Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Money makyth man

If I remember correctly Mr Bingley in P&P has an income of £10,000 a year. Mr Darcy, it is suggested, has loads more but the figure is never specified. Too vulgar.

I am not sure whether Mr Collins’ income (which goes with his living) is ever specified but there are contemporary men of the cloth in Jane Austen and other authors whose living (ie, parish or curacy) brings in as little as £50. Occasionally the price of a loaf is cited as 1½ pennies. And a horse is sold for £8.

Academics busy themselves with deconstructive detail yet ignore (Too vulgar?) the significance of cash. What’s needed in all period books is a table of relative incomes (for differing strata of society in that novel and at that time) and of relative costs so that we can pin down the status of a character, get an idea of what sort of life he or she is leading and attach accurate meaning to various transactions. Authors tended to be vague perhaps because they reckoned contemporary readers could work these things out. But centuries have slipped by.

I discussed this with Plutarch and he makes a grumbling request about versts so you can tell which authors he’s reading. Come on people of tenure – make yourself useful.

YIKES! Ysabelle has not only got a degree and a job but has started a blog. For anyone interested in what it’s like to pass through academia at the present time and then lay siege to the job market click on Y’s name at the top of my links list. I should add she uses a full range of punctuation symbols.


Barrett Bonden said...

This is the sort of thing that working a computer forces you to do - uneasy that I've somehow messed up the email link to Works Well I'm sending myself an uninformative email. Malicious minds will no doubt believe I'm desperate for dialogue.

Lucy said...

A rather good TV and radio review blog I read had a moan a while ago about the lack of specific information about cash in The Archers, and how they couldn't work out what exactly anyone lived on.

I'm always quite interested in 19th C novels that people 'take' houses, then give them up at the drop of a hat, or else they have inherited seats. It's not just our relations with money that have changed but with property and home too, I suppose. I'm sure the information you're looking for must be in accessible form somewhere. Though probably much more has been written, in PhD theses etc, about the hidden sex lives of those times than the hidden financial lives. It really would be interesting to know more.

Don't worry about leaving comments on your own blog, some of the best people do it, you know, nothing to be ashamed of. Constructing a whole self-generated comments thread could be seen as a real creative challenge...

Lucy said...

And I enjoyed Ysabelle's; hope she keeps it up.

earlybird said...

I must admit that not knowing relative values doesn't worry me at all. I find it far to confusing to even think about. I just accept them as they were.

Like when my parents used to tell me about travelling to France with currency restrictions (£50 wasn't it?). How on earth did they manage?

(I ended up 'following' my own blog the other day... ?)

The Crow said...

What was a Regency pound worth in current US$?

I have an unhappy feeling they are very close to the same amount of money, which means I'm still broke.

Enjoyed reading Ysabelle's blog. I didn't comment because I didn't want to appear pushy...well, TOO pushy, that is.

Rouchswalwe said...

Headed off to Ysabelle's then (I already like her if she likes commas as much as I do!).

I liked the Yen system in Japan. My salary there seemed wildly rich with all the extra zeros.

Julia said...

Here's a podcast of one of Will's favorite economists, speaking about what Mr. Darcy's income would mean in today's economy.

We heard this first a few years back when we were driving from Prague to Brittany, and we spent the trip listening to a year's worth of Brad Delong's economics lectures. This one actually stuck!

Barrett Bonden said...

All: This post could have been better expressed but I think you all got the drift in the end. What I had in mind were the Oxford University Press paperbacks of individual Shakespeare plays which devote as many pages to footnote explanations as they do to the plays themselves. Lucy points out that 19th century novels are full of unexplained phenomena which deserve clarification and I could add more: How did toffs move about the country in comfort? How were lodgings paid for (ie, did people carry largish - and therefore eminently stealable - sums of money with them? Did all guest bedrooms in large mansions have an attached lavatory?). Please understand, I'm not blaming the authors for missing out this info; most thought it sufficient to concentrate on human relationships. Stuffing in lots of material detail is mainly a later development (Balzac and Zola excepted), sometimes carried to extremes by certain American authors. But the fact is I'm left with an incomplete understanding of the story and it's a gap eng. lit. specialists could usefully fill in.

Lucy: One could go on and on. I can see how women could get excited about a forthcoming ball; just a brief reflection on their extraordinarily contracted lives makes one wonder whether there weren't more nervous breakdowns. One could of course read, embroider or practice scales on the spinet but it was an agonisingly miniaturised world. Marriage was a way of adding status but perhaps, even more important, it gave the illusion of escape. To give some of the authors credit, they did touch on this but did anyone ever write a novel with an unmarried old maid as the heroine? And, had they done so, would any female reader have been tempted to read it.

EB: It's just that I find myself asking questions - the gaps worry me. But I suppose I'm predominantly a nuts-and-bolts reader, my mind on lower rather than higher things. No problems of this sort with Ulysses, by the way.

The Crow: Oh you can go mad with comparisons that stretch back over a couple of hundred years. Imagining yourself outbidding the $25 offer that enabled the Dutch guy to acquire Manhattan. But it's the missing details about contemporary life that niggle at you. Medical treatment, for instance. Terrifying!

Re. Y. Feel entitled to push.

RW (zS): I suppose there is a justifiable reason why they've stayed with all those zeros. Most of the others with strained accountancy books (Italy, the former Yugoslavia) devalued.

Julia: The podcast didn't work but I got the idea from the comments. Hey, that's a high-flying intellectual car drive you took from Prague to Brittany. Hope you provided C. with sub-titles. Nah, she probably didn't need them.