Money and rank

Robert D. Hume

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Scopus citations


Jane Austen is perhaps the only novelist publishing before 1830 whose novels can be read as though Henry James had written them. – Marilyn Butler Emma is unique in two ways among Austen's six major novels. First, its happy outcome does not rely on the heroine's marrying into satisfactory rank and income. Second, it presents a fuller and more complex social spectrum than any of the others, though in comparison with Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice few specific sums of money are named. None the less, comprehending what Austen tells us, what she implies, and what she chooses not to specify, is important to understanding the novel. As for what we would call ‘class’, what Austen shows us is clear enough – but what she thought of it is not. Only by addressing this problem can we attempt to determine the essential purport of the book. Sums of money We are told in i.16 that Emma is ‘the heiress of thirty thousand pounds’ (p. 147). This is quite a lot: by the multipliers I think helpful in judging the present-day buying power of sums from the Napoleonic era (100 to 150) this sum would be between £3,000,000 and £4,500,000 today. Invested in 3 per cent ‘consols’ (consolidated annuities – what we would now call government bonds), the annual income generated would be £900 if bought at par. The actual income would vary with when the purchase was made. If bought in 1770, the payout would have been on average 3.64 per cent. If bought in 1803, it would have been anything from 4.12 per cent to 5.99 per cent. Probably Emma's money would have been invested before acute Napoleonic-era inflation. In the 1770s, the ten-year average was 3.75 per cent, which would have produced £1,125 as an annual income. ‘Navy five percents’, available from 1810, would have generated £1,500 but rarely traded much above par since they could be ‘called’, paid off and replaced with lower-yielding bonds (as happened in the early 1820s).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to 'Emma'
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781316014226
ISBN (Print)9781107082632
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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