Time period: 1886. (Yes, I am that specific.)
Setting: East Anglia (see above.)
I'm working on a Gothic novel with some rather far-fetched things in it (mad ladies in white, ghosts that turn out not to be ghosts, suddenly a shot rang out, etc.). But while I don't mind things being far-fetched in a Gothic sense, I don't want to get details wrong that will snap the reader out of enjoying the book.
So, my main question:
One of my main characters is the only son of an only daughter. They are gentry--very wealthy gentry, with a large (ish) estate in North Suffolk or South Norfolk, but not titled. What I want to know is: is it totally impossible that the property and money might have decended from the grandfather (still quite alive), through the only daughter, and to his grandson (the mother going quite picturesquely mad in the background)?
I *think* I may have a model in the Sucklings of Barsham: unless I'm misreading this, it seems as though they kept a very tight grip on the property and the family name. When there wasn't a direct male heir, the property might go to 1) the husband of a daughter, as long as he took the family name of Suckling or 2) a distant cousin, same.
But it may be the living they're talking about, not the manor house.
Alternatively, assuming the estate was not entailed, would the grandfather have had the option of settling the estate (before his daughter's marriage) to be inherited by his daughter and then to her issue, bypassing the husband, and possibly insisting that the husband take the family name as well? I know this is after the Married Women's Property Act, but she would have been married a long time before this. Could a family lawyer have tied this up incredibly hard before this law was enacted? If the grandfaher were still alive, how much freedom would he have to rewrite his will (for example, to specify who the estate descends to If he dies AND his daughter dies AND his grandson dies without issue?
I'd like to know about this while the plot's in embryonic form and I can still tweak it.
The other question is:
Let us suppose that there is indeed a madwoman in the attic, and the family would rather keep her quietly at home than putting her in a private asylum. She is mostly looked after by her old childhood nurse, but the nurse is now feeble and needs the assistance of someone strong to handle things like lifting her around, carrying her (and possibly stopping her if she goes on a homicidal rampage.)
If a man were hired to carry out this function, would he be considered a servant or in a betwixt and between position like a nanny? Would he be on the same social level as a footman? Would he be deeply suspected by the servants if he didn't have a record of service elsewhere and wasn't hired by the butler?
(I'll save the other questions for another time, as these are closely related to the plot.)
Where did I search? Where didn't I search? I found the usual material about how inheritances would *usually* be entailed and that you can't disinherit someone from a title. A lot of links on VictoriaWeb seem to be busted. Most of the references seem to be to "Victorian common law," i.e., to what happens if there isn't a specific settlement or a will. I'm working on the presumption that there was.
Agh. This is the problem with being a Wilkie Collins fan. You think you can write something with all the tiny legal loopholes that he has, and then get snared by the details!
EDIT: Thank all of you so much!