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.
TYPICAL ANNUAL INCOMES FOR THE VICTORIAN AGE
Wealthiest aristocrats £30,000
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