“Shifting Heirs and the Ferrars Estate”

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“SHIFTING HEIRS AND THE FERRARS ESTATE”

I have been a fan of Jane Austen’s 1811 novel, “Sense and Sensibility” ever since I saw Ang Lee’s 1995 adaptation. In fact, the 1995 movie initiated my appreciation of Austen’s novel and other works. But there is a certain aspect of Austen’s tale that has confused me for years. And it has to do with Edward and Robert Ferrars and their family’s fortune. 

“Sense and Sensibility” told the story of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood – the older two of three sisters that encountered love, heartache and romantic obstacles when their father’s death and half-brother’s lack of generosity left them in financial straits. Elinor had fallen in love with Edward Ferrars, the mild-mannered brother of her sister-in-law Fanny; before she, her sisters and mother were forced to leave Norland Park in the hands of half-brother John and Fanny. Unfortunately for Elinor, Edward’s family was determined that he marry an heiress. Later, she discovered that he had been engaged for several years to another impoverished young woman named Lucy Steele, the cousin-in-law of Sir John Middleton, Mrs. Dashwood’s cousin and the family’s benefactor. The younger and more impetuous Marianne fell deeply in love with a young man named John Willoughby. Although the latter harbored feelings for Marianne, he loved the idea of a fortune even more. Willoughby eventually rejected Marianne in order to marry a wealthy heiress, leaving the Dashwoods’ neighbor Colonel Christopher Brandon to console her.

The story arc regarding Marianne’s love life proved to be problem-free for me. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about Elinor’s story arc. I still have a problem with that obstacle to Elinor’s romantic happiness – namely Edward’s engagement to the manipulative Lucy Steele. In the novel, Mrs. Ferrars disinherited Edward in favor of his younger brother, Robert, after the Ferrars family learned about his engagement to Lucy . . . and he refused to break said engagement. Mindful of Edward’s financial situation and his ambitions to earn a living with the Church of England, Colonel Brandon offers him the rectory at the former’s estate, Delaford, for a low salary. This is where “Sense and Sensibility” becomes a bit tricky. The novel concluded Edward’s visit to the Dashwoods’ home, Barton Cottage, in which he not only proposed marriage to Elinor, but also announced that Lucy Steele had broken their engagement in order to elope with Robert. Only . . . the latter remained heir to the Ferrars estate by the novel’s conclusion.

The financial fates of both Edward and Robert seemed to be tied with the character of Lucy Steele. Most of the Ferrars family and Lady Middleton seemed to harbor a high regard for Lucy and her sister, Anne. Yet, when Anne exposed Lucy’s secret engagement to Edward, Mrs. Ferrars disinherited the latter in favor of her younger son, Robert. But after Robert’s elopement to Lucy, he remained heir to the Ferrars estate. And to this day, I can only ask . . . why? Why did Mrs. Ferrars disinherited Edward after he refused to break his engagement to Lucy . . . and fail to disinherit Robert, after he had eloped with the same woman?

In the 1981 BBC adaptation, Edward (portrayed by Bosco Hogan) claimed that Robert’s inheritance became irreversible, despite his elopement with Lucy. Frankly, the explanation given by Austen struck me as rather confusing. The miniseries’ screenwriters Alexander Baron and Denis Constanduros failed to explain why Edward financially paid the price for refusing to break his engagement with Lucy. They especially failed to explain why Robert DID NOT pay the price for marrying her. Is there someone out there who can offer an explanation?

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