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Afterword In The Prime Minister, Sir Alured, the present baronet of “a handsome old family . . . whose forefathers had been baronets since baronets were first created ” (113), solemnly instructs his nephew and heir, Everett Wharton, on protocol for allotting property to tenants: “‘I do like the farms to go from father to son, Everett. It’s the way that everything should go. Of course, there’s no right. . . . No, nothing of that kind. God in his mercy forbid that a landlord in England should ever be robbed after that fashion.’ Sir Alured, when he was uttering this prayer, was thinking of what he had heard of an Irish land bill, the details of which, however, had been altogether incomprehensible to him” (598). The more Trollope reveals about Alured, the less coherent the nature of his alarm is. His objection to the First Irish Land Act, to which he refers, cannot rest on his disdain for community tradition, which the act purported to uphold. Alured has already shown himself to be a fierce devotee to tradition. Although his estate had been destined for a profligate nephew whom he abhors, Alured doggedly declines his power to choose a more suitable heir, preferring to leave his estate in the hands of a wastrel rather than violate the time-honored patterns of inheritance. When that heir providentially dies, Alured’s instructions Afterword 207 that Everett follow established relations between landlord and tenant reveal that Alured sees his proprietorship of the estate as shaped by a system of established practices he cannot disrupt. His insistence on handing down farms from father to son as “the way everything should go” seems to contradict his equally vehement imperative that “the way everything should go” not be interpreted as “a right.” Alured’s semantic hairsplitting on the matter is emblematic of a larger tendency in Victorian thinking about property. No matter how often advanced liberals like John Stuart Mill or Matthew Arnold might protest that the state had a perfect right to dictate the distribution and uses of landed property, no matter how thoroughly the establishment of railways in Britain had proven that the state used such power quite extensively, the Victorians still preferred to imagine land as a zone in which the state could not interfere with redefinitions and redistributions of rights. But, as Alured also demonstrates, Victorians also preferred to think of property in land not as a zone of complete liberty for the owner but rather as a source of compulsion. Serious about understanding privileged subjects as constrained by responsibilities, not simply buoyed up by freedom from want, and equally serious in their antistatist sentiments, Victorians tended to think of responsibility and obligation as something endowed upon an owner by his own property rather than imposed by the state. Alured offers one glimpse of the pleasures that come from being compelled to do something by one’s own property. But as this book shows, writing concerned with Irish land ownership teems with such examples—Edgeworth’s landowners, gleefully unable to leave the property to which they are connected; Mill’s peasant proprietors, energetically animated to cultivate their lands; Young Ireland’s patriots, revolutionarily justified by a tie to the land they can never forswear; Trollope’s wives, obligated to enjoy estates to which they have no title. All of these figures understand themselves as compelled to do something, not by the state that grants them rights, but by property that attaches to them in ways more profound than the state could ever accomplish withmerelegislation. The pleasures of being compelled into action by one’s property in land are thrown into unusually sharp relief by the Irish, or those enmeshed in the nineteenth century’s long British-Irish entanglement. Sir Alured notwithstanding, the pleasures of landed property’s compulsions were not as immediately available in a purely English context. As the nineteenth century wore on, both Martin Weiner and Krishan Kumar have pointed out, England became increasingly identified with the land, seeing its culture as 208 The Dispossessed State summed up either by the great country estates or by agricultural village communities . But as Elizabeth Helsinger and John Plotz have both made clear, that identification often depended on the representation of land made in portable objects that were paintings, engravings, or novels. Constable’s countryside, Mitford’s village commons, Thomas Hardy’s Wessex, and of course Jane Austen ’s estates in the Home Counties came to stand for England, and these representations were of a size to...


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Subject Headings

  • Property in literature.
  • Land tenure -- Government policy -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century.
  • Land tenure -- Government policy -- Ireland -- History -- 19th century.
  • English fiction -- Irish authors -- History and criticism.
  • English fiction -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
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