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Mr. Bennet and the Entailment, Part II

In Part I of Mr. Bennet and the Entailment, I discussed some of the flaws in Mr. Bennet’s plan to provide for his family through fathering a son. Today in Part II, I am going to discuss some of the steps that could have been taken to mitigate the Longbourn entailment’s effect on his family.

After Mr. Bennet married, economy was considered “perfectly useless” on the assumption that he would have a son.1 Of course this means that they didn’t save anything while hinting that it would have been possible for them to do so if he and Mrs. Bennet had gone to the effort of economizing.

Ideally speaking, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet should have been joint partners in this economizing, unfortunately however, Mrs. Bennet is not much use in these sorts of things. However, Mr. Bennet was capable of reigning in her spending to the point where they did not go into debt and I take his wishing that he had not spent his whole income, mentioned in chapter 50 to indicate that it would have been possible for him to save, if he had troubled himself to do so. His income was certainly very high for the time period when a person with one-twentieth of his yearly income might afford to hire a servant.

In fact if Mr. Bennet had gone to the trouble of saving one-twentieth of his income he would have added an additional 2,300 pounds to the 5,000 whose interest was supposed to support his wife and children. This isn’t a lot, but the potential situation is such that any additional funds would be useful.

The second step I am going to discuss is educating his daughters. The Bennet girls had very neglected educations. Elizabeth explains to Lady Catherine: “[w]e were always encouraged to read, and had all the masters that were necessary. Those who chose to be idle, certainly might.”
The result of all this is that the daughters are lacking in the accomplishments that most young gentlewoman had as part of their husband-catching arsenal or the level of education that might encourage more distant relatives to invite one or more daughters to live with them in exchange for assistance with the children (for reasons I will go into in a later post, I do not think paid employment is in the cards unless things get really, truly desperate).On another education note, all five daughters are also unfamiliar with the tasks that they would need to complete if they were to live on 250 pounds per year. Instead, Mrs. Bennet takes pride in the fact that her servants take care of all the housework and her daughters do not have to assist with any of the chores. This may be a mark of social standing for them, but it could mean a much more difficult transition to a much lower standard of living. Something that we know Lydia had to do and probably Mary and Kitty as well even though they did marry before their father died.1 Chapter 50. See also Mr. Bennet and the Entailment, Part I for further discussion of Mr. Bennet’s hypothetical son.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. To top it all Mr. Bennet has an extremely expensive hobby. Books! His library might have been great, but the money invested in it could be spent better.

    The girls’ education is severely lacking. None of them can draw for example, so it’s unlikely they’d be hired as governesses. We know only of one uncle who might need one of them, certainly not 5 of them. And you’re right, 250 a year would be very little, and I still think it’d be rather 200. Perhaps Mr. Bennet had a larger sum invested along with Mr. Gardiner’s money, or invested in some business of his and that paid more, but generally it’d be 4%, so 200 pounds for six women.

    For comparison the Dashwood ladies had 400 pounds for 4, or 500 pounds if we count 5%. They can’t even afford a house. They live in a cottage. The Prices at Portsmouth are better off.

    We might not realise it, but it’s very likely that the Bennet ladies would be the poorest out of all in Austen’s novels. They’d be as the Bates ladies or worse, since there are so many of them.

    Another failure of Mr. Bennet’s is that he didn’t take interest in Collins’s matrimonial plans. He should have steered him towards Mary. He might be a good father for not pushing Lizzy, but Collins was the only real chance for all of them.

    But you’re right. Mr. Bennet simply doesn’t care what happens after he dies. No one will throw _him_ out of the house. All he does is only for his own comfort and pleasure.

  2. I didn’t even think of how expensive Mr. Bennet’s book habit would have been. Now I’m going to have to track down the average cost of a book back then, I know that they were relatively expensive.

    As far as overall happiness is concerned, I don’t think that Mary and Mr. Collins would have been a great fit, but I do think that there was more that Mr. Bennet could have done to improve the situation (perhaps mentioning that he was coming to visit before the day of for starters).

  3. Personally I don't think that Mary could fit with anyone, but it's a pairing hinted in P&P, and it's said that Mary would be interested. If so then her parents ruined her chances.

    Definitely Mr. Bennet could do more. Not only by informing his family of Collins's arrival earlier, but also by taking pains to get better acquainted with Bingley, coming to the Meryton assembly, or taking the girls to London. Even a woman with a huge dowry couldn't count on marriage if she didn't meet any men. 😉

  4. another point about Mr. Collins' "book habit"…books were indeed very expensive, but also highly resaleable. Not like today, where a library of mass-produced books might have real difficulty finding a home, in those days used books were very valuable, frequently limited run by very small publishers, and often unavailable elsewhere (for example, an agricultural text, or a botany text with color plates), and highly prized. There were also many, many old books and manuscripts in private collections (there is a famous story of parchment manuscripts–possibly Shakespeare's–being used to cool pies by an illiterate cook in a large house).
    Persons who purchased many books were well-known by the local booksellers (and collectors were often known internationally to rare book dealers as the very well-heeled ones still are today). When a library came up for sale after the death of a collector, there were many book sellers, publishers, and private persons interested in purchasing sizeable libraries for very good prices (sometimes these were dispersed at auction, sometimes as a wholesale lot, sometimes in groups). The executor of the estate would have unquestionably been aware of the potential value of the collection, even if not the women. There might have been many thousands of pounds realizable there.

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