The Fortunes of Jane Austen’s Characters

When I read a Jane Austen novel (and you should know by now that’s quite a lot!) sometimes I get lost with what everyone’s “fortunes” are. How much is £10,000 exactly? Should I be impressed? If you feel the same, stick around. I’ve done the math for you. (We’re in this together, you and me.)

Let’s start off with a reference chart so we know where we’re coming from.

Quick reference (rounded down):
£100 = $12k today.
£500 = $60k today.
£1,000 = $120k today.
£5,000 = $600k today.
£10,000 = $1.2m today.
£1 = $120 today.

Now that we have a better frame of reference, I can make one more point and we’ll get into the good stuff. Something I didn’t know until I looked it up (and which basically made everything way more interesting) was that when Jane Austen says “£1,000 a year,” that’s the amount of interest that person is paid by the government for investing in them, not their fortunes in while. So their fortunes are actually way more than I thought! (Should that surprise me? Probably not.)

So, since the government pays them 5% interest, all you have to do to get their principle around is divide their sum of interest by .05 and voila!—There you go. After that, all you have to do is adjust the pound to its modern vaule—because inflation!—and then convert it to dollars. 😉

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s take a look at what some of the main cast from Pride & Prejudice is worth today.

1. The Bingleys

a. Caroline Bingley’s Fortune:
£20,000 = $2,422,626 today.
£1,000 a year = $121,131.30 now.

b. Mr. Bingley’s Fortune:
£80,000 = $9,690,504 today.
£4,000 a year (on 5% interest)
which equals
$484,525.20 now.

2. The Darcys

a. Georgiana’s Fortune:
£20,000 = $2,422,626 today.
£1,000 a year = $121,131.30 now.

b. Mr. Darcy’s Fortune: (this is the kicker)
£200,000 which equals $24,226,260 today. That’s also:
£10,000 a year (on 5% interest)
which equals $1,211,313 today.

Is that not insane? Let’s take it a little further and see how it applies to Sense & Sensibility.

Let’s get a fancy header and make it official.

As it Applies to Sense & Sensibility

Mrs. John Dashwood might have had a point when she bashed her husband for his plan to give his sisters £1k apiece. Total, that would equal about $363,393.90 now. I think you played it right there, Mrs. Dashwood.

And, to put Marianne’s naïvety into perspective, her desire for a “competence” of at least £1,800-£2,000 a year would be a considerable $218,036.34-$242,262.60 a year. Yeah, good luck buying your groceries with that. Such poverty.

Elinor’s perspective on wealth is much more realistic: $121,131.30.

This makes their mother’s concern about money is quite ridiculous (although she’s endearing in the classic Jane Austen way). Her concern that £400 ($48,452.52) a year could possibly be insufficient is a bit far fetched. It certainly isn’t a considerable sum, but in all seriousness, there isn’t much for them to worry about. (Besides, their inheritance from their father (the interest from which provides their $48k a year) would equal $1,211,313 now. I think that’s quite comfortable.)

Taking it Further

Since I haven’t read all the novels, I can’t say where everyone else falls in terms of fortune and (…stupidity with financial expectations) but here’s a chart showing where all the aforementioned characters are ranked in Jane’s Income Bracket plus other fortunes that apply to characters I haven’t read of yet and what occupations of the day paid and what certain salaries could afford. *Catching breath* Enjoy!

Jane Austen’s Income Bracket
£25 ($3k) a year – farmer
£100 ($12k) a year – typical wage
£200 ($24k) a year – enough to support a single man but not a family.
£400-500 ($48-60k) a year – enough to lead a life fitting for a member of the gentry—a decent living, a few servants, but no carriage or horses. (Mrs. Dashwood & Mr. Morland)
£700-1,000 ($84-120k) a year – enough for a carriage, but hardly. (Edmund Bertram)
£2,000 ($240k) a year – very comfortable for money competent people. (Colnel Brandon & Mr. Bennet)
£4,000-£9,000 ($480-$810k) a year – so much as to not require much counting. (Mr. Bingley)
£10,000+ ($1.2m+) a year – so much money as to not require counting at all. (Mr. Darcy & Mr. Rushworth)

So there you have it! Now you know…totally useless information! (Have fun impressing your professor with that!)