Jane Austen took on some major themes in her work. One of those was biology, and I’ll get around to that one of these days.
Another was “the entail.” It’s a subject that drives Mrs. Bennet crazy because it means she’ll be destitute when Mr. Bennet dies. Of course, she has to live longer than Mr. Bennet, as he reminds her so well. Of course course, he may want to die first!
The first few times I read the book, I glossed over the entail as archaic and unimportant. I have a feeling most people treat it this way.
Then I learned what it was, an English law that passed property to male relatives, and understand it better in terms of motivating Mrs. Bennet, and Jane Austen. Female suffrage and our society’s slow realization that women are people have made such laws obsolete.
However, now that I’m over-analyzing Jane and P&P, I see something else. This is not an archaic law that Jane describes, it is a fundamental flaw in human character. And my first clue to this came from etymology.
Whether you use an online site, or the OED, or your old-fashioned dictionary, learning the story that sits behind a word is fun. Much fun than 99% of today’s video.
Look up entail, and you get a legal transfer of property going back to the 1300s. Look up entitlement, and you get something similar, dating back to the 1400s. Mrs. Bennet was complaining about people who get something of value without working for it. She and her daughters (and staff) work the property, taking care of it, improving it. Mr. Collins does nothing, and yet he’s destined to inherit Longbourn.
Here’s the fun part. Mrs. Bennet is complaining about the entail. The entail represents entitlement. Today, entitlement is called welfare in many forms: for the poor, for the elderly, and for the military-industrial complex. Getting lots of money for little or no work. What a tough life!
Who complains about this kind of government sanctioned transfer of value without requiring work? Today it’s “conservatives.” In entertainment, go back 50 years to a television character called Archie Bunker.
Mrs. Bennet is the original Archie Bunker. Mr. Collins is the original “meathead.” And the social commentary she (Mrs. Bennet and Jane Austen) makes is the same that today’s staunch conservatives like to shout about.
Jane Austen, still relevant after all these years. What a gal.