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|"Five hundred a year"
Written by Elizabeth K
(9/6/2009 12:46 p.m.)
Although I know that Fanny Dashwood is a cold, selfish beast, to put it plainly, five hundred a year still seems ample for the Dashwood sisters. I suppose that at this point, the readers are not meant to share Fanny’s view (and believe me, I am nothing like Fanny Dashwood!) but I cannot help thinking that £500, roughly translated into today’s money*, is £30, 000 per annum, and that is more than enough for the Dashwoods to live very comfortably.
They will not even have to pay rent; Sir John is generous and assures Mrs Dashwood “that every thing should be done to it [Barton Cottage] which she might think necessary, if the situation pleased her”. The Dashwoods will certainly not be hard-up. In fact, I was discussing this yesterday (not at Pemberley) and when I mentioned that the Dashwood sisters and their mother would have around £30, 000 a year in today’s money, the people with whom I was talking seemed surprised that that the Dashwoods would be considered impoverished. Their standard of living will be different from what they are used to: a large Sussex estate, and they may have to economise more but they are a long way from being on the breadline. JA’s families may be deprived of some things, but they are never seriously badly off.
* I use the guideline given in Amanda Foreman’s biography of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who lived at the same time as JA: “The usual method for estimating twentieth-century values is to multiply by sixty” (The Duchess, Ch. 1). Yes, I know we are not in the 20th century, but I still use that method as a rough guide: it is simple and easy to remember.
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