Primogeniture, Legal Change, and Trollope

Saul Levmore

in Subversion and Sympathy

Published in print January 2013 | ISBN: 9780199812042
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199315888 | DOI:
Primogeniture, Legal Change, and Trollope

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This chapter studies primogeniture and its impact, a preoccupation of novels of the time. It argues that novelists of the period were not social reformers with strong convictions about inheritance law reform, but they generated ideas about the strengths and weaknesses of laws and customs. They comprehended the policy or preference of keeping estates intact, but they also had an eye for undeserving heirs and talented but unfunded progeny. It is generally the case that where there is no obvious best strategy in pursuit of a social goal, there is no stable legal rule or custom. In such settings, literature can play an important role in accelerating “reform,” experimentation, or simply instability in the rules. Anthony Trollope's novels help advance the idea that important novelists, then as now, are likely to fashion stories that champion the underdog or simply cast doubt on inherited norms. Unintended consequences are more fun and more provocative than are predictable ones.

Keywords: British novel; novelists; inheritance law; customs; Anthony Trollope

Chapter.  7071 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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