Yes, this is random. But this way you know it’s really me posting and not some shameless imposter.
I began reading Jane Austen about ten years ago. I’m not entirely sure why it took me so long to discover her works. I’m just glad I did, eventually, wake up.
One of the things that struck me upon my first reading of Pride & Prejudice was the odd but seemingly universal custom of personal income as a topic of public conversation. My parents raised me to believe discussions of income were strictly private. But, if Jane Austen novels are an accurate indicator, there was no such pretense in Regency Britain.
The opening salvo of Pride & Prejudice is predicated on a young man “of good fortune” — in Bingley’s case, “four or five thousand [pounds] a year.” Each subsequent young man or woman who makes an appearance has his/her fortune brought forward with equal familiarity.
I can see the function of this practice in Regency society, but I can’t help but wonder how the information came to be public property. Was there some sort of racing form for the eligible gentleman and ladies of the day? Can you imagine your income preceding you into every room? Every person you meet already knowing the particulars of your net worth? It’s a little creepy.
But naturally, the focus on finance leads to the question that perforated my enjoyment of Austen novels from the first time I read Pride & Prejudice.
Exactly how rich is Mr. Darcy? What is £10,000 a year worth these days?
Thank goodness for the internet and it’s ability to help satisfy my hunger for random and totally useless knowledge. And yours, too, apparently.
Presuming Pride & Prejudice takes place in 1813, the year in which it was published, Mr. Darcy’s £10,000 a year would be valued at about £520,000 pounds today. Or to us Americanos, a mere $816,296 per year.
Just in case it sounds a little chintzy, keep in mind that this is interest income; Darcy doesn’t have to lift a finger because the $20,407,400 he has salted away does all the heavy lifting.
How did I arrive at these numbers? Completely without any attention to the scientific method, economic theory or statistical precision, I assure you. I just looked up the purchasing power of the Pound Sterling in 1813 and converted it’s contemporary value to dollars. Ergo, these calculations are for entertainment purposes only; there are about four million holes in my methodology. Comparing the purchasing power of assets in 1813 to today is next to impossible because of the massive demographic shifts over the last two hundred years.The Industrial Revolution, the end of slavery, the development of global transportation and communications technologies, derail any real comparison.
For example, a servant in Austen’s time was paid between £10 and £20 a year — about $500 in adjusted dollars. Imagine if you were able to hire an obsequious adult to cook, clean, dress you, answer your door, bring you breakfast in bed and take Mr. Darcy’s hat when he comes for tea. All for $500 a year and one day off a month?
Yes, please. I’ll take four.
Sarah S says
So not useless. Very informative. I did something similar when reading the Steig Larsen books set in Sweden. Everything was in Swedish kronor. How much were we talking about here? A mind that doesn’t wonder is hardly a mind at all.
That was extremely useful, dear Sister, particularly since I was just enjoying my Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle version today. (It was a rather large pile of laundry.) As always, love you, yours and your blog.
Here’s another comparison … I had the privilege last week of holding some original documents of our ancestors. First, Ellen Albright, who died in 1905. Her Will settles her estate, providing equal shares to her six siblings who each received $46.65!
Second, there was George Hoyer whose Last Will & Testament was handwritten — in German — in 1790. (Yes! They let me handle, and photocopy, the original!) Items from his estate inventory included “one brass kettle” (valued at £1.5), “one kitchen dresser” (£1), “two iron pots & one cake plate” (£.13). Amazing!