Money in Jane Austen

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Abstract

Recent scholars have demonstrated that Jane Austen does not depict a 'bourgeois' world. But the attention paid to socio-economic issues of rank or class in the novels has been accompanied by relatively little specificity about the magnitude and buying power of particular sums, especially incomes. Austen lived a very straitened life in economic terms, and she was, unsurprisingly, hyperconscious of money. Each novel poses economic questions, but the difficulty of determining present-day-equivalent buying power makes it hard to judge the magnitude of the sums involved. While recognizing that 'retail price' and 'average earnings' may diverge as measures of inflation by a factor of more than thirteen, this essay argues that a multiplier somewhere between 100 and 150 produces a generally plausible equivalent today. It also argues that attention to the size and buying power of the specified incomes of Austen's principals underlines their elite status. Bingley's £4000-5000 per annum puts him in the top one-tenth of 1% of the population, and Mr Bennet's £2000 falls in the top one-fifth of 1%. Yet Austen makes clear that Mr Bennet has saved nothing, and will leave his wife and daughters in relatively penury when he dies. Pride and Prejudice can be read as a delightful romance, but properly understood, the romance camouflages a grimly realistic depiction of the dismal position of genteel women in Austen's society.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)289-310
Number of pages22
JournalReview of English Studies
Volume64
Issue number264
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory

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