Date of Award


Level of Access

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Deborah Rogers

Second Committee Member

Naomi Jacobs

Third Committee Member

Ken Norris

Additional Committee Members

Nancy MacKnight

Nancy Weitz


This study will be the first to look at the effect of the strict settlement on the language, plots and characters of three eighteenth-century novels. So pervasive to specific novels is the language of inheritance in the eighteenth century that some novels should be considered what I call "inheritance novels." Clarissa, Evelina and Pride and Prejudice all display a uniqueness in the way they deal with inheritance laws.

The eighteenth century married an empowered gentry characterized by an insatiable appetite for land to a newly adapted legal force armed with a tightly-structured inheritance policy based on primogeniture and strict new standards for marriageable women. This unique combination of legal and social policies bumped up against another eighteenth-century innovation-the novel.

Three points are fundamental in identifying inheritance novels: First, the authors have personal experience with and/or are familiar with the language and practice of strict settlement and marriage practices. Second, the plots are heavily influenced by strict settlement practice. Third, the characters are manipulated through the language of inheritance or are able to use inheritance language in such a way as to silence or endanger other characters.

Inheritance novels ultimately prove a character's worthiness to inherit. The three novels used in the body of this study all show the three characteristics of inheritance novels, though inheritance in each differs in its characteristics and its outcomes.