The town of Gretna Green, just over the Scotland-England border, thus became a popular destination for eager couples. An elopement of this kind would certainly cause a scandal, particularly in aristocratic families—but the wedding would be legally binding, and the couple bound to each other, even if their marriage had begun in less than ideal circumstances. What was the ideal marriage, then—the fairy tale that the Bennet girls might dream of? The gentleman and the lady
should be of the same social class; their families should both be respectable, and between the two of them their wealth should be enough to keep them comfortable; their courtship and marriage should be conducted with decorum. Meet all those requirements, and your marriage might fairly be called “ideal.” But to all this, add love, and you might truly have the makings of a Regency fairy tale ending.
JUST HOW RICH IS MR. DARCY?
It’s hard to make an exact comparison between Georgian currency and today’s currency, but £1 in 1813 would have roughly the same buying power as £60 today. With the current exchange rate, that’s about US$95, which makes Mr. Darcy’s annual income almost $1,000,000! (Source: Bank of England’s inflation calculator)
£400 A YEAR
An income that approaches the comforts of genteel life. It usually brings a cook, a housemaid and, perhaps, a boy.
£500 A YEAR
This sum, according to domestic economists, fills the cup of human happiness. It would allow for three servants, but no horses or carriage.
£700 TO £1,000 A YEAR
This higher range of upper professional incomes marks the most prosperous pseudo-gentry families. Its most significant consumer marker was the ownership of a carriage.
£2,000 A YEAR
At this level we have the landed gentry however, domestic economy must still hold a tight rein, especially when, as with Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, there were five daughters to marry off!
ABOVE £4,000 A YEAR
Incomes of £4,000 a year and above (Darcy’s, Bingley’s, Crawford’s, Rushworth’s) leave behind the “cheeseparing” cares of middle-class incomes, to enter a realm of unlimited genteel comforts. To spend more than this, according to contemporary wisdom, “a man must go into horse-racing or illegitimate pleasures.” (Landowning as a Business 1882).
(Source: The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, ed. Edward Copeland and Juliet McMaster at the Jane Austen Center, Bath, UK)
The program for Book-It Repertory Theatre's 2014 production of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.