- Mrs. Bennet
- Jane Bennet
- Mr. Bingley
- Mr. Collins
When Mr. Bennet dies, his estate, Longbourn, will be inherited by Mr. Collins according to the entailment in place. This key aspect of Jane Austen’s classic novel, Pride and Prejudice, highlights the social and financial pressures faced by women during the Regency era in England.
Entailment and Inheritance
The Bennet family’s estate, Longbourn, is subject to an entailment, a legal arrangement that governs how the property is passed down through generations. In this case, the entailment stipulates that the estate must be inherited by the closest male relative, which happens to be Mr. Collins, a distant cousin of Mr. Bennet.
Entailments were common in England during the time period in which the novel is set, serving to keep estates within a single family line and prevent the division or sale of property. However, this practice often left women in a precarious financial situation, as they were unable to inherit and faced limited prospects outside of marriage.
The Bennet Family’s Situation
Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have five daughters: Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia. Due to the entailment, none of the daughters can inherit Longbourn, and their financial security is dependent on finding suitable husbands. This creates a sense of urgency for Mrs. Bennet, who is determined to see her daughters well-married and settled.
The lack of a male heir also puts pressure on the Bennet family to form advantageous connections and improve their social standing. This is evident in their interactions with the wealthy and influential Bingley and Darcy families, as well as the less affluent but socially connected Mr. Collins.
Mr. Collins as the Heir
As the closest male relative, Mr. Collins is set to inherit Longbourn upon Mr. Bennet’s death. He is a pompous and obsequious clergyman who takes great pride in his position and connections, particularly his patronage by the imposing Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
Mr. Collins is aware of the financial predicament faced by the Bennet daughters and, believing it to be his duty, decides to marry one of them in order to “make amends” for the entailment. Initially, he is interested in Jane Bennet, the eldest and most beautiful sister, but turns his attention to Elizabeth when he learns that Jane is being courted by another gentleman, Mr. Bingley.
The Impact of the Entailment on the Novel’s Themes
The entailment plays a significant role in the development of several themes throughout the novel:
- Marriage and social class: The Bennet daughters’ need to marry well in order to secure their futures is a driving force behind many of the novel’s events. Their various courtships and relationships, including those with Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy, and Mr. Collins, are heavily influenced by considerations of social class, wealth, and status.
- Women’s financial dependence: The predicament faced by the Bennet sisters serves as a commentary on the limited options available to women during this time period. Without the ability to inherit property or secure an independent income, they are reliant on marriage for their financial stability.
- Individual choice versus societal expectations: The entailment also serves as a backdrop for the novel’s exploration of personal choice and happiness in the face of societal pressure. This is evident in Elizabeth’s rejection of Mr. Collins’ proposal, her eventual marriage to Mr. Darcy, and her sister Lydia’s elopement with the unscrupulous Mr. Wickham.