How much money did Darcy have? Exactly how rich was he?
Any Jane Austen fan knows the easy answer: Darcy was worth ten thousand pounds per year. But a debate has gone on for years. What does ten thousand pounds actually mean in today’s terms?
Lots of people (including some Austen Authors) have tried over the years to answer this question. Usually they try to adjust 10,000 pounds for inflation from the early 1800’s until now. The math to do this is pretty straightforward, and if you use this tool you come up with the sum of 213,000 pounds. Wow! Another source says that one pound in Darcy’s day would translate to 80 pounds now, so Darcy’s income today would be more like 800,000 pounds!!! Either sum is impressive, but these kinds of formulas are overly simplistic, and today I would like to show you why.
For starters, Darcy’s ten thousand pounds a year was most likely only a part of his income. He probably made a lot more than that. How do we know this? Because Austen tells us (through Wickham) that Darcy’s estate was a “clear” ten thousand pounds a year. The ten thousand was net, not gross. It was the amount of his income every year after he paid taxes. And people in regency days paid a LOT of tax. I wrote about taxes in regency England here. Even a brief look at that list will demonstrate that in order to end up with ten thousand pounds a year, Darcy had to start with a whole lot more.
Secondly, Darcy’s ten thousand pounds per year may have been just the income from money he had invested in the Bank of England (although some disagree with this point). Gentlemen in Darcy’s day typically lived off of the interest on deposit with the bank, but they often also had investments in business. And it’s also possible that his ten thousand pounds may have been the income he derived from renting out his lands. Everything we know about Darcy suggests that he would have carefully diversified his holdings for maximum security. So again, Darcy likely had a lot more than ten thousand pounds annually.
But even if we know that Darcy likely had a lot more than ten thousand a year, that doesn’t help us much, does it? Our economy is so different now from what it was in regency days. Imagine a modern person in Great Britain or the U.S. who earns ten thousand pounds (or dollars) a year. In those two countries that’s not much money. In fact someone with only that much income each year would be considered impoverished. But if you take that same person and income and put them in a developing country, one that has not yet become highly industrialized, their circumstances look much better. A person in a first world country with a small income can enjoy a comfortable lifestyle in a less developed country. Therefore comparing the same income in two such different economies, even after adjusting for inflation, really doesn’t make sense.
After thinking about all of this, I decided that the best way to understand how rich Darcy actually was would be to compare him to the people around him, in his own time and country. How did ten thousand pounds a year compare to the yearly income of other people in England at this time?
Fortunately we have abundant sources to answer this, and now we can start to get some answers that make sense. From contemporary records we know that a maid or other female servant might make around twenty pounds a year (room and board included), and a male servant might make twice that. They were at the lower end of the working class. At the upper end, a really prosperous merchant might make a thousand pounds annually.*** Further up the social scale we begin to see real prosperity. Mr. Bennet’s income was two thousand pounds a year. After his death Mrs. Bennet would be forced to make do with perhaps four or five hundred a year, and for her, as a member of the gentry, this would be considered a catastrophe. Wickham received three thousand pounds to compensate him for the living he was supposed to receive from Darcy’s father. And Bingley was considered quite a catch at four or five thousand a year.
There is some disagreement over some of these numbers as various sources give different amounts. But they all agree that even the lower gentry in Jane Austen’s day were super rich compared to the working class. And Darcy was super rich even compared to other gentry! No wonder Miss Bingley tried so hard to catch him!
But the most startling comparison is this: do you remember when Mrs. Bennet exclaimed that Darcy’s income was “as good as a lord”? She wasn’t kidding. According to this researcher, the “average” lord in Darcy’s day made just 8,000 pounds per year! This same researcher went to some lengths to find a person in the U.S. today who would be the equivalent of Mr. Darcy. I won’t repeat her calculations here, but her conclusion was that marrying Darcy in 1810 would be like marrying the heir to the Estee Lauder fortune today. Now that’s impressive!
However, in the end, Darcy’s exact wealth doesn’t really matter. Fixating on it misses the point. If we get too caught up trying to calculate exactly how rich Darcy was we will miss the real message of Pride and Prejudice: that a person’s wealth doesn’t reflect their worth, and that true love is priceless.
But money never hurts 🙂
If you are interested in digging more into this topic here are some additional sources. I would love to hear what you think about Darcy’s riches!
***Please take these numbers with a grain of salt. Estimates vary widely.