anghraine: from the 2005 p&p: darcy standing at a piano while georgiana plays it (Default)
[personal profile] anghraine
[reposted from wordpress]

I would like to respectfully observe that the Bennets are not poor. Elizabeth’s dowry is a pittance, yes, but the family’s income is good. It is very good. (Oh, and Darcy’s sense of superiority has nothing to do with money. He never mentions it. Not once.)

Austen tells us that Mr Bennet’s property consists almost wholly of the Longbourn estate, which is worth two thousand a-year (the same, incidentally, as Colonel Brandon’s Delaford). Pemberley itself used to be worth ten thousand a-year (when the late Mr Wickham was steward, anyway - he died five years before the novel opens), and we can assume, I think, that Darcy has not squandered his money. Bingley’s fortune is a lump sum of not quite one hundred thousand pounds, which — depending on how it’s invested — comes out to four or five thousand a-year. The heiresses’ fortunes range from thirty thousand pounds (Georgiana Darcy), to twenty (Caroline Bingley), ten (Mary King), and one (the Miss Bennets).

Let’s give these numbers a little context*. The traditional upper class, those living on inherited income from land, could roughly be divided into two groups: great landowners, or aristocrats, and lesser landowners, or gentry.

Great landowners had at least five thousand a-year, a house in town, a manor-house, and something in the area of ten thousand acres. Only Lady Catherine and her nephew seem to fit this category. Bingley’s fortune might be enough, but he lacks the other three altogether. I suspect that such comparatively small fry as the Bingleys would exist on the fringes of fashionable society were it not for Charles Bingley’s friendship with Darcy — and it adds a new dimension to Caroline’s determination to tie the families together as closely as possible, as well as her determination to retain the right of visiting at Pemberley, after Darcy has married Elizabeth. (Most Pride and Prejudice sequels prefer to ignore this evidence of her sanity pragmatism, in order to turn her into a psychotic stalker-villainness threatening the Darcys’ happiness.)

Lesser landowners could be further divided into three groups: wealthy gentry (three thousand to five thousand a-year), squires (one thousand to three thousand a-year), and gentlemen (five hundred to one thousand a-year). The Bingleys (Mr & Mrs) will, I think, settle comfortably into the wealthy gentry, though obviously the line between wealthy gentry and aristocrats is a fine one (we can see John & Fanny Dashwood trying to make the transition in Sense & Sensibility). The Bennets are squarely in the middle. While certainly not rich, they are very comfortably off; the great looming dilemma is, of course, The Entailment (DUM DA DUM!).

Just incidentally, the average income of the great landowners? Ten thousand a-year. Perhaps the reason that Darcy doesn’t make a fuss over his comparatively enormous income is that he doesn’t actually think of himself as rich.

Well, and it’s hopelessly vulgar.


*Stats, such as they are, taken from Mingay’s English Landed Society in the Eighteenth Century. I think the eighteenth-century numbers are much more relevant to the world of S&S, NA, and P&P than the nineteenth, thanks to wartime inflation.


anghraine: from the 2005 p&p: darcy standing at a piano while georgiana plays it (Default)

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