What is the difference between "estate" and "property" in the context of this sentence (from Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility)?

The family of Dashwood had long been settled in Sussex. Their estate was large, and their residence was at Norland Park, in the centre of their property, where, for many generations, they had lived in so respectable a manner as to engage the general good opinion of their surrounding acquaintance.


They are equivalent and interchangeable terms in the example given. My suspicion is that the writer simply didn't wish to use the same word twice in one sentence. There are variations of meaning between the two words, but in this context they mean exactly the same thing.

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"Estate", in this case, implies a residence of some (present or former) grandeur, surrounded by a non-trivial amount of land (at least a few acres, but maybe thousands), and usually rural. Generally one envisions maids, butlers, gardens with dedicated gardeners, etc.

"Property" is a more inclusive term which refers to any bit of land or structure, urban or rural, of any size or nature. In this sense "property" may be used as a synonym for "estate", once the context has been established.

(Note that another sense of "estate" is the entirety of the money and possessions owned by a deceased person. And another sense of "property" is any possession of a person, whether land, building, automobile, furniture, jewelry, etc.)

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    in this case, i would argue that estate refers to everything they are entitled to (ownership-wise), and property refers to the land proper (no pun intended), as it says their residence was located in the middle of it. – Erich May 9 '15 at 11:30
  • @erich - In the above quote the term "estate" was clearly referring to the specific (large) property containing the residence. (Though I can see how one might read it the other way if not familiar with the term "estate".) – Hot Licks May 9 '15 at 11:33
  • @erich - Google "lived on a large estate" (with the quotes). – Hot Licks May 9 '15 at 11:38
  • estates include much more than the land; they include all the buildings as well. not all buildings are the owner's residence; particularly back in the victorian era and before, commoners did not own the land -- the owning gentry would allow them to live there in exchange for working the land. – Erich May 9 '15 at 11:46
  • @erich - Certainly there can be more on the estate than just the residence. Some old estates were small towns in themselves. – Hot Licks May 9 '15 at 11:48

Estate is mostly a legal term, having to do with something inherited. As others have suggested, it is often synonymous with property (as in a holding of land), but I don't think the term need be so limited in this particular context. Hot Licks is correct in establishing the fact that context determines whether we can rightly call it a synonym.

Even from before Georgian Era (when Sense and Sensibility was penned) and into the Victorian, land was increasingly held and controlled by the gentry, and often was given through inheritance to other family members. (The author was herself a member of this social class.) Estates typically consisted of large swaths of land, but also including the landowner's residence or manor, a number of apartments or cottages where tenant farmers would rent and live, and often a small village nearby where certain privileged enterprises thrived (such as a mill). All of this would be owned by the estate holder.

In this novel, the death of one such landowner and the disposition of his estate sets the stage for the rest of the book. Indeed, we see not one, but seven uses of the word estate in the first four paragraphs. So Ms. Austen was not simply looking for variation as was also suggested; it is clear she is using the word deliberately, particularly in these two examples in demonstrating a clear link to ownership by inheritance:

Mr. Henry Dashwood, the legal inheritor of the Norland estate

succession to the Norland estate

While property can be used synonymously with estate (especially in having a right to ownership), as exemplified in the second paragraph:

their fortune, independent of what might arise to them from their father's inheriting that property

surrounding context informs us that its usage here refers to a plot of land:

"their residence was at Norland Park, in the centre of their property"

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