Even those who have never read or watched Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice recognize his name. Mr Darcy is handsome, dashing—-and world renown for being incredibly rich.
But have you ever wondered, why is he so rich? How did he get all that money? After all, it seems like he doesn’t do much but hang out with his friends and go dramatically swimming in ponds all day. In fact, how do any of Jane Austen’s characters get their money when they spend most their time sitting around drawing rooms?
Let’s answer them.
Why is Mr Darcy so rich?
Jane Austen’s characters love to talk about money. In fact, as soon as Darcy walks in the room Elizabeth Bennet hears how much he’s worth—-10,000 pounds. Which is a lot when calculated into the rates of today’s society. We’re talking millions.
But how did he get all that money? The short answer is, like most of Austen’s characters, he inherited it. He was born into the right family at the right time.
But, it’s a bit more complicated than that. So let’s talk about the three basic ways Jane Austen’s characters get their livings, or in modern terms, annual incomes.
2. Inherited Fortunes & Investments
Mr Darcy inherited land. A lot of it. His family probably acquired this land hundreds of years ago and its been making them rich ever since.
As a gentlemen, Mr Darcy rents out plots of his vast estates to tenant farmers who pay him rent in order to live on and work his land. Which means that, essentially, he is a landlord that makes a ton of money off of rent.
Yet, being a landlord to countless people is hard work. Which is exactly why gentlemen like Darcy hired someone else to deal with their tenants for them. That way, they can get all the money, but still hit up the party season in London.
Two, Fortunes and Investments
Just like Darcy inherited land from his father, he also inherited money. What do you do with a lot of money in regency England? You put it in a bank and live off the interest.
During this time period you could invest your money for “five percent” interest, which if your fortune is large enough, is enough to support your household. In fact, several Jane Austen characters, including the Dashwoods in Sense and Sensibility, live solely off the interest of money they inherited.
The Dashwoods have a combined total fortune of 10,000 pounds at the beginning of Sense and Sensibility. They put that in a bank and earn 5 percent interest, which gives them an annual income of 500 pounds a year they run their household on. Which isn’t much, but keeps them off the streets.
In addition to making money off of interest, gentlemen also have other investments. Some of them even own slave plantations in the Caribbean. In Austen’s Mansfield Park, Fanny’s uncle even travels to check on his plantation in Antigua. Thankfully, Pride and Prejudice never mentions Darcy owning a plantation. He’s just too cool for that.
So, Darcy has a lot of money. First, he gets rent off his land. And second, he invests his money wisely and earns a lot of interest.
Yet, just like today, the people of Regency England are never satisfied. They always want to climb the social ladder. They always want more money. So, then, how else can they get it? Marriage.
Often people think of women marrying for money. Which is true, if you are of woman in Regency England you really want to marry a rich guy because you have no way of going out and making money of your own. There are very few employment opportunities available to women of the time. Your future and your children futures depend on making a good match.
Yet, men married for money too. Because during this time families gave their daughters an inheritance called a “dowery.” As Mr Bennet says in Pride and Prejudice, dowries are essentially a way to “bribe worthless young men into marrying his daughters.” To learn more about doweries, check out my video about them here.
So regency men were always keeping their eye for a pretty girl with a fortune, to boost up their wealth even more.
Of course, Mr Darcy doesn’t marry a girl with a fortune. Instead he marries Elizabeth Bennet, who doesn’t have much of a dowery at all and is poor.
But they marry for true love, so that’s all that matters. *sigh*
And he’s still really rich anyway.
So, in review, how did Mr Darcy get all his money? Well, in short, he was born into the right family. A very, very, very rich family. Yet, as we’ve seen the Darcy’s got that way through three major paths. 1. They own land. 2. They invest money wisely. And 3. they marry people with money.
Except Darcy. He married poor. And by poor I mean, relatively poor because while Elizabeth was poor she still wasn’t no street urchin.
And that, my friends, is Regency Economics 101.