Below is a conversion table for Austen’s novels adapted from James Heldman’s “How Wealthy is Mr. Darcy – Really?” from Persuasions 12 (Dec. 1990) 38-49.  The table and the information that accompanies it is based on the assumption that one pound in 1810 was equivalent to $33.13 1980 U.S dollars.     These figures, however, are somewhat misleading: they don’t take into account different standards of living, different pricing and availability of consumer goods, and different consumption habits.

 

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[1]                                                                        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

Emma’s inheritance                                                                         30,000             993,900

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

 

Persuasion

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

 

 

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

 

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

 



[1] Mr. Darcy’s income was at least 300 times the per capita income in his day.  In 1790, twenty years before the setting of Pride & Prejudice, there were only 400 families among the landed gentry in England whose incomes fell within that range, a range from £5,000 to £50,000 a year.