The Kiddy Pool: The Problem of Inheritances

Every week in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.

I can by no means guarantee a financial bequest…but I possess spiritual gifts from a God whose abundance is infinite.

I missed Sunday night’s new episode of Downton Abbey—not because of watching the Super Bowl but because of being in bed with what is probably consumption. I can tell because I’ve read a lot of nineteenth century novels, and my life is at a particularly romantic juncture. Luckily, a friend did send me this Sesame Street spoof, Upside Downton Abbey where one can’t even get a proper cup of tea because the world is, literally, turned upside down. I must say, I love the way Sesame Street re-appropriates popular culture, so that children get an educational program that doesn’t beat them over the head with didactics and adults get something that’s enjoyable instead of aesthetically offensive.

Yet even a right-side-up Downton Abbey (as it is reoriented by the spoof’s end) cannot distract me from the bigger issue on my mind today: entailments. I am, you see, the mother of two daughters, and this year marks the bicentennial birthday of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. We’ve read the charming counting primer with its whimsical rendition of the novel for the board-book set. And I am awaiting a copy of Cozy Classics: Pride and Prejudice, because I know my younger daughter will love the touch-and-feel component. But I, like Mrs. Bennet, cannot be distracted by quirky illustrations of English villages or Muppets masquerading as the Crawley family. Ask the Bennet sisters, or Lady Mary. In the end, the entail is all that matters. As Mrs. Bennet herself laments “I do think it is the hardest thing in the world, that your estate should be entailed away from your own children.” In this instance, as in so many, Mrs. Bennet is “beyond the reach of reason; and she continued to rail bitterly against the cruelty of settling an estate away from a family of five daughters, in favour of a man whom nobody cared anything about” (54). I see her point, and wonder about the appeal of this storyline in both Downton Abbey and Pride and Prejudice; certainly it reflects a particular period of English history and a broader twentieth-century movement toward equal economic rights for women (at least here and in England).

More universally, perhaps, part of the allure of these stories is the audience’s awe at gazing, however briefly, upon families who actually have something to entail. The downstairs crew at Downton Abbey remind us, if not their employers, how few of us occupy that privileged position of inheriting wealth and status enough to pass on for generations. It is, as Sir Robert likes to remark, a burden of stewardship, but it is one that many who don’t possess it would gladly shoulder. By the end of Austen’s novel, the entail remains in place, but all of the daughters are more or less taken care of, married or settled in happiness proportionate to their characters. So far in Downton, all of the good fortune—literal and metaphorical—seems to rain upon Lady Mary. It makes me wonder what my own legacy will be for my daughters.

I can by no means guarantee a financial bequest, given the uncertainties still lingering in the future for our family; we are prudent, but not affluent, and even without a foolish husband to speculate wildly in the railroads, one never can tell what struggles might lie ahead. My daughters’ inheritance, I hope, will be largely spiritual. I may not have a fortune to give them or an entail to wring my hands about losing, but I possess spiritual gifts from a God whose abundance is infinite. He seeks out the lowly, the sick, the sinner. It is precisely the sort of inheritance for which I am fit. He gives freely, and calls upon His adopted heirs to give cheerfully, lovingly—a full measure patted down. His blessings include, unite, rather than divide. And there is room for everyone at the table. How can I resist that kind of inheritance? How can I withhold such wealth from both of my daughters? He has bewitched me, body and soul, and I pray some day they can say the same.

About Erin Wyble Newcomb

Erin Wyble Newcomb earned her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction and Women's Studies from Penn State University. In addition to parenting her daughters, running marathons, and making things with glitter, she teaches in the English Department at SUNY New Paltz. Follow Erin on Twitter @ErinWyble or at http://phdmama.com/.


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