Don't Entail Smentail, Me! The Difficulty of Entails in Persuasion and Persuadable: Last Chapter

The last chapter of Persuadable is a rebuttal to the ending of the Persuasion (2007) film.

At the end of Persuasion (2007), Captain Wentworth buys Anne's family home. The film correctly indicates that part of Anne's attraction to Mr. Elliot, or at least her attraction to marrying him, is that she will be able to live in her family home. By buying her family home, Captain Wentworth resolves that dilemma (Anne doesn't have to give up anything for love!).

Unfortunately, having Captain Wentworth buy Kellynch Hall makes mincemeat of the plot.
A possible Kellynch Hall from JASA.
If selling Kellynch Hall was this easy, why didn't Sir Walter sell it to begin with? That would be an easy way to clear his debts.

An argument could be made that Sir Walter's vanity won't allow him to give up the manor; this still begs the question: Why would he suddenly be willing to sell at the end of Persuasion (2007)? (There is a possible explanation; the film just never supplies it.)

In Austen's tome, Mr. Elliot wants Kellynch Hall because he is tired of being "Mr." and wants to try out being "Sir." He will be "Sir" without Kellynch Hall, but not to the same degree. And, in the book at least, there's no financial reason for him to give up the hall.

To explain Mr. Elliot's behavior, many movies make him (relatively) poor/in need of funds. This, of course, begs the question of why a poor Mr. Elliot would be chasing after women with small dowries and an estate encumbered with debt. However, even if we assume that Kellynch Hall, unencumbered, could bring in a decent income, there is still an underlying problem:

THE ENTAIL.

Sir Walter's vanity is not the sole block to a sale anymore than Mr. Bennet's passivity is the sole block to his disposing of Longbourn. Both estates are entailed; they can only be passed on to the nearest living male relative: Mr. Elliot or Mr. Collins. And entails in the 19th century were rather difficult to break.

They can be broken, which the passage below discusses in some detail. However, Persuasion (2007) makes no effort to explain how the entail was broken, leaving the viewer to wonder what everyone has been fussing about for 120 minutes. Captain Wentworth just, you know, walked into an estate office one day and, like, said, like, "Oh, hey, I'll buy that."

My primary problem with Persuasion (2007)--which does have some redeeming points--is this assumption of dumbness. I don't feel as if the writers were real Janeites. Instead, they come across as people writing for Austen fans, who they have imagined much the same way people imagine romance writers and readers: silly airheads who only read Austen for the cutesy romance and the girl-talk and don't pick up on anything else.

Sites like The Republic of Pemberley and JASA (above) disprove this cynical painting of such fans. Jane Austen fans (and romance writers/readers) are remarkably well-informed.

(Despite my annoyance, this kind of stereotyping is fairly typical between fan groups: one group perceives another group's interest as monolithic. I've heard classical music fans say, "All country music is the same." And I've heard country music fans say, "All classical music is the same." In fact, a professor once said the the former to me in class; when I balked, he automatically assumed I was a country music fan! Truth is, I just know too many die-hard fans of [fill in the blank]. Nothing is monolithic to the fan.)

I would have preferred Persuasion (2007) to have been written by true fans rather than by people-trying-to-make-the-fans-happy.

Setting aside the film, if you want to know how to really break an entail, keep reading!
Captain Wentworth eyed [Will and Penelope] as they entered [the drawing room of their house]. Anne curtsied; Penelope responded quickly. Will returned Captain Wentworth’s curt bow, then stood behind Penelope’s chair. His stance mirrored Captain Wentworth’s. His use of mimicry, Penelope had learned in the last three years, was a protection against outsiders. She was an insider.

“You received my letter,” Captain Wentworth said to Will.

“You wish to discuss breaking the entail to the Kellynch Hall property.”

“Sir Walter’s health is failing. He has moved permanently to Bath. He is willing to break the entail for his daughter’s sake.”

Penelope scarcely believed it—the man’s self-love was so bound up in his ancestry—but then she realized that his self-love had always been as much for the form as for the substance. All said and done, Kellynch Hall was a means to an end.

Besides, attempting to break the entail would spite Will: Better his daughter in Kellynch Hall than the despised cousin.

“Are you committed to inheriting Kellynch Hall?” Captain Wentworth asked Will.

“It’s a pleasant area,” Will said.

“You don’t strike me as a countryman,” Captain Wentworth said.
No. Will was no countryman. After all, Penelope remembered, Captain Wentworth manages men on his ship; he isn’t lacking in perception.
Captain Wentworth continued: “Are you sure you would be accepted in Kellynch?”

His eyes didn’t flicker towards Penelope, but Will said sharply, “I believe the populace would be well-satisfied with the Hall’s lord and lady.”

Across from Penelope, Anne tilted her head. For the first time in their acquaintance, she looked at Penelope with real interest. Her eyes drifted to Will who slouched, half-sitting, on the arm of Penelope’s chair. So, her gaze seemed to say, you are not just opportunists.

Penelope said smoothly, “Town life certainly has more to offer.”

“We are country-folk,” Captain Wentworth said and settled into one of the armchairs. Apparently, he had decided that Penelope and Will were sensible people who would listen to reason. “Once I leave the navy, my wife and I would prefer a country residence. Kellynch Hall would be very much to our taste. We want to acquire it.”

Penelope silently applauded Captain Wentworth. Any other husband of a baronet’s daughter would have kept up the pretense of a friendly, non-financial visit for hours. The horror of appearing vulgar!

Captain Wentworth continued, “Since the entail has to be renewed in your lifetime, Mr. Elliot, this is a chance to review your options. And since renewal may not be possible—”

Because Will and Penelope currently had no son, and Jennie [Will and Penelope's daughter] could not inherit. The Wentworths weren’t fools; they were going to press their advantage now, even if it meant dancing around their dislike of Will and Penelope. At least, Captain Wentworth disliked them. Anne seemed more curious than disgusted.

“My husband will not give up the title,” Penelope said.

She felt Will’s bright gaze on her, but she didn’t look away from Captain Wentworth’s speculative stare.

“Do you think of yourself as a baronet?” Captain Wentworth said to Will in a tone that suggested he didn’t think Will merited any title, including “captain.”

“Of course Sir Walter’s cousin should inherit the title,” Anne said quickly. “You are my father’s heir, Mr. Elliot.”

To give the Wentworths credit, Penelope doubted they cared about the title. In the City, however, a title could open doors for Will. And Penelope saw no reason why he should give up what was rightfully his.

Will said, “Penelope’s father, Mr. Shepherd, should be kept on as manager.”

“He’s too good to let go,” Captain Wentworth said. His tone added: Despite his daughter’s scandalous behavior.

Penelope resisted rolling her eyes. She knew how to play this game. Everyone brought deficiencies to the table and every deficiency had a cost. My scandalous behavior versus Anne’s non-male gender. Anne’s lack of maleness cost her more than scandalous behavior ever cost Penelope; Penelope didn’t see why she should allow anyone to forget that.

She said, “Since only my husband can break this entail, we expect to be compensated. The property is nearly disencumbered of debt. It will make a tidy profit in a few years’ time.”

Anne leaned forward, her eyes filled with the quiet speculation that marked this middle Elliot daughter. Anne knew that Penelope had no real tie to or love for Kellynch; Anne would remember how quickly Penelope left it behind the first time.

For Will, Penelope might endure it. But Will had no interest in playing squire. However much he liked the idea of a country estate, he’d never bother with the day-to-day. He would hire a qualified agent (who only skimmed slightly off the accounts) and move on to another endeavor.

Penelope could direct his energies better elsewhere. The Wentworths would get all the unpleasant noblesse oblige of being estate landlords while Will and Penelope stayed in London and watched its neighborhoods grow. The Wentworths would thrive, Penelope assumed. Kellynch Hall was their type of place.

She thought fiercely: I only want Will to thrive.

She turned back to Anne. Anne, still leaning forward, gave her a seraphic smile, and Penelope realized, Sir Walter’s unappreciated daughter is getting everything she wanted. Well, well, Miss Anne Elliot. Good for you.

Captain Wentworth said, “It is still encumbered, however. That should be a consideration.”

Will laughed. He tapped Penelope’s shoulder as he crossed to the decanter and poured himself a glass. He held out another to Captain Wentworth who took it after only a slight pause.
D├ętente.

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