Sunday, 15 July 2012
I have been reading ‘The Dressmaker’, a Victorian novel written exquisitely by Posie Graeme-Evans. The heroine in the novel slightly reminds me of Margaret Hale in North and South (by Elizabeth Gaskell). Ellen Gowan (the heroine in ‘The Dressmaker’) had a father – a poor vicar – who died in a tragic accident, thus the story also reminded me of Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility (not that he died in the SS novel). I haven’t discovered how poor Reverend Gowan was (his entitlement or stipend, etc), or to some extent, the general living condition of an honest but poor vicar (like Jane Austen’s own father, albeit in a different era). I do however, remembered a passage or two in SS about Edward’s entitlement. This is from Chapter 49:
One question after this only remained undecided between them, one difficulty only was to be overcome. They were brought together by mutual affection, with the warmest approbation of their real friends; their intimate knowledge of each other seemed to make their happiness certain -- and they only wanted something to live upon. Edward had two thousand pounds, and Elinor one, which, with Delaford living, was all that they could call their own; for it was impossible that Mrs. Dashwood should advance anything, and they were neither of them quite enough in love to think that three hundred and fifty pounds a year would supply them with the comforts of life.
I then found an eloquent article by Ms Place from The Jane Austen’s World that explained a great deal of living cost during the Regency Era. Vic (Ms Place) also quoted a passage from Chapter 17 of SS:
"And yet two thousand a-year is a very moderate income," said Marianne. "A family cannot well be maintained on a smaller. I am sure I am not extravagant in my demands. A proper establishment of servants, a carriage, perhaps two, and hunters, cannot be supported on less."
How much does GBP 2,000 of the 1810 worth now? Ms Place used the UK national archives to calculate the worth of GBP 2,000 (Edward Ferrar’s entitlement) in 2005. It was GBP 67,920 or approximately GBP 81,000 in 2011 using the UK Consumer Price Index. Putting it in AUD (so I can imagine the purchasing power), that amount is about AUD 122,000 per annum or AUD 2,340 per week for 2011. It is a lot of money.
But Chapter 49 of SS stated that Edward’s and Elinor’s annual income would only be GBP 350 per annum. Perhaps they could not use their entitlement, only the annual interest of their combined entitlement. If so, Edward and Elinor would only live with GBP 11,886 per annum in 2005 or GBP 14,175.97 per annum in 2011. In the 2011 AUD, it is about AUD 21,400 per annum, or AUD 411 per week. That’s the lower level stipend of a postgraduate student in Australia, which practically only provides the student for rent, basic groceries, bus ride and occasionally cheap movie nights. The amount is certainly not enough for a family living.
Now I know why the Dashwood ladies were distressed when they received only GBP 500 per annum for their living (three ladies and two maids). If this is about the amount that Rev Gowan (Ellen’s father from The Dressmaker) received during his years of service, no wonder Ellen was concerned about their income once her father passed away…
Pic: Edward and Elinor from Sense & Sensibility 1995