Reading Jane Austen's books really made me wonder how people used to make a living in the 19th century England.
It seems to me that the men didn't have to go to work. Mr. Bingley (from Pride and Prejudice) who is said to have four or five thousand pounds a year, considered very rich, spent considerable amount of time (few months a year) doing nothing except dancing and making acquaintances.
The Dashwoods family (from Sense and Sensibility) after the death of Henry Dashwood (the father) lived on an income of five hundred pounds a year, which was said to be a tight budget and yet were still able to have a few servants.
BTW, I did a little conversion to find out how much the money back then is worth today. (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/c...esults.asp#mid )
Mr. Darcy £10,000 / year = £339,600.00
Mr. Bingley £4000 / year = £135,840.00
The Dashwoods £500 / year = £16,980.00
I could hardly see how I could afford to have a servant with the Dashwoods' income today.
Last edited by bhaisahab; 29-Oct-2009 at 13:42.
Also, you are reading about the gentry, the land-owning society. Essentially, they are something like business owners, and would only to to "do business" every other day or so.
Dickens said "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery." £10,000 would have been a lot if £20 can be used as an example of an annual salary over three decades later.
Thanks a lot! It makes sense.
For those who are interested, I found some further reading on this site:
Understanding the society in which Jane Austen sets Pride and Prejudice http://www.jasa.net.au/study/indivsoc.htm
This is a really helpful site to find out equivalent values: Take a break | Currency converter | Old money to new
Until towards the end of the 19th century, money acquired through trade was regarded as "unclean" - though many landowners did in fact invest their money in industrial developments. In Austen's own circle landowning was the most respectable source of large income, but one has to be aware of the way in which the agricultural markets of the day fluctuated with good or bad harvests. Maintaining a large estate with tenant farmers in a market that was seeing massive falls was always a struggle.
A servant received all his or her keep [food and lodging] plus often clothing [uniform or similar] as well as a small monetary sum. They did not of course pay any tax. Until the mid-20th century most middle and lower middle class houses had at least one live-in servant, and probably two or three who came in by the hour to do heavy work.