Entailing inner intentions

Entail (as sourced from the Merriam Webster Dictionary):

  1. to restrict (property) by limiting the inheritance to the owner’s lineal descendants or to a particular class thereof
  2. to confer, assign, or transmit (something) for an indefinitely long time: to confer, assign, or transmit as if by entail
  3. to fix (a person) permanently in some condition or status
  4. to impose, involve, or imply as a necessary accompaniment or result


Austen depicts quite a few of the above definitions in just the first few chapters of of Sense and Sensibility. Following the death of Mr. Henry Dashwood- the husband of Mrs. Dashwood and father to Elinor, Margaret, and Marianne Dashwood as well as Mr. John Dashwood, from a previous marriage- Mr. John Dashwood is set to inherit his estate. The estate of Mr. Dashwood is entailed unto his only son, even though his wife and daughters are also lineal descendants. They are, unfortunately, all women and function within a class of people that are not typically permitted to receive fortunes independently of a living man. Thus, in this situation, the Dashwood women’s livelihood is circumscribed. In this same instance, Austen illustrates the third definition as well. The four Dashwood women depend on the Norland estate, while Mr. John Dashwood is well-provided for, as Austen describes, “To him [Mr. John Dashwood], therefore, the succession to the Norland estate was not so really important as to his sisters; for their fortune, independent of what might arise to them from their father’s inheriting that property, could be but small. Their mother had nothing…” (Chapter 1). Furthermore, “Mr. Dashwood has wished for it more for the sake of his wife and daughters than for himself of his son…” (Chapter 1), demonstrating that necessity, nor genuine wishes, were taken into consideration when willing away the estate. While this does not initially eject the four women from their only home, Mrs. John Dashwood’s attitude toward her husband’s relatives soon results in their move. By being denied ownership of their only source a living and effectively forced to be subjected to the will of Mrs. John Dashwood for such, the four women are fixed permanently in a condition- one that has them required to rely on other living male relatives within their extended family.

After moving into a cottage belonging to Mrs. Dashwood’s cousin, they encounter Mr. Willoughby, who saves Marianne after she twists her ankle. Their fast attachment to each other is suspect to Elinor; although, she appears to attempt to read his behavior towards her sister in a way that speaks otherwise. Austen writes, “Nothing could be more expressive of attachment to them all, than Willoughby’s behavior. To Marianne it had all the distinguishing tenderness which a lover’s heart could give, and to the rest of the family it was the affectionate attention of a son and a brother.” (Chapter Fourteen) in order to exemplify this. Elinor earlier mentions being made nervous by their complete and open adoration of one another, and the risks they take (such as visiting Mrs. Smith’s house alone together while she was not there). She seems, by citing his outward tenderness displayed toward her sister, to be convincing herself that his honesty and compassion towards Marianne is unquestionable. In my opinion, Elinor’s wariness when it comes to Willoughby is Austen’s hint that he isn’t the honest, respectable man he has been presented as. Her suspicion seems to be merited, as Mr. Willoughby must abruptly leave for an indeterminate length of time, and, upon his goodbye visit to the family, Marianne rushes from the scene sobbing. The other three Dashwood women are, following, left in the dark as to where that leaves the relationship of Marianne and Mr. Willoughby or why exactly he leaves forcing a smile.


Note: I provided Chapter references rather than pages since I have different version than was listed for the class


1 thought on “Entailing inner intentions”

  1. Manda,
    Thanks for your interesting and inquisitive posting. I love how you mine other definitions of the verb “to entail” other than the strictly legal one, and I definitely agree with those resonances that you illuminate. You make a good point about Elinor’s wariness about Willoughby and her “reading,” so to speak, of his signs or behaviors toward Marianne. Mrs. Dashwood is an interesting character, as she seems to share many qualities with Marianne, which often lead her to be at odds with Elinor (e.g., whether or not to approach Marianne and ask about what Mrs. Jennings would call a “lover’s quarrel”). It’s fascinating in the upcoming chapters how Marianne reads Willoughby when his future behaviors fail to align with her dreams of him. Happy reading!


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