Inheritance and Pride and Prejudice

The financial problems of the Bennet family in Pride and Prejudice are the result of a straightforward entail, which dictates that Longbourn estate will go to Mr. Collins when Mr. Bennet dies, leaving Mrs. Bennet and any unmarried daughters to “starve in the hedgerows.” When this occurs, the women remaining at home will be allowed to take their personal possessions only (clothing, toiletries and personal jewelry), leaving all the furniture in the house for the new owner. It is possible that even some of Mrs. Bennet’s jewelry, if there are family heirlooms which are included in the entail, could belong to Mr. Collins. Mr. Bennet’s death would not leave his family in debt, fortunately, since his ‘love of independence’ made him scrupulously avoid spending money they did not have to worry about also being saddled with debt they would not be able to pay. The Bennet family income is already so low that they are just hanging on the edge of gentility and they have only £1,000 which will go to each daughter when Mrs. Bennet dies; certainly not enough to attract a decent husband for each of them. The two eldest daughters have enough beauty and, in Elizabeth’s case, wit to make it likely that they will be able to find a husband of some kind, but their prospects will be severely limited, and made even worse by the vulgar behavior of their two youngest sisters and their mother.

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