Friday, 17 February 2017
EARNINGS, MONEY AND WEALTH IN JANE AUSTEN'S TIME
By the end of Jane Austen’s life, on £400 a year a family could employ two maidservants, one horse and a groom. £400 a year is about what Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters have. On £700 a family could keep one man, three maidservants, and two horses. That is approximately what Elinor and Edward marry on. With £1,000 a year, a family could blossom out into an establishment of three female servants, a coachman and footman, a chariot or coach, phaeton or other four-wheeled carriage, and a pair of horses. On £5,000 a year the establishment grew to about thirteen male and nine female servants, ten horses, a coach, curricle and a chaise or gig. Mr. Bingley had up to £6,000 a year. The Darcys, of course, had £10,000 a year.
As to wages, a young maidservant might expect from £5 to £11 a year (perhaps a little more in very wealthy households). The wages were actually expressed in guineas - a guinea being 105% of a pound sterling.
Other typical annual salaries were £24 for a housekeeper, £30 for a governess, £50 for a butler and £9 for a scullion.
Jane Austen knows money is important but she disapproves of anyone obsessed by it. The rich should behave generously and without airs. People should not seek (as Wickham and Mr. Elliot do) to marry only for money. In Willoughby, such motivation is soundly punished.
Jane's heroines do not have a mercenary thought. Not one thinks of marrying for anything but love – not even the future Mrs. Darcy, even though she reflects that 'to be mistress of Pemberley might be something'! Marriage that happened to bring money was fair enough; but only if it was founded on love. Jane herself turned down an opportunity of marrying the heir to an estate – Harris Bigg Wither – because she did not truly love him.