratic, on the other hand, to some degree it minimized the number of people who were wholly living off the estate, in however meager fashion. Younger sons had to find a profession, whether church, military or what have you. The Jane Austen books that show the dilemma of the younger son are Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park. In S&S, Edward loses his fortune by allying himself with a penniless girl (who then dumps him for the newly fortunate brother).

You can't read Jane Austen without getting the feeling that however much English society valued the upper classes, it would have fallen apart if it had not also valued and rewarded the enterprise of the middle classes, at least in part by accepting "mixing" and upward (as well as downward) flow when appropriate. Thus, a "spent" noble family could rejuvenate itself through marriage to an enterprising military man, for instance, without losing prestige. This is the them of Persuasion.

I am going to make my 11 year old start reading Austen, it will give me an excuse to read them all over again. Thanks Brad!

Posted by: Barbara on October 25, 2003 07:29 AM

Okay, I couldn't resist. My favorite dialogue in just about any Austen novel: When Mary Crawford finds out that her love interest, Edward Bertram, must (horrors) find a profession, she's very surprised because she just assumed that there's usually an uncle or some other progenitor with a fortune to spare. To which Edward says: "A most praiseworthy practice, however, not quite universal."

Posted by: Barbara on October 25, 2003 07:39 AM

Sounds pretty anthropological to me. Why couldn't they act civilized like us?

Posted by: Zizka on October 25, 2003 08:11 AM

The actual term is "an estate in fee tail" for what is loosely called an "entailed estate" and an "estate in fee tail to heirs male" for the type of estate in P&P. This in contrast to an "estate in fee simple", which involves passing all rights to tye holder (qualified, possibly, by restrictive covenants). An estate in fee tail basically requires that the estate pass by action of law (i.e. primogeniture) rather than by will or by contract, keeping the estate in the family.

An estate in fee tail is actually more like a life estate than a trust, with the next heir in line the remainderman. The principal purpose of having an estate in fee tail was to avoid land being divided up in the typical French style (which led to many small estates which could not support their owners, and hordes of impecunious nobles).

An estate in fee tail to heirs male was most common in the case where a hereditary title was also involved, so that the lands would pass with the title. But due to the laws involving legal personality and married women's property, having an estate in fee tail to heirs male also was used to keep property from passing "out of the family" on the marriage of a daughter (consider what might happen if the daughter were to die without issue).

If significant property in the period were to be passed to a daughter, it would usually be settled on her via a specific sort of trust _after_ her marriage, in such a manner as to ensure that the property would be in her control and pass to her offspring and not her husband after her death. This also plays a part in P&P in the discussions around the settlement on Lydia after her marriage to Wickham.

Re social mobility: in the period it was also "normal" for the merchant classes ("middle classes is both anachronistic and vague: Mr. Bennett belongs to the gentry, as does Darcy, which included a large chunk of the "middle classes" -- but those whose incomes are from rents rather than from trade) to try to raise themselves by buying an estate (this means as a landlord, not just as an owner of a house) and thus convert their wealth from trade to land. The Gardiners are on one side of this divide -- Mr. Gardiner is in trade, but nevertheless is "well bred" -- and Sir William Lucas and Bingley are on the other side (Sir William was in trade himself as was Bingley's father; but Sir William has purchased his estate and Bingley has not yet done so). The well-off bourgeoisie like the Gardiners -- who would have owned land, but not an agricultural estate, simply their own homes and (frequently) places of business -- and the gentry together formed the "middle classes" as against the aristocracy -- Barons and upwards -- and the lower classes. Younger sons of aristocracy, who would go into the church, the law, or the army, were usually counted as "aristocratic" but their families would be "middle class" in a generation or two. Members of the working classes who made enough money would become members of the merchant class and (via the mechanism above) gentry over the course of about the same period of time.

Posted by: James on October 25, 2003 08:45 AM

P&P addresses the problems of the second son in the person of the estimable Colonel Fitzwilliam, whose attentions to Elizabeth are recognized by both as those of a man who would like to court her (as she would not mind being courted), but who cannot because as a second son, he must marry wealth to secure his place in society.

Posted by: Masaccio on October 25, 2003 10:57 AM

"Rereading" Pride and Prejudice? At what age did the Ten-Year-Old first read it?

Posted by: Bernard Yomtov on October 25, 2003 01:59 PM

So... suppose you're a [French] Norman lord's bastard son by a tanner's daughter. Does that make you King of England, or something?

I didn't really like Pride and Prejudice that much when I read it (maybe I'm too masculine for it or something...), but I must say, I think the best Austen work is the one with Terminator in it, attempting to dissuade the heroine, Patience, from marrying Mr. Connor. (for anyone who missed it: http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/2003_archives/001270.html ).

Uh, I don't think that the issue of Mr. Collins being so obsequious to Lady Catherine de Burgh is intended to be really confusing. Mr. Collins isn't supposed to be very smart or anything, as far as I can tell. He just sees this powerful woman who likes having other people look up to her, and has the power to reward people she likes, so he decides to look up to her. Sure, he didn't need to, but Mr. Collins doesn't really have much self-respect anyway (like when he effectively threatens Elizabeth, trying to get her to marry him by saying that she should consider herself lucky that anyone will marry her, given her age.), so, given that he's already attracted her notice, why not?

Also, a thought: if one allows inheritance strictly through a male line, then one would be able to test it by seeing if the Y-chromosome DNA is (basically) identical to that of the estate's former owner. If one allows inheritance through a strictly female line, then one could test it the same way, except using mitochondrial DNA instead of the Y-chromsome. If one allows inheritance through a mix of males and females, though, there's no guarantee that the heir's DNA would be traceable to the estate's owner. It's almost certain to have some resemblance, but it's not like the y-chromosome or mitochonrial DNA, passed almost unchanged from one generation to the next.

Hmm... I think my posts here are becoming more and more prone to wandering off on tangents.

Posted by: Julian Elson on October 25, 2003 02:02 PM

Come to think of it, one of the plot points in Persuasion is the cousin who is in line to inherit the title and property marrying the young woman who is making eyes at the current holder to prevent them from marrying and having a son to take the succession.

Posted by: julia on October 26, 2003 09:18 AM

Handy for questions about entail and much else
in Austen's world is Daniel Pool's book "What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew," still in print according to Amazon.

Also in this line I recommend Fay Weldon's "Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen" (Weldon also adapted the 1979 BBC
Pride and Prejudice), and especially for what
was eaten, the delightful "Jane Austen and Food" by Maggie Lane.

Posted by: Keith N on October 26, 2003 12:34 PM
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