What Exactly Was Isabella’s Big Complaint?


One of the hardest parts, besides the language used, in reading Jane Austen is figuring out the money portion of the books.  What exactly was considered a good living in her days.  Look at the conversion chart below.  This is not my creation.  It was found on http://www.stanford.edu/~steener/su02/english132/conversions.htm.  Please note, with regards to Northanger Abbey, that Mr. Morland’s offer of 400 a year is not out of the question.  It may not have been what Isabella was expecting but it was acceptable.

THE NOVELS         £1810              $1988

Sense & Sensibility

John Dashwood’s income         6,000               198,000

Willoughby’s income after marriage     3,100               103,000

Mrs. Dashwood’s and her daughters’ income  per year  500                 16,565

Delaord living (Brandon to Edward)  200                   6,626

Edward and Elinor Ferrar’s income  850                 28,000

Colonel Brandon and Marianne’s income    2,000                 66,260

Pride & Prejudice

Mr. Darcy’s income  10,000             331,300

Mr. Bingley’s income  5,000             165,650

Georgina Darcy’s inheritance     30,000             993,900

Wickham’s inheritance from Mr. Darcy  1,000                 33,000

What Darcy pays Wickham to give up claim to living    3,000                 99,390

Mr. Bennet’s income   2,000               66,260

Annual cost of Mr. Bennet’s daughters (total)   500               16,565


Emma’s inheritance  30,000             993,900

Mrs. Elton’s fortune  10,000             331,300


Sir Walter Elliot’s fortune (for inheritance by his daughters)     10,000             331,300

Wentworth’s fortune    25,000             828,250

Anne and Wentworth’s potential fortune    28,300             938,000

I found this section extremely interesting:

Here are some biographical figures to help contextualize your understanding of monetary equivalences:


  • Jane Austen earned a total of £684.13s from the four of her novels that were published in her lifetime – a little over $22,500.
  • She earned around £140 for Sense & Sensibility.
  • When they moved to Chawton cottage, Jane, her mother and Cassandra had £460 a year — slightly over $15,000 – which was fifteen times the per capital income.  Since they lived rent-free, this income made them comfortably middle class.
  • In 1808, James’s income from the Steventon living was £1100 – about $36,000.  With this income, he could afford to keep three horses.
  • The retail price for the first edition of Pride & Prejudice was 18s. – approximately $29.70 (1980). 

Finally, here’s a list of Typical Annual Incomes for the Victorian age – although there was some inflation between the Victorian period (post-1837) and the early nineteenth century when Austen was publishing, this will give you a sense of average incomes.  This table is adapted from Sally Mitchell, Daily Life in Victorian England (Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1996) 33-34.


Wealthiest aristocrats  £30,000

Other aristocrats

Wealthy merchants, bankers, and manufacturers   £10,000

Smallest landed gentry, some clergymen, physicians, barristers, businessmen £1,000-2,000

Most of the middle class:

doctors, barristers, solicitors, civil servants, senior clerks  £300-800

Lower middle class:

clerks, head teachers, journalists, shopkeepers, highly skilled mechanics and artisans  £150-300

Skilled workers, including cabinetmakers, typesetters, carpenters, locomotive drivers, senior dressmakers   £75-100

Average earnings for semiskilled working men and for skilled women in factories and shops   £50-75

Seamen, navvies, longshoremen, some domestic servants   £45

Farm laborers, soldiers, typists    £25

Lowest ranked shop assistants, domestic servants, needleworkers      £12-20


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