Posted by Laura Wallace on November 16, 1997 at 12:35:34:
In response to We Can Get a Relative Feel by Comparing Salaries, written by Cassia on October 27, 1997 at 17:56:37
. . . a well educated governess cost 25l/annum; a butler, 60L; a lady's maid 25L+her choice of the lady's clothes to sell on; a tutor, 2 shillings-1L depending on the topic. A sucessful doctor (not a fashionable one) might get by on 200L; and an attorney, about 500L depending on the type of practice he undertook.
What would you compare a governess to today? A public school teacher?
And I don't think a comparison of doctors and lawyers to today's is valid, either. It assumes that patients and clients assigned the same value to the advice of the doctor/lawyer as modern clients do today. And then there are all the technology issues. And then of course there is the wide range of incomes among doctors and lawyers. First-year associates at a large law firm in Chicago make something around $75,000 a year. But 90% of lawyers don't get jobs like that. Public defenders start at around $30,000 and I've heard of offers from small firms of $25,000. (These are all starting salaries I'm talking about.)
The thing I want to know is how did [the Bennets] manage to spend so much money when we know that they rarely ever strayed from Longbourne, had no governess and only kept a single carriage?
I don't think the Bennets are supposed to be portrayed as struggling or as shabby-genteel; they are well off and don't stint on anything. (Someone said the Bennets had £2000 a year but I don't recall that figure from the text.) We don't know how large the home farm is, but we know that Mr. Bennet's carriage horses do double duty as farm horses, which suggests he cannot afford a large stable (and of course none of them ride regularly). There was a lot of innovation in farming techniques during that time, and if Mr. Bennet had tried to follow any of them it would have cost money.
In addition to no governess they appear to have no indoor manservant. Manservants were expensive and were therefore a matter of social status, or rather a display of wealth. (Remember how impressed Lady Catherine is when she hears that Lizzy's uncle keeps a manservant.) So they can't afford a manservant or farm horses or a second carriage. But they have a large, comfortable house (which Mrs. Bennet has probably redecorated more than once over the years), a lady's maid, a housekeeper (Hill), probably a chambermaid and perhaps a housemaid, a cook, and probably a scullery maid and perhaps a kitchenmaid. Then there is a coachman, perhaps a stableboy and a gardener, and farm laborers. I estimate that servants' wages would add up to about £200 per year.
Then there is the cost of running the farm. Equipment, seed, feed for the cattle, etc., plus extra labor at harvest time. In the stable, there is the carriage (I've heard that keeping a carriage cost £200 per year, but that was probably in London, and inclusive of mews costs and coachman's salary), two horses, and tack to be maintained. All of that probably adds up to somewhere in the £800 - £1000 per year range.
Mr. Bennet says that Lydia costs him about £90 per year. Multiplied by five daughters that is £450 per year. That is nearly twice his wife's income. Clearly the estate provides plenty of money as long as they do not live extravagantly, which is why they thought that if they had a son and broke the entail everything would be fine. Their only problem is that their capital is tied up, and they haven't saved anything.
I have no problem with seeing how the Bennets could spend £2000 a year. I know how easily money slips through my own fingers! Books were expensive, and Mr. Bennet probably indulged himself with them; Mrs. Bennet would only wish to see the best on her table; Lydia buys bonnets even though they're ugly; Mary buys sheet music and religious tracts; no doubt Mr. Bennet buys occasional presents of jewelry for his wife and his daughters (they can't all be heirlooms); Mr. Bennet buys clothes too, and probably makes an occasional trip to London (without his family) to visit his club (another expense) and take care of business--okay that's pure speculation but entirely plausible.
All in all, I think the Bennets are to be commended for living within their means.
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