Jennifer Bode (Freie Universität Berlin): ‘it will be there for you, waiting for you’: Inheritance in Toni Morrison’s Beloved

In Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987), inheritance in times of slavery in the US as well as in the years following the Civil War is explored as a contrast between inheritance in the legal sense of the term and inheritance as trauma passed on.

When the slave owner Mr. Garner dies, Sethe as well as the other slaves are considered part of the estate Sweet Home and as such part of the inheritance. Focusing almost exclusively on the black characters’ perspectives, Morrison’s text delves deeply into what it means to be considered property by other people and, consequently, to be considered something that can be inherited.

The ease with which the white characters accept inheritance of houses and people highlights the near-impossibility for slaves to pass on something positive or of material value to their loved ones. The text shows black families being torn apart by the slave trade, with the little that family members know of each other – moments of punishments and killings witnessed – often furthering the trauma. Once Sethe has escaped, she displays her own concept of intergenerational trauma. She warns her daughter: “Even if the whole farm [...] dies. [...] if you go there – you who never was there – if you go there and stand in the place where it was, it will happen again; it will be there for you, waiting for you.” (Beloved, 43f.).

The years after the Civil War show a landscape in which (nearly) every house is owned by white people, but every house is haunted by a black person’s grief, the ghost of someone whose life and death were painful. This grief is suggested to be invisible to white people, and the end of the novel points towards the fact that there is no comparable trauma passed on in the families of the white characters: although several members of his family have died in the house, Mr. Bodwin never perceives of 124 as a haunted place – to him, it is an uncomplicated inheritance.


Jennifer Bode holds a B.A. in English and French from Humboldt Universität zu Berlin and an M.A. in Comparative Literature from Freie Universität Berlin. She is a PhD student at Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School (Freie Universität Berlin). In 2018, she received a Fulbright PhD grant to conduct research for her project “How to Narrate Death – Narrative Approaches to Death in the Novel, from Modernism to Contemporary Literature” at Yale University. Her essay on Joseph Conrad and Anna Seghers is forthcoming in Leseszenen. Geschichte - Poetologie – Medialität (Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2019).



Douglas Clark (University of Manchester): Performing the Will on the Early Modern English Stage

Tracing the legislative complexities and interpersonal discord associated with the distribution of real estate and personal property in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English drama has formed an important facet of early modern studies in recent years. Such work has enriched our understanding of the affinity between the “rhetorical performativity” of the law in the early modern plays and “the specific historical developments that shape the law’s rhetorical possibilities.” (Sheen and Hutson, 3) This paper contributes to this field of study by delineating how wills and testaments function as props on the early modern stage to enforce the law. It places fresh emphasis on how their textual authority is constituted and exploited on stage in respect to the new legal jurisdiction that this document was afforded in sixteenth-century England.

I examine the will and testament’s place in early modern drama, arguing that Ulpian Fulwell’s interlude Like Will to Like, Quoth the Devil to the Collier (1568) stands as a foundational example of the way that the flourishingly “rampant” and “promiscuous textuality” of early modern common law practices were reflected upon by English dramatists (Bailey, 79 and 95). Principle emphasis is placed on the will and testament’s role as a textual document that operates to authorize and enforce the reality of the law’s power, following the Henrician legislative changes that made it possible for someone “without customary ties to the land to inherit it by testamentary devise.” (Sale, 438)


Dr Douglas Clark is a Lecturer in Early Modern English Literature at the University of Manchester. He is currently completing a monograph entitled, Performing the Will in English Renaissance Drama.



Grace Coolidge (Grand Valley State University): Sex, Death, and Illegitimacy: Reading Noble Wills in Spain, 1400-1600

The sixteenth-century St. Francis de Borja (who was also the duke of Gandía) stated that the will gave everyone in society their due:  “the corpse to the earth, the debts to the creditors, the estate to the heirs, the charity to the needy, and the soul to God.” (quoted in Juan Luis Carriazo Rubio, Los Testamentos de la Casa de Arcos (1374-1530) (Marchena:  Ayuntamiento de Marchena, 2003),  21).  Historian Juan Luis Carriazo Rubio describes the noble will as an exercise in creating memory and lineage, “inscribing the testator in the collective memory of their heirs and beneficiaries.” (Rubio, 21) The will extended noble lineages into the future by creating and sustaining the mayorazgo or entail which dictated future generations of inheritance.  Careful reading of the wills of the early modern Castilian nobility also reveals a complex family structure that regularly included both legitimate and illegitimate children as beneficiaries and family members.  Many noble wills were made by noble title holders, but noblewomen and illegitimate children of the nobility also recorded their last will and testament.  What is the significance of the hundreds of illegitimate children who appear in noble wills? 

I argue that illegitimate children of the nobility occupied an ambiguous space within the noble family, because they had the potential to either be assets (through distinguished careers, advantageous marriages, and as substitute heirs) or a disruptive force (through demanding support, challenging noble titles, and as public examples of sexual misconduct).  Noble wills record the anxieties that accompanied these complex families as testators sought to establish identities for children born outside of marriage, clarify patterns of inheritance, assign dowries, make claims on noble families, and create hierarchies.  The Spanish noble patriarchal family depended on inheritance and on the smooth transfer of power and title from father to legitimate son.  Noble wills reveal a more complex reality, a precarious but resilient family structure that was simultaneously disrupted and sustained by the ubiquitous presence of illegitimate children as members of the family and potential heirs. 


Dr. Grace E. Coolidge is professor of History at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. She is the author of Gender, Guardianship, and the Nobility in Early Modern Spain (Ashgate 2011) and the editor of The Formation of the Child in Early Modern Spain (Ashgate 2014).  She has also published several articles on guardianship and on illegitimacy and the nobility, the most recent of which is “Half-Sibling Relationships, Illegitimacy, and Virtual Stepfamilies among the Early Modern Spanish Nobility,” in Stepfamilies in Europe, 1400-1800, edited by Lyndan Warner (Routledge, 2018).  Professor Coolidge is currently working on a book titled Outside of the Bonds of Marriage: Illegitimacy and the Noble Family in Early Modern Castile which is under contract with the University of Nebraska Press. 



Beth Cortese (Aarhus University): Possessed by Property: Inheritance, Ownership and Gender in Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa

In Samuel Richardson’s epistolary novel Clarissa (1748-9) an individual’s right to own property and the criteria that determines their right is questioned when the youngest female grandchild is chosen over her father and elder siblings to inherit her grandfather’s estate. The intergenerational conflict in the novel reveals differing attitudes toward the distribution of property and wealth: from the Harlowe family’s belief in their ‘right’ to the grandfather’s estate and their treatment of his wealth as old money, Clarissa’s Humeian perspective of associating the estate with her grandfather and his memory, to the grandfather’s Lockean view of his estate as ‘of his own raising’, governed by testamentary freedom to dispose of on the most virtuous candidate. This paper is part of a project which utilizes computational methods to study the variety of property possessed and bequeathed in the novel’s letters and two wills, along with the characters’ conflicting attitudes toward the ownership of moveable wealth and real property. Through a comparison of Clarissa’s will and her grandfather’s will, the project investigates how attitudes toward possession and transmission of property vary according to gender and family hierarchies.


Beth Cortese is a Postdoctoral Researcher on the Unearned Wealth project in the Department of Comparative Literature at Aarhus University. Her research focuses on women and inheritance in drama and prose from the long-eighteenth century. Beth was awarded her PhD from Lancaster University in 2018 and the title of her thesis was “Women’s Wit on Stage 1660-1720.”Beth is also a member of the Trust and Risk in Literature research group at Aarhus University.



Martin Dackling (Jönköping University): All for one or equal shares? Inherited wealth in parliamentary debates in Scandinavia

A key feature in the development of society over the past centuries is the emergence of modern ownership right based on individual rights. One notable exception is inheritance law; instead of full freedom of deciding what should happen to one's property after death, European inheritance law has, over the past two hundred years, been characterized by extensive restrictions. An explanation for this is that inherited property and a social position based on kinship appeared as a political and ideological problem when societies were built on enlightenment ideas about equality. Distributing wealth, power and status through inheritance instead of individual achievements thus ended in a contradiction to the basic principles of modern society. As a result of this contradiction, the legal regulation of inheritance has been the subject of extensive debate over the last 200 years. This paper examines one of these debates – the introduction of a system based on reasonable parts – in Sweden, Norway and Denmark in the middle of the 19th century. This meant that the rights of each heir to a particular part of the estate were guaranteed, which limited the possibilities of keeping wealth between generations. The analysis is based on the minutes from parliamentary debates and highlights various beliefs about the significance of the inheritance. When different groups and actors participated in the political discussion, they were forced to clarify their own goals and submit arguments for their cause. The minutes from the debates thereby highlights how positions were justified on the basis of different values ​​and narratives of the causal effects of inheritance. What justified the need to change legislation? What rights should parents and children have in respect of inheritance? And what was the significance of inheritance for inequality and social mobility in society?


Martin Dackling (b. 1981) is senior lecturer at Jönköping University. His research focuses questions concerning inheritance and wealth during the last 200 years. His current research project is “The inherited problem. The politics of inheritance in Scandinavia, 1810-2010”.



Engel Szwaja Franken (Bellevue College): Inheritance, Theft and a National Literary Economy in Ricardo Piglia’s Respiración artificial

Ricardo Piglia’s Respiración artificial (1980) must be read as several texts at once: a cyphered account of the Argentine dictatorship under which it was written and, incredibly, published, it is at the same time a detective novel centered on a trunk full of papers left by Enrique Ossorio, a fictitious exiled writer from Argentina’s founding generation, a trunk which once also held the California gold that made his descendants’ fortune. Through a chain of transmission involving posthumous sons, duels, and marriage under false pretenses, the papers come to be held by the protagonist’s long-lost uncle Maggi, who hopes to write a book on them. In developing this story, the novel also presents the longue durée of Argentine literature as characterized by the pairing of local writers secure in their patrimony but insecure vis-à-vis European cultural capital with European arrivistes who monetize their (spurious) prestige. The stability of this pairing belies a problem of transmission, with the national literature continually reinvented. The parodic culmination of this series is the pairing of the failed writer and thief Maggi with Tardewski, an exiled student of Wittgenstein, both lost in a small provincial town. But it is Maggi rather than any of Ossorio’s descendants who is ultimately the reader who can best make sense of the trunk’s maze of papers and thus draw a line of succession to the country’s origins, or at least leave the traces for the nephew he never knew. Patrimonial and literary inheritance thus follow different paths, though the latter cannot afford to ignore the former. For Piglia then, a national literary economy must be traced through the successive crises of property and propriety that mark the (literary) conflicts between those who have and those who don’t have capital, or rather those who inherit and those who steal.


My research centers on literary engagement with and articulation of nationalism in the 1920s and 1930s in Latin America. I completed my Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of California, Irvine with a dissertation on organic thought in 1920s-30s Mexico and Argentina. I am currently Associate Professor of Spanish at Bellevue College in Washington. 



David Hasberg Zirak-Schmidt (Aarhus Univeristy): Lost Heirs, Succession and James Shirley’s Tragicomedies

In this paper, I will examine a recurrent succession narrative found in tragicomedies dating from the 1630s, namely that of the lost heir. Typically, the lost heir plot involves an heir who – either due to some imminent danger at the time of birth or because an ambitious mother of low social status swaps her own child with the heir in order to further her son’s social position – is supposed dead or mistaken for someone else. This means that current heir is either an imposter or a female relative, often a cousin, of the true heir. As a consequence of this disruption of patrilineal succession, the kingdom either faces a succession crisis because of the lack of male heirs or the lowborn imposter now posing as heir compromises the future of the kingdom because of his prodigal behaviour. In the lost heir plays of the 1630s, the dramatic conflict is ultimately resolved when the lost heir’s true identity is revealed and the legitimate order of succession is reestablished.

Centered on succession crises and loss of legitimacy, Shirley’s lost heir tragicomedies thus offer a comic solution to a political problem which might otherwise have a tragic outcome. Through its tragicomic form, the lost heir play reconciles opposing social forces and restores legitimate, monarchical power. This had potentially important political implications in the 1630s when Charles I ruled without parliament which I shall explore in this paper.


David Hasberg Zirak-Schmidt is a PhD student in Comparative Literature at Aarhus University. His thesis is tentatively called “The Life of Kingdoms: Staging Royal Succession in Caroline Drama”. Focusing on playwrights such as James Shirley, Philip Massinger, John Ford and Richard Brome, the thesis investigates how issues of royal succession were represented, discussed, and negotiated in Caroline drama.



Julie Hastrup-Markussen (Aarhus University): Gender, Wealth and Agency in Fanny Burney’s Cecilia (1782) and Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (1860)

To what extent were young heiresses independent agents in control of their inheritance? Did their fortune make them targets for fortune-hunters? This paper will focus on eighteenth and nineteenth century novels that feature single and married heiresses to examine the relationship between women and wealth. In the case of heiresses under the age of 21 guardians were responsible for protecting the heiress’ fortune and her virtue from fortune-hunters. The above restrictions both limit and protect women’s financial agency, transferring this agency to parental and marital guardians. Eileen Spring in Law, Land and Family has observed that heiresses are transmitters of inheritance (p. 13). Fiction questions and explores the extent to which heiresses were owners and agents of their own property. Complementing close-reading with computational methods, I study character agency to explore the relationship between wealth and agency. Focusing on Fanny Burney’s Cecilia (1782) and Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (1860) I compare fictional heiresses across two centuries. This preliminary comparison will be part of a larger literary historical study of heiresses in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

This paper is part of a collaborative project between Beth Cortese, Julie Hastrup-Markussen and Ross Deans Kristensen-McLachlan.


Julie Hastrup-Markussen is PhD student in Comparative Literature at Aarhus University. She is part of the Unearned Wealth project that studies inheritance in literature from 1600 to 2015. Julie is writing her PhD on inherited wealth as an economic, social and cultural phenomenon in English literature between 1837 and 1945. Methodologically, she combines computational tools with traditional textual analysis.



Vicki Kay (Bangor University): ‘Twoo muche vayne and idle chardge’: the precision of inheritance in the 1601 will of Bess of Hardwick

In 1601, Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, began her final will and testament. Remembered for posterity as Bess of Hardwick, she was the wealthiest woman in Elizabethan England (second only to the Queen herself), keeper of Mary Queen of Scots, and grandmother to Elizabeth I’s potential heir, Arbella Stuart. Over the course of her long life and four marriages, Bess amassed a fortune which she ploughed into creating dynastic stability through architectural projects (especially Hardwick Hall), sound monetary investments, and ambitious marriages for her children. Her will gives a fascinating insight into her indomitable character while powerfully representing her attempt to mitigate risks of financial loss, whilst coercing her heirs into obeying her wishes. This paper seeks to explore the rhetorical strategies that Bess employs in her will; this is a legal, factual document, so to what extent is it open to literary interpretation? Did Bess herself expect and anticipate that her final will and testament would be used by her family and executors as a representation of her life, her personality? Does she use the opportunity provided by the moment of will-writing in order to exert herself over those acquaintances she anticipates will outlive her? Is the early modern will used by Bess to stamp her authority on those whom she strove to control on life? Fascinatingly, Bess continued to revise her will using marginal notes and codicils for the next seven years, disinheriting various family members as the result of quarrels, and redistributing her wealth as she saw fit, until her death in 1608. The precision with which Bess bequeaths her monetary and material wealth is striking: her executors and beneficiaries are left little room for interpretation and no excuse for error. This legal document tells us the story of a life, of attachments made, beliefs valued, and relationships both honoured and dismissed. It is the intention of this paper to explore the metaphors and rhetoric of inheritance, alongside specific bequests of money, jewels, property and clothing, present in the will of Bess of Hardwick in order to understand the document as an expression of personal and dynastic achievement, status and ambition.


Vicki is a third year PhD student of English Literature at Bangor University, Wales. She is researching the appropriation of mercantile practice and language in late medieval and early modern women’s writing, including their letters, life-writing, accounts, and wills. Vicki is particularly interested in late medieval and early modern women’s involvement with business and money: how much did they spend and on what? What did they invest in? What did they sell? What did they bequeath, and to whom and why? Vicki completed both her BA and MA at Bangor University, during which time she received the John Danby Prize for English Literature four times. 



Hanna Kuusela (Tampere University): A decaying species or skillful masters of accumulation? How today's literary gaze sees the inheritors

Contemporary fiction seems to have an uneasy relationship with the accumulation of inherited capital and the rich. On the one hand, heirs are represented as reckless and troubled individuals for whom the inheritances appear as a curse, as for example in Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose series. On the other hand, there is a tradition that depicts the rich inheritors as a crumbling and decaying species with a bleak future, or no future at all, as in Sarah Water’s recent novel The Little Stranger

In my presentation, I read such recent literary representations of the wealthy heirs side by side with sociological research on accumulated wealth and my own interview research among top earning Finnish inheritors. Through such comparison, I ask whether the literary gaze is haunted by an ideological blindness vis-à-vis today’s inherited wealth and wealth accumulation.

Unlike many of the literary depictions would make us believe, today’s wealthy heirs seem to be fully capable of guarding their interests, keeping their class positions and making their wealth accumulate. In my interviews among the top earning Finns, the heirs explain their cross-generational mindsets and practices that build on cross-generational narratives of wealth. Instead of a pathology, a curse, or a thing of the past, in the narratives of the rich heirs wealth accumulation seems to be a normal and ordinary practice, the mastery of which is transmitted across generations through educational practices. The heirs learn at a an early age what it means to be an owner and how to ensure the accumulation of inherited wealth. My presentation thus discusses critically some of the contemporary literary trends and their ideology: it asks whether the literary tradition lacks texts that would depict this current reality of the longue durée and the ability of the wealthy for constant wealth accumulation.


Hanna Kuusela, PhD, is a Cultural Studies scholar and a Senior Research Fellow at Tampere University. She has a background in literary studies, but has recently published also in the fields of sociology and governance. Her last research project concentrated on the top 0.1 % of earners in Finland and included 90 interviews among these top earning Finns. Her next research project, titled Cultures of Private Capital in 21st Century Finland, will start in September 2019 and analyse the cultural dimensions and meanings of accumulated capital.



Jakob Ladegaard (Aarhus University): Prodigal Heirs and Their Social Networks in Early Modern English Comedies

The parable of the prodigal son was an important reference in early modern discussions about inheritance. Numerous playwrights exploited the dramatic potential of the story and thereby created a tradition of prodigal son comedies. This paper uses computationally assisted social network analysis to compares social networks in 20 prodigal son comedies from the 1590s to 1640. The plays all feature inheritance conflicts between a prodigal heir and one or more father figures (actual fathers, uncles, grandfathers, masters, etc.). Criticism on these plays often focus on the father-son relationship and pay relatively little attention to the social worlds in which they participate. However, I shall argue that it is precisely their respective networks and their ability to navigate and manipulate them that help deciding the outcomes of their conflicts. To support this argument, I compare the ways in which the heirs negotiate two types of interwoven social networks to reconcile with or outmaneuver a father figure and regain their inheritance: economic networks of credit relations and networks of amorous alliances.  The work presented in this paper is part of the larger research project “Unearned Wealth: A literary history of inheritance, 1600-2015”, where we use digital methods to study representations of inherited wealth in English literature from the Early Modern period until now.


Jakob Ladegaard is Associate Professor in Comparative Literature, Aarhus University. His research is primarily concerned with the relations between modern literature, politics and economy. He is the PI of the research project: ‘Unearned Wealth - A Literary History of Inheritance, 1600-2015’, 2017-2021. The project uses digital methods to study English and French literary representations of inheritance. Recent publications include Context in Literary and Cultural Studies (ed. with J.G. Nielsen), UCL Press, 2019.



Suzanne Lenon (University of Lethbridge): Intestacy, Family, & the Settler Politics of Inheritance: The Case of R v. Sheran

In 1882, Nicholas Sheran, a Euro-Canadian settler and early developer of Lethbridge’s commercial coalmines, drowned while crossing the Belly River. He left no will. At issue in this intestacy dispute was the legitimacy of Sheran’s relationship with an Indigenous (Piikani) woman so as to determine the rightful heir: his sister Ellen or his two children? Ultimately, the entire estate went to his sister because the judge ruled that Sheran and Awatoyakew (White- Tailed Deer Woman, also known as Mary Brown) did not have a legally valid marriage; the two children were not recognized as Sheran’s next of kin and thus did not inherit his estate. Indeed, Euro-Canadian case law contains several instances of estate disputes with similar circumstances and outcomes, where material wealth of Euro-Canadian fur trader men does not cross racial lines to his Indigenous wife and/or children, and where the law works to keep white wealth in white hands. Drawing from archival materials pertaining to this case, I take the law (or, white settler Canadian law) as my narrative text to discuss the politics of inheritance in a settler colonial context. In the paper, I discuss R v. Sheran in more detail asking: How did gender, race, and settler colonialism intersect to condition the parameters of this intestacy dispute? What ways are family intimacies are implicated in broader social intimacies of patriarchy and settler colonialism? The narrative ‘text’ of my paper – the archival legal record of this intestacy dispute – speaks as much to the histories of individual lives as it does to class and material relations, about gender and patriarchal relations, about racial power, lived out in the hinterland, in local colonial spaces. In so doing, the paper directly relates to many of the themes articulated in the conference’s call for papers.


Suzanne Lenon is associate professor in the Department of Women & Gender Studies at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. She teaches and researches in the areas of critical race feminisms, and law, gender and sexuality. Her current research focuses on the topic of inheritance as a way to apprehend the workings of social inequalities and to imagine their transformation. She is co-editor with OmiSoore H. Dryden of Disrupting Queer Inclusion: Canadian Homonationalisms and the Politics of Belonging (UBC Press).

Please see my website for more information: http://www.suzannelenon.ca



Heather Nelson (Pueblo Community College): ‘It’s a great shame she has to part with anything’: Consent and the Dower Act in Victorian Drama

I detail how dower law—and, by extension, gender equality—changed for the worse throughout nineteenth-century England. In the first third of the century, almost all widows without jointure agreements automatically inherited dowers, one-third of their late husbands' real property (land, buildings, etc.). However, in 1833 An Act for the Amendment of the Law Relating to Dower, known as The Dower Act, enabled husbands to increase primogeniture by writing wills dictating if or how their widows would inherit estates. Like the majority of nineteenth-century British marital law, then, the Dower Act allowed husbands to control their wives—but this time from the grave. Yet most nineteenth-century Britons and contemporary historians have accepted as the status quo what has needed indignant evaluation: Due to primogeniture, widows were turned out of their homes and stripped of their property by their late husbands' wills and heirs, creating a national rift impacting almost all emotional, financial, legal, and social aspects of individuals, families, and society. Particularly building from Susan Staves's history of dower, I reveal an ignored aspect of the intersection of wives, consent, property, and inheritance—that a wife could not consent to control or own something when she was denied legal rights to continue that control or ownership in widowhood. "Consent" to property, then, was not a life consent; it was a temporary, demi-consent to something that could be ripped away any day by a will. Thus, on female property ownership, the earlier, obscure, conservative Dower

Act surprisingly trumped the century's later, famous, progressive Married Women's Property Acts.

Following Dagni Bredesen's treatments of widows in nineteenth-century British literature, I assess the Dower Act for the first time in nineteenth-century British literary studies. Specifically, I argue that with his play Leap Year; or, The Ladies' Privilege (1850), John Baldwin Buckstone became the only nineteenth-century British author to explore—let alone attack—the Dower Act's injustices regarding gender, consent, property, and inheritance. Namely, Buckstone criticizes nonconsenting widows' disinheritances by painting his heroine, the newly widowed Flora Flowerdew, as the pawn of both the Dower Act and her late husband's cruel will. Because the miserable Flora faces a dilemma between "consenting" to relinquish her marital estate to its new male heir via the Dower Act or "consenting" to marry a new husband, which will also result in property relinquishment via coverture, Buckstone reveals that Flora lacks true property control. Instead, by Leap Year's conclusion, Flora has been rendered another token vessel for men's generational property ownership.

In the 1880s and 1890s British law somewhat evened the score for Victorian widows like Flora, but true equality in spousal property control, ownership, and inheritance did not come for wives and widows until the twentieth century.


Born and raised in Kansas, Heather Nelson received her B.A. in English Language and

Literature from Yale University in Connecticut, M.A. in English from Wake Forest University in North Carolina, and Ph.D. in English from Purdue University in Indiana, where she was a Purdue Research Foundation Dissertation Fellow and then a Bilsland Dissertation Fellow. Since completing her Ph.D., Dr. Nelson has worked as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Literature at Antioch College in Ohio, an Instructor of English at Miami University in Ohio, and a Visiting Assistant Professor of English and Affiliated Faculty of Women's Studies at Colorado State University-Pueblo in Colorado. In her fields of nineteenth-century British literature and women's studies, Dr. Nelson has published articles in ANQ, George Eliot-George Henry Lewes Studies, and Victorians and has presented at conferences for Interdisciplinary Nineteenth-Century Studies, North American Victorian Studies Association, Victorian Interdisciplinary Studies Association of the Western United States, and Victorians Institute. Most recently, Dr. Nelson has been completing her book project, I Do?: Women’s Marital Consent in Nineteenth-Century England, from which she would present at the "Passing on: Property, Family and Death in Narratives of Inheritance" conference.



Noa Reich (University of Toronto): Victorian Inheritance, Speculation, and Eliot’s ‘Dead Hand’

This paper reads George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871-72) in the context of what I argue is a recurring pattern in Victorian fiction: inheritance turns out to be a form of “relational speculation” – a practice that imbricates the abstracting logics of credit and risk with the morally and affectively charged structures of kinship, marriage, and property. Eliot’s novel joins other Victorian novels by Dickens, Collins, and Trollope in evoking but also complicating the assumption that there is a historical trajectory from inherited wealth to speculative capitalism. In Middlemarch, for instance, when the dying Featherstone hears his nephew, Fred, has been “rais[ing] money on ... expectations” of inheriting from him, he confronts Fred with the accusation: “You like ... speckilation better than ... land” (75). Eliot goes on to undercut this opposition by showing that the old man both anticipates and encourages his nephew to speculate on him. The novel further links both Featherstone and Casaubon, its other testator, with the figure of the “dead hand,” inviting us to read their desire for posthumous control as marked by the proleptic temporality and manipulation typically associated with speculative finance.

Middlemarch departs from common Victorian depictions of speculation, however, in suggesting that speculative thinking is an unavoidable aspect of “inward being” (577) –one that affects its more idealistic characters, Lydgate, Ladislaw, and Dorothea. For Eliot, this troubling feature of modern liberal subjectivity is both undermined by, and ethically demanding of, a supplementary “hindrance.” I contend that she represents this paradox through the “dead hand,” and its allusion to the feudal legal term for a deathbed donation to a corporation, mortmain – which in legal accounts was tied to “withdrawal from commerce” and a loss of agency. Eliot turns to this paradoxical form both to explore the self-defeating practices of relational speculation, and more broadly, to represent a necessary and generative constraint on speculative subjectivity. I ultimately suggest that the novel’s self-reflexive, interventionist narration can be read as formally enacting this tension on the level of the novel’s form, producing a poetics of generative constraint.


Noa Reich received her PhD in English from the University of Toronto, where she won the A. S. P. Woodhouse award for the best dissertation defended in 2017-18. Her article, “Seeing ‘No Guiltless Minds’: Inheritance and Liability in Wilkie Collins’s Armadale,” was recently published in Nineteenth-Century Literature. She is currently at work on a book manuscript, Relational Speculation: Rereading Inheritance in Victorian Fiction.



Margaret Rubik (University of Vienna): Inheritance in Aphra Behn’s The Younger Brother

In terms of inheritance matters, Aphra Behn’s posthumously staged comedy The Younger Brother (1696) is particularly interesting: it tackles the problem of younger brothers and of disinheriting an (elder) son, features young women who can freely dispose of themselves and their inherited fortunes and is remarkably precise in detailing the exact incomes and inheritances of the dramatis personae.

Inheritance conflicts between elder and younger sons and the threat of fathers to disinherit their children are addressed in several English Restoration plays, though fictional fathers usually forgive their offspring in the end. In Behn’s play Sir Rowland actually carries out his threat, though his elder son is convinced his position is safe. It is not made clear whether he trusts in the custom of primogeniture, or whether the estate is entailed. However, even an entail could be broken, by a process called ‘common recovery’, i.e., a fictitious lawsuit; elder sons occasionally even cooperated in the breaking of the entail, in order to gain an annuity, to which – in contrast to younger sons – they were not entitled during their father’s lifetime (see English and Saville, Strict Settlement). In Younger Brother the elder son does not cooperate – still he is disinherited, a very rare occurrence. English and Saville list only 1 case in the 18th century. In the 17th century the situation was more volatile: there was a debate, especially in the 1680s and 90s, whether fathers were entitled or indeed obliged to disinherit recalcitrant sons.

In Younger Brother, the inheritance in the end goes to the younger son, who earlier chafed at his ‘demeaning’ apprenticeship to a tradesman (which was often the only option for younger sons to earn a living). The young heroines are all well provided with dowries and annual incomes, of which they can freely dispose –whereas in reality a woman usually needed the consent of her guardian to marry, as upon marriage her money became the property of her husband.


Margarete Rubik is Emerita Professor of English Literature at the University of Vienna, Austria. Her research interests range from Restoration and eighteenth-century literature to the nineteenth-century novel and modern drama. She has published widely in these fields, including a study on Early Women Dramatists 1550 to 1800, an edition of the works of Delarivier Manley and Eliza Haywood (Eighteenth Century Women Playwrights, Vol. 1) and edited volumes on Aphra Behn and her Female Successors, on Revisiting and Reinterpreting Aphra Behn, and a special issue of Women’s Writing on Aphra Behn. She has also compiled several collections of essays, for instance on Intertextual and Intermedial Rewritings of Jane Eyre, on Stories of Empire, and on Staging Interculturality. She is now in the process of editing The Younger Brother and The Young King, as part of a Cambridge University Press project of re-editing the complete works of Aphra Behn.



Bodil Selmer (Aarhus University): Testament and Testimony – marking the future, marking the past in Vigdis Hjorth’s Will and Testament

When the novel Arv & Miljø (literally ‘Inheritance and Environment’, to be published in English as Will & Testament) by the acclaimed Norwegian author Vigdis Hjorth was published in 2016, it was received as an autobiography. The assumption that the novel was grounded in was confirmed, when the author’s sister, a jurist at the National Archive, published her first novel, Free Will, as a response in order to defend the family honour. Arv & Miljø is a first-person account of a woman who struggles to persuade her family to listen to and acknowledge her narrative of the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her father in early childhood. At the same time, it is an account of the revealing of a testament regarding two family holiday homes with substantial emotional and financial value, and the subsequent inheritance dispute between four siblings. The two authors have entirely different views on the dynamics of their family and the characteristics of its members, but they share fundamental views on the meaning of inheritance. In this paper, I approach their literary works as an anthropologist analysing narratives. In Norway, offspring cannot be completely disinherited, but have a general right to an equal share of a reserved portion of 2/3 of their parents’ estate, or at least a minimum sum. I ask how such principles and ideals from Norwegian inheritance law are reflected in the testamentary provisions, and in the adult children’s reaction: who deserves what, and on what grounds? I compare the ways in which the two authors make their claims for ideas of equity and fairness. Most importantly, I ask what the parallel public revealing of a testament and a testimony of incest can tell us about the interplay between emotional relationships and financial dispositions in the family sphere. In addition, the dimensions of future and past in the temporal orientations of the testament versus the testimony as narrated by Hjorth are analysed. Finally, I consider the literary procedures Hjorth uses in order to convince the readers of the justness of the narrator’s case.


Bodil Selmer is associate professor of Anthropology at The Institute of Culture and Society, Aarhus University.   Her research centers on Legal Anthropology and Kinship Studies. Her most recent research centers on the meaning of inheritance in relation to identity and sense of belonging and focuses on the blended family, and the economic consequences of the recent favoring of the horizontal conjugal bond vis-à-vis the vertical link to offspring, in Danish inheritance law.  She was member of the cross-disciplinary Nordic research group in residence at the Centre for Advanced Study at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters 2014-15, and is the co-editor on a coming anthology on Nordic inheritance law through the ages



Claudia Vásquez-Caicedo (Utrecht University): Mixed Feelings: Affects, Objects and Inherited Otherness in Ken Liu’s “The Paper Menagerie”

In the critically acclaimed but academically understudied short story “The Paper Menagerie” (2011), Ken Liu depicts, through a fantasy lens, how inner crisis often emerge when the different cultural identities one inherits are in conflict. This paper offers an interpretation that follows affect theory in order to understand the emotional process the young Chinese-American protagonist goes through. After finding within himself the traits of otherness he has learned to reject socially, his immediate response is to blame the one considered responsible for the crisis: his Chinese mother. Thus, in order to prevent feeling negative emotions like hate and shame towards himself, he projects them towards that close “other”. Death, however, marks a turning point: it takes away the easy culprit and demands examination of such feelings. It is the rediscovery of the magical origami animals his mother had made and kept for him—what Sara Ahmed would call the “happy objects” of his childhood—what gives him the opportunity to read her last words and reconnect with his cultural ancestry. Thus, by literal and symbolic act of “reparative reading,” as theorized by Eve Kosofsky Sedwick, the overcoming of negative affects is made possible. What once was an old rancorous shame turns into a reparative one, which allows acknowledgment and acceptance of his own transcultural identity. If inheritance is not only what is received after death, but also what one is given when being born, “The Paper Menagerie” is an exemplary case of how contemporary narratives explore the urgent need behind dealing with one’s own otherness in a multicultural world.


Claudia Vásquez-Caicedo is currently a student of the RMA in Comparative Literary Studies programme at Utrecht University, where she is also Research and Teaching Assistant. She completed her BA in Hispanic Literature at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, where she focused on discourse, gender and postcolonial power structures in Peruvian short stories. Her main interests and projects revolve around cultural identity and literary aesthetics in contemporary narrative.



Jolene Zigarovich (University of Northern Iowa): Legitimizing the Female: Birthright and inheritance in Courts and the British Eighteenth-Century Novel

In light of inheritance law and Chancery cases, my paper specifically takes up fictional plots of birthright and entitlement involving female characters. I wish to argue that for women, proving legitimacy and regaining inheritance implicitly indict the legal system (and its patrilineal foundation). My talk intersects British inheritance law, Chancery court cases that disinherited orphaned women, and cases that reinstated entitlement to female legal wards (or disenfranchised daughters), with fictional examples of female birthright (Smith’s Emmeline, Inchbald’s Matilda, Radcliffe’s Adeline, Burney’s Evelina and others), illustrating how eighteenth-century authors critiqued legal interpretations of birthright, demonstrating the unstable and often provisional basis for female entitlement and birthright. My paper thereby discusses the role gender and documentation plays in the confirmation of entitlement and claims to name and fortune. I argue that both actual and fictional cases of female entitlement often create varied and diverse spaces for legal interpretation, and that successful cases of birthright are often hinged upon emotion and forms of coercion.

As I will discuss, the eighteenth century saw a dramatic drop in court cases, especially those initiated by women regarding property (Lemmings, Law and Government in England). I wish to argue that one reason for this was in fact the gray area for legal interpretation. Without consistent interpretation, laws regarding female entitlement and inheritance were not trusted; therefore women sought other means of legitimacy and representation. Later, I demonstrate how this produces the phenomenon of the “soon-to-be-propertied” orphan/bastard in literature. This intersection of the public and private spheres is dramatically figured in narrative, which takes up legal anxieties about proper inheritance and birthright, ultimately resolving them through private means (typically from the male recognition of female resemblance). Reading the eighteenth-century novel in light of legal practice illuminates this unique and particular plot dynamic. Unlike the law, fiction more often allowed women possibilities for agency and individual, private identity. Thus this talk will examine how emotional and coercive aspects of female birthright cases get taken up by female novelists and reworked, suggesting that narrative becomes a more reliable space for women to be active legal and moral agents.


Jolene Zigarovich is associate professor of English in the Department of Languages & Literatures at the University of Northern Iowa. She has also taught at Cornell University and Claremont Graduate University. She is author of Writing Death and Absence in the Victorian Novel:  Engraved Narratives, and editor of Sex and Death in Eighteenth-Century Literature as well as TransGothic in Literature and Culture. Her current works in progress are Death and the Body in Eighteenth-Century Fiction and Culture (research for which has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities), and Necropolitics: Legislating the Dead Body and the Victorian Novel which considers the posthumous life of characters uncannily bound by legislation in the Victorian novel.