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Inquiring readers, Over a week ago, Chris wrote a post about her blog and her personal journey in pursuing a course of study about Jane Austen, her novels, and the time she lived in. This is her second post about her year-long project.

Over here at ‘Embarking on a Course of Study,‘ I’ve been hard at work on the project. Having finished Sense and Sensibility, I asked people to weigh in on who they felt they were most like, Marianne or Elinor, and who they would like to have as a friend. The results so far are overwhelmingly in Marianne’s favor. If you haven’t posted your comment/vote, please do! I’d love to hear from you.

I’ve begun Mansfield Park again and have re-encountered, as I expected, another heroine I don’t much like (my other has always been Emma – I love her spunk, but she does too much damage). I forgot how dull Fanny is. Not that I think Mary Crawford is as fantastic as Lizzie Bennet, with whom I’ve read her compared. Mary is manipulative and racy. I enjoy how she pushes the limits, but not much more. The dynamics among the characters are the most fascinating for me, as are Austen’s insights and writing, of course.

I’ve been reading the Jane Austen Cookbook as well, to decide on something to contribute to my family’s Thanksgiving dinner, and have settled on Little Iced Cakes. As you’ll read in my blog, I had to choose something family would actually eat. I do want to make Things With Fun Names like ‘trifle’ and ‘syllabub’ at some point. I was tempted to go for something really foreign to us these days, like the ‘forcemeat balls,’ which would require the purchase (or capture?) of 2-3 pigeons, but just couldn’t wrap my brain around the concept of eating what struts around the streets of Baltimore on a daily basis. If you’d like to join me in the making of this dessert, the recipe is on my blog, along with a link to other recipes from the Jane Austen Cookbook.

If you’re in New York City any time before March 14th, there’s a wonderful new exhibit at The Morgan Library: A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy. Comprised of letters, drawings, films, and lectures, it promises to thrill the Austen lover. If you’d like to see the 15 minute documentary film entitled The Divine Jane, which “examines the influence of Austen’s fiction—and her enduring fame— through interviews with leading writers, scholars, and actors,” go to my blog.

Next week, I’ll post notes from my meeting with Professor Robin Bates at St. Mary’s College in St. Mary’s City, Maryland, who has been teaching a class on Austen for years, asking his students to read the books and poems mentioned in her novels, similar to my plan. I will also update you on my efforts to arrange an English Country Dancing class with an instructor from the Baltimore Folk Music Society. I have 8 ladies interested and am working on the venue. We’re all tremendously excited about learning some dances.

For those of you in the US, Happy Thanksgiving!

Chris Stewart

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“But there certainly are not so many men of large fortune in the world as there are pretty women to deserve them.”

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen has always had its admirers. I must admit, I am liking the novel more and more. Seen across the ether, are some interesting sites and posts:

  • Mansfield Park by Chris Dornan is a brand new blog. You might also check out his other blog, Peace and Wisdom, in which he writes about Jane’s novels, politics, and Buddhism. Recently his thoughts have turned mostly to Jane.
  • A Reading of Mansfield Park is a compilation of Ellen Moody’s comments about the novel on two listservs and certainly worth a visit.
  • Pemberley Image Gallery offers two graphics of Mansfield Park for its discussion board. One is rather sedate; the other, which sits on page two, is rather out there. Both images represent how people feel about this novel – either you love it or hate it.
  • I’m a little late reading this review of Mansfield Park 2007 on Flick Filosopher. In it the critic likens Fanny Price to a Mary Sue, and she seems to assume that the the film’s portrayal of Fanny is accurate.

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You can download a podcast of Jonathan Bing’s audio interview with Joe Wright, director of Pride and Prejudice 2005, and Donald Sutherland, who played Mr. Bennet (left). Or you can click on the link and simply listen to it from your computer. This podcast is part of the LA Variety Screening Series of 2005.

As an interesting aside, Annie Coleman, a reader for Librivox, offers her recording of Pride and Prejudice on her website. Click here to listen to the book or to download the podcasts, which are free. You can also listen to her other podcasts, such as Anne of Green Gables and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Joe Wright and Keira Knightley

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Our blogs are gearing up in anticipation of PBS’s airing of Emma two weeks from now.

Laurel Ann wrote a wonderful post on Austenprose about Jane Austen, Stella Gibbons, and Kate Beckinsale . Kate fans know that one of her major movie roles early in her career was as Flora Poste in Cold Comfort Farm. In fact, Flora was Emma’s equal in setting herself up as a matchmaker and putting peoples’ lives to right, and the very young Kate played that part to perfection.

Jane Austen Today published two Emma posts this weekend: one about the darkly handsome Mark Strong, who played Mr. Knightley, and the other on Andrew Davies’ role in writing the script for the A&E version of Emma.

For those who can’t wait to see this movie, which came out just after the theatrical release of Emma directed by Diarmuid Lawrence, you can purchase the DVD at WGBH Shop.

  • Learn more particulars about Emma on IMDb.

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Today, Jane Austen is more popular than ever. Books, movie adaptations, sequels, and audio tapes are flooding the market. Her name is instantly recognizable, and her brand is HOT! Why not translate such fame into political glory?

republic-of-pemberley-flag-and-girl.jpg
Image, Regency Fashions, The Republic of Pemberley

Laurie Viera Rigler, the author of the current bestseller, The Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, has been writing a series of informative posts about Jane Austen’s life and novels in conjunction with PBS’s Total Jane Austen. During a recent talk at Whittier Library in California, she discussed the idea of electing Jane Austen for President. According to her, Jane has character, experience, and courage. Her reasoning seems good enough for me:

If we go by the assumption that there is a little bit of the author in each of her characters—well, at least in each of the characters she likes—than who can lead the country better than someone who has the wit and intelligence of Elizabeth Bennet, the diplomacy of Anne Eliot, the prudence and strength of Elinor Dashwood, and the stay-the-course steadfastness of Fanny Price?

To read more of Laurie’s interesting political take, click here. Thank you Laurie, for giving me an alternative candidate. I was straddling the fence until you mentioned Jane.

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Google books is simply an amazing online library resource. Since Google began to scan and digitize the books that sit in the world’s great libraries (at Harvard, Yale, and the University of Virginia, for example), authors, book sellers, and book publishers have been up in arms. Until the legalities are resolved, we can take advantage of the convenience of finding books that are often not in the public domain from the comfort of our homes. Unless they are entirely free of copyright infringement, most of the books that you can access through Google book search are partially complete. One can still glean an enormous amount of information in those partial books, however. Obscure authors of out-of-print books seem to be less incensed by this practice than their publishing houses, since their words are once again seeing the light of day and being READ. (Click on the links below to read more details about the controversy.)

One of my favorite finds is the Illustrated Jane Austen, a compilation of Jane’s six great books and two additional minor works. I have been reading Emma and Sense and Sensibility in anticipation of the last two airings of The Complete Jane Austen on PBS. You can imagine how delighted I was to view the illustrations by Hugh Thomson in this digitized book.

  • Click here to read Google’s rationalization for scanning the world’s books
  • And here is an assessment of the situation from Law.com
  • Click here to read my other post about Hugh Thomson

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Estimating lace and muslin: dress and fashion in Jane Austen and her world, by Jeffrey A. Nigro is a fabulous article about fashion in Jane’s day. This conference paper was published in Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal in 2001. Some of Mr. Nigro’s observations include:

Convenience was another reason for the increasing simplicity in dress beginning in the 1780s. Dry cleaning was not invented until the middle of the nineteenth century, and did not become commonplace until the twentieth. In Austen’s time, a silk dress that got dirty was essentially ruined. The fabrics that started to become fashionable from the 1780s onward (muslin and other cotton fabrics, linen, lawn) were much easier to care for, which was part of their appeal. Nevertheless, given the absence of modern appliances, the care and maintenance of clothing still meant much work for the servants in upper- and middle-class households.

Outerwear garments included the spencer, a long-sleeved jacket that extended only to the raised waistline. Worn by both men and women, it was named for the 2nd Earl Spencer, who, according to one version of the story, cut off the coattails of his jacket after wagering that he could invent a new fashion. For colder weather, there was the pelisse, a skirt-length overcoat, often lined and trimmed with fur, which originated in Hungary as a part of military dress. Bonnets became fashionable, essentially smaller versions of the straw hats of the 1780s, but now pulled in to frame the face. Bonnets, like shawls, would become staples of feminine dress until at least the middle of the nineteenth century.

Click here for more links about fashion:

* Jane Austen Pellise coat

* A Quilted Regency Spencer Jacket

* The Spencer Jacket

* The Importance of Wearing White, Jane Austen Centre Magazine

* Kyoto Costume Institute

* Bonnets, Caps, Turbans, and Hats

Images:

Muslin dress, Vintage Textile (top)
Jane Austen’s Pellisse Coat (middle)
Kyoto Costume Institute, Spencer Jacket (bottom)

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    Jane Austen Sequels, written by Jane Odiwe, has recently been featuring a series of posts on Regency Brighton, including Brighton Encampments, Donkey Riding and Sea Bathing in Brighton, Stopping for Refreshment (on a coach from London to Brighton), and Brighton Entertainments. Jane also paints lovely watercolors and sells her images, cards, and books, such as her recently published Lydia Bennet’s Journal, on Austen Effusions. Jane has begun a third blog, which will discuss all things Austen and the Regency world. I become quite dizzy when I think of all her activities!

    Image of Refreshments at a Coaching Inn from Jane Austen Sequels

    Michelle Ann Young from Regency Ramble has just completed a series of posts on Bath. Michelle Ann frequently describes the flora and fauna of the era, and fashions of the season. She is also promoting her most recent novel, No Regrets.

    Visit Jane Austen Addict.com to read Laurie Viera Rigler’s posts about PBS Masterpiece Classic’s The Complete Jane Austen series. Laurie, author of The Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, described a JASNA ball she attended in 2004. This photo shows her with her own Mr. Darcy, and looking beautiful in her red regency gown. Such fun! Also, don’t miss her posts about Mansfield Park and Pride and Prejudice. In addition, she oversees a forum on her website, and is writing a sequel to her best-selling novel. My, my, Laurie, you have been busy!

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    Genealogy and census records record the life in 19th century England in remarkable detail. Take Appleby, for example, a village in Leicestershire which has been occupied since the iron age. The 1841 census provides a complete record of how the inhabitants of this small village made their living at that precise time, including farmers, tradesmen, drapers and dressmakers, people in domestic service, and professional people. Descriptions for each group follow a similar pattern to this one for skilled workers:

    There was always a demand for skilled workers in the agricultural world and this is reflected in the large number of craftsmen supporting the farming community.Many were concerned with horses, the main means of providing power and transport.The particular men performing jobs which required skills relating to the agricultural world were:

    • 5 blacksmiths – shoeing horses and making wrought iron products for farm and home
    • 2 farriers – shoeing smiths also acting as horse doctors
    • 1 harness maker
    • 2 wheelwrights – making carts, wheels with their iron tyres (often fitted by the blacksmith)
    • 2 gamekeepers – looking after the squire’s game
    • 1 gardener employed in the new hall grounds
    Parish of Gorleston

    An inventory of goods during the 18th century recorded the possessions of established and prosperous middling farmers in such precise detail as: In ye dairy & kittchin, potts, kettles, one Copper, Barrills & tubes, In ye Chamber over ye house, one bed & Beding, Curtaines, chairs & table, In ye Chamber over ye dairy, 2 beds & beding, 2 bolsters & linnin, etc. I would imagine that history students and authors of history and historical romances would find such authentic descriptions invaluable in their research.

    The extract for Appleby in 1835 states that “letters arrive every morning at half-past ten, and are despatched every afternoon at three”, and that James Hatton was the Post Master. These details make history come alive again. Amazingly, records on almost every parish in England still exist. I’ve listed a few more below:

     

    Raunheim, Sleeping Kitchen Maid, 1850, Wikimedia Commons
    St. Michael’s Church, Appleby (Upper image)


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    Illustration from Modes et Manieres Du Jour, 1798 – 1808

    I have changed my mind, & changed the trimmings on my Cap this morning, they are now much as you suggested, – I felt as if I should not prosper if I strayed from your directions, & I think it makes me look more like Lady Conyngham now than it did before, which is all that one lives for now. Jane Austen to Cassandra, December 18-19, 1798

    Women during the Regency period wore headdresses outdoors as a matter of course. When a woman married, or if she was a spinster in her late twenties, she would also take to wearing a cap indoors. This image from Wikipedia shows Mme. Seriziat wearing a bergere, or shepherdess-style straw bonnet over a cap, as was the custom back then. When her child was a baby, he might have worn a simple bonnet, as infants still do today.

    Aside from sheltering delicate skin from the sun or hair from the elements, or protecting one’s head in drafty rooms, headdresses took on many other functions. They denoted class and economic status, as well as fashion sense and one’s marital state. Hats were also worn as a sign of respect, inside a church, for instance, and this custom remained widely popular until well into the 20th-century.

    Lace caps, mob caps, or draped caps, were made of lace, white linen or delicate muslin, and trimmed with ribbon. They could be ruffled, embroidered, or plain, depending on who wore them and their status. A housekeeper, for example, would wear a more elaborate cap than a scullery maid, whose mob cap was simple by comparison. In Pride and Prejudice 1995, Mrs. Bennet wore such frilly caps with so many ruffles and trimmings that they complimented her image as a silly woman. One can imagine how much fancier her caps were than her maid’s!

    Trimming and redecorating old bonnets provided a topic of conversation for women of all ages and social strata. In her novels and letters, Jane Austen frequently mentioned trimming new hats and making over old bonnets as a female activity. According to Penelope Byrde in A Frivolous Distinction, it was quite the fad during the last decade of the 18th century to adorn hats and bonnets with artificial fruits and flowers. As Jane Austen wrote Cassandra in June, 1799 (tongue in cheek we suspect):

    Flowers are very much worn, & Fruit is still more the thing – Eliz: has a bunch of Strawberries, & I have seen Grapes, Cherries, Plumbs & Apricots – There are likewise Almonds& raisins, french plums & Tamarinds at the Grocers, but I have never seen any of them in hats.

    In addition to professional milliners and modistes, there was quite a large cottage industry for making caps, hats, and turbans from home, which provided a meager salary for women who needed the income. The materials used in making headdresses were as varied as their styles: straw (chip or strip), beaver, velvet, silk, crape, satin, muslin or cloth (Byrde, p 6). Trims included ribbons, the above mentioned artificial fruits and flowers, veils, net, lace, or feathers, and even beads, pins, and brooches.

    For a more detailed explanation of the headdresses worn during this era and to view additional illustrations, please click on the following links.

    • Hats and Bonnets, Victoriana: Scroll to the bottom of this page to see illustrations from 1811 and 1812.
    • Fileblogs, Regency Caps, Linore Rose Burkhart: Linore describes the various hat styles in this link, along with materials and trims.

    For people interested in ordering their own Regency caps, or in trying their hand at making a bonnet, the following links will lead you to patterns, suppliers, and resources:

    • Louise MacDonald Millinery (link suggested by Laurel Ann, see above image). Louise created the caps for Pride & Prejudice 1995, and describes making them for the movie.

    Byrde, Penelope, A Frivolous Distinction: Fashion and Needlework in the works of Jane Austen, Bath City Council, 1979.

    Four Hundred Years of Fashion, Victoria and Albert Museum, edited by Natalie Rothstein, V&A Publications, 1984.

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    Rowlandson illustration from Wikipedia

    ‘What a charming amusement for young people this is, Mr. Darcy! There is nothing like dancing, after all. I consider it as one of the first refinements of polished societies.’

    ‘Certainly, sir; and it has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world; every savage can dance.’

    Sir William only smiled. ‘Your friend performs delightfully,’ he continued, after a pause, on seeing Bingley join the group; ‘and I doubt not that you are an adept in the science yourself, Mr. Darcy.’

    ‘You saw me dance at Meryton, I believe, sir.’

    ‘Yes, indeed, and received no inconsiderable pleasure from the sight.
    - Conversation between Sir William Lucas and Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice, Chapter VI.

    Dances figure prominently in Jane Austen’s novels. Whether performed in public assembly rooms in Meryton or in private at the Netherfield Ball, dances offered social opportunities for young people to mix and mingle and converse in an acceptable fashion. In an era when a young lady of good breeding was strictly chaperoned and escorted everywhere she went, she would find it difficult during a routine day to meet privately with a single gentleman, even one who was courting her. Indeed, such conduct was strictly forbidden (and the reason why Marianne Dashwood’s behavior with Willoughby was considered shockingly forward). The ballroom, however, afforded a social situation in which a couple could arrange to be together for one or two sets. Since a dance would often last for half an hour, the dancers had ample time to converse, flirt, and even touch one another in an accepted manner.

    A gentleman would, of course, never ask a young lady to dance unless he was first introduced to her. This is one of the reasons why Henry Tilney made sure to arrange a formal introduction to Catherine Morland and Mrs. Allen through the Master of Ceremonies.

    During this era people were often judged for their ability to dance skillfully, and a gentleman was pressured to cut a fine figure on the dance floor. In his advice to his son about manners and deportment, Lord Chesterfield wrote: “Now to acquire a graceful air, you must attend to your dancing; no one can either sit, stand or walk well, unless he dances well. And in learning to dance, be particularly attentive to the motion of your arms for a stiffness in the wrist will make any man look awkward. If a man walks well, presents himself well in company, wears his hat well, moves his head properly, and his arms gracefully, it is almost all that is necessary.”

    It is notable that Mr.Collins movements are awkward, and that his conduct on the dance floor mortifies Lizzy: “The first two dances, however, brought a return of distress; they were dances of mortification. Mr Collins, awkward and solemn, apologising instead of attending, and often moving wrong without being aware of it, gave her all the shame and misery which a disagreeable partner for a couple of dances can give. The moment of her release from him was exstasy.” (Pride and Prejudice) Mr. Collins’ ineptness as a dancer would have been immediately understood by the contemporary reader to mean that he was not a polished gentleman. To compound his lack of manners, he boldly walks up to Mr. Darcy to introduce himself.

    Young ladies and gentlemen practiced their dancing steps, belying Mr. Darcy’s assertion that “every savage can dance.” Professional dancing masters were employed to ensure that a young lady and gentleman learned the steps to a variety of intricate dance movements. Such instruction also helped a young gentleman to keep his bearing upright. Lord Chesterfield wrote his son, who was taking The Grand Tour, “Remember to take the best dancing-master at Berlin, more to teach you to sit, stand, and walk gracefully, than to dance finely. The Graces, the Graces; remember the Graces! Adieu!” Learning the steps was easier said than done, since “between 1730-1830 over twenty-seven thousand country dances with their tunes were published in England alone.” Thankfully, the Master of Ceremonies would choose only a certain number of dances to be performed for the evening, most likely consisting of the most fashionable dances of that particular year.* (Thompson, The Felicities of Rapid Motion)

    The most important lady present would open the ball by dancing the first set, as Elizabeth Elliot did as the eldest daughter. Emma Woodhouse would have also been given the honors. Mr. Darcy’s rank and friendship with Mr. Bingley most likely put his position at the top of the line of dancers. Thus, when he asks Elizabeth to dance at the Netherfield Ball they would figure prominently in the line of dancers. The other couples in a country dance set would follow the lead of the top couple, and progressively work their way down the line. Sets of five to eight couples were popular during this period, with partners standing opposite each other as the other couples completed a sequence of movements

    Standing and facing each other in line, therefore, was typical for couples engaged in a country dance. However, they were expected to make some conversation as they waited for the next movement. A gentleman, if he applied himself, could skillfully lead the conversation and put a young lady at ease, or pretend to be interested in any topic she brought up. Mr. Darcy chose to remain silent.

    They stood for some time without speaking a word; and she began to imagine that their silence was to last through the two dances, and at first was resolved not to break it; till suddenly fancying that it would be the greater punishment to her partner to oblige him to talk, she made some slight observation on the dance. He replied, and was again silent. After a pause of some minutes, she addressed him a second time with:

    “It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy. — I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some kind of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples.”

    He smiled, and assured her that whatever she wished him to say should be said.

    “Very well. — That reply will do for the present. — Perhaps by and by I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones. — But now we may be silent.”

    “Do you talk by rule then, while you are dancing?”

    “Sometimes. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to be entirely silent for half an hour together, and yet for the advantage of some, conversation ought to be so arranged as that they may have the trouble of saying as little as as possible.” – Pride & Prejudice, Volume 1, Chapter 18

    In a public assembly, where people paid a fee to attend, people from various walks of life would come in contact with one another. “Aristocrats would interact with gentry, tradespeople, or even servants who were called in to make up a set if there were not enough couples…” (Sullivan, p 168). Mr. Darcy chose to dance only with Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley at the public assembly rooms in Meryton, thereby displeasing a wide variety of people, particularly Mrs. Bennet, who was vocal about her displeasure, for there was a scarcity of gentlemen and Lizzy had been forced to sit out two dances. For her part, once a lady refused a gentleman, she was honor bound to pass on other invitations to dance for the rest of the evening.

    Private balls became more popular towards the end of the century, when many grand houses began to boast their own ballrooms. At private affairs, the host and hostess could invite the ‘right’ sort of people. These balls were not only more selective, but they provided music played by more professional musicians, and offered delicious and elaborate refreshments as well.

    Illustration from The English Folk Dance and Song Society

    Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot is the music featured at the Netherfield Ball in Pride and Prejudice 1995 (You can listen to it by clicking on the YouTube video above). The piece was written by Johan Playford in 1695, and published in Playford’s Dancing Master, a country dance guidebook. Maggot in those days meant “favorite,” and the term probably was used in conjunction with a favorite dance. “Today there are two modern versions of the dance – one published by Pat Shaw and one by Cecil Sharp. Shaw’s version of Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot is generally accepted to be the most authentic since it follows the AAB structure of the music, and Playford clearly states that the second, or B, line of music should be ‘played but once’.”

    Links and Resources:

    Festival Ball Tickets for September 27, 2008 are now on sale at The Jane Austen Centre, Bath. Tickets this year are £65. To purchase tickets and for further information on the ball and dance workshop taking place in the afternoon of the ball, contact Farthingales or call 44 (0)1225 471919

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    A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls! - Mrs. Bennet on Mr. Bingley’s income, Pride and Prejudice, Volume One, Chapter One

    One of the hardest concepts for today’s readers to grasp in Jane Austen’s novels are the economic realities of the times. What do her numbers mean in modern terms? What was the standard of living during the regency era? When Olivia Williams as Jane Austen blurted to her brother Henry in Miss Austen Regrets, “Sense and Sensibility has brought me £140. May I not be proud of that?” – how can we translate that sentence so that it would hold some meaning for us?

    A currency converter provided by the National Archives in the U.K. provides a rough idea of what these 1810 figures mean. Further clarification from experts will round out our understanding. Please keep in mind that the sums in the third column of the chart are merely approximations. At this precise time U.S. citizens should multiply these figures by two to derive a dollar amount. I am not an expert, and I will leave more detailed explanations to economists like Brad de Long.

    To put some of these sums into perspective, the average annual income for an English laborer or farmer in 1800 was around 15-20 pounds. To live comfortably, an English gentleman like Mr. Bennet, would require around 300 pounds per year per individual, or over fifteen times the amount for a working man who supported his family. As you can see from the figures, as long as Mr. Bennet lived, his family was comfortably off. But the situation would change drastically the moment he died. After that unhappy event, Mrs. Bennet would be expected to live off the 4% interest of her £5,000 marriage settlement, or £200 per year. No wonder she became shrill every time she thought of her unmarried daughters, for Mr. Bennet’s entire yearly £2,000 income and his house were entailed to Mr. Collins. After Mrs. Bennet’s death, Lizzy would receive just 1/5 of her mother’s marriage portion, and she would bring to her marriage only 40 pounds per year.

    Today it is hard to accurately determine the spending power of these sums (see the different estimates of Mr. Bingley’s income in the example below). Factors that influence spending power are war, inflation, cost of goods, housing and the geographic area in which the dwellings were located. In any event, Mr. Darcy’s and Mr. Bingley’s incomes would still be regarded as exceedingly fine. In fact, Mr. Darcy’s 10,000 per year represents only 4% interest of his vast fortune. And Mr. Bingley, though he receives only 4,000 per year, inherited almost 3.4 million pounds from his tradesman father in today’s terms.

    …the income would normally come from agricultural profits on land or from other property and investments (in Bingley’s case it turns out the be the latter). It is not easy to translate incomes of the time into today’s money. By some calculations, the effects of inflation mean that a pound in Jane Austen’s time has the same value as almost forty pounds today; if so, Bingley’s income would be the equivalent of 150,000 to 200,000 a year in today’s pounds (or around $250,000-$300,000 in current U.S. money). Altered economic condition, however, make estimates like this tricky: for example, goods tended to be much dearer at that time, in relative terms, while labor tended to be much cheaper. In addition, average incomes in this period, even when adjusted for inflation, were much lower than today, so Bingley’s income represents a far sharper deviation from the prevailing norm than its current equivalent would be.” – Shapard, Annotated Pride and Prejudice, P 5

    One can now understand why in Sense and Sensibility Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters were forced to economize. When John Dashwood, under his wife’s influence, reneged on his promise to his dying father to contribute substantial sums of money to his step family, the women were forced to live on 500 pounds per year. This paltry sum would have barely covered their living expenses had it not been for Sir John Middleton’s generosity in inviting his cousin to live in a cottage on his estate.

    Like the Dashwood women, Jane Austen, her mother, and sister also experienced chronic money worry. However, through the sale of her books Jane was able to earn a much needed supplemental income. While the £140 she earned from the sales of Sense and Sensibility does not sound like much, it represents close to $9,800 in today’s U.S. sums. In fact, the proceeds from the sale of her four books netted her over 23,000 pounds or around 46,000 dollars towards the end of her life. After her brother Henry’s financial reversals, this money must have been a welcome boon indeed.

    Now that you’ve gained some understanding of what these sums of money mean, please read the following statement made by Mrs. Bennet in Volume 3 of Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 17:

    Dear, dear Lizzy. A house in town! Every thing that is charming! Three daughters married! Ten thousand a year! Oh, Lord! What will become of me. I shall go distracted.

    How much does ten thousand a year in 1810 represent?
    a) £339, 600
    b) $680,000
    c) A princely sum
    d) In relative terms, all of the above

    Georgianna Darcy’s marriage portion is 30,000. How much annual income would this sum derive?

    a) £3,000
    b) £12,000
    c) £1,200
    d) £120
    Sources and resources:

    • Shapard, David M., The Annotated Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen, Anchor Books, 2004
    *References, Acknowledgements, Links, and Abbreviations, For the Male Voices Web Site
    **Literary Study Tour: Jane Austen, 1998
    ***Ian Littlewood, Jane Austen: A Critical Assessment, p 205, 1998

    Addendum:

    To learn more about the ‘Cost of Living in Jane Austen’s England: Vulgar Economy’, click here . This article from the Jane Austen Centre goes into further detail about the Mrs. and Misses Dashwoods’ economic situation.

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