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“No Woman, much less a Woman of Fortune, is ever fit to be her own Mistress:” Gender, Wealth, and Agency in Inheritance Novels from the Eighteenth and Nineteenth century

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This article compares heiresses’ agency with male heirs in eighteenth and nineteenth century novels focused on inheritance to investigate whether heiresses face more restrictions on their financial and personal freedom compared with other characters from the period due to their fortune. We test James Thompson’s claim that “inheritance is enabling or authorizing for male protagonists and disabling for female protagonists,” using computational analysis on a corpus of 29 novels and combine our results with close reading of the novels from our corpus. We found that the representation of heiresses’ and heirs’ agency varies according to genre. Heiresses are more agentful than expected, this was especially the case for heiresses in Gothic fiction. We noticed a decline in the agency of male heirs in the nineteenth century, compared with the eighteenth century, while the agency of other character types such as unmoneyed characters appears to increase.

Original languageEnglish
JournalLaw and Literature
Publication statusIn preparation - 2020

    Research areas

  • inheritance, heiress, heir, gender, novels, genre, eighteenth century, nineteenth century, agency, digital humanities

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