Jane Austen’s estate

austen

There’s more going on here than agreement of verb with subject

A visit to the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton raised some interesting questions, and not only about English grammar.

If there is a valid point being made in the picture above, I think it’s the corollary of the one stated: Due to her writings, she had some money of her own at a time when women generally didn’t. I wonder what Cassandra did with it? How much it was in today’s terms is an almost completely meaningless question–between £ 50,000 and £ 3,000,000 perhaps according to measuringworth.com.

In Capital in the Twenty-First Century Thomas Piketty states:  In Great Britain, the average income was on [sic] the order of 30 pounds a year in the early 1800s, when Jane Austen wrote her novels….She knew that to live comfortably and elegantly, secure proper transportation and clothing, eat well, and find amusement and a necessary minimum of domestic servants, one needed–by her lights–at least twenty to thirty times that much. The characters in her novels consider themselves free from need only if they dispose of incomes from 500 to 1,000 pounds a year.

So on that basis Jane Austen’s lifetime earnings of £ 800 wouldn’t have got her very far.  If she had bought land with the normal rental yield of 4-5% that would have given her the average and deeply insufficient annual income of £ 30-£ 40.  But the question is what the marginal cost of an unmarried sister or maiden aunt would have been–once you had the house, carriage, servants etc the marginal cost of an extra household member may have been comparatively small.

While it is true that nowadays many of us would be penniless without our jobs, Piketty’s point is that in Jane Austen’s day you might make 5x average income from a job or profession or even writing novels if the French didn’t pirate them, but it wasn’t enough–you needed to own lots of land or seize bling from the French like her brothers Charles and Francis, both of whom became admirals.

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