Persuasions #13, 1991 Page 49
Pounds and Dollars in Jane Austen’s World:
An Addendum to “How Wealthy is
Mr. Darcy – Really?” (Persuasions #12)
Department of English, Western Kentucky University,
Bowling Green, KY 42101
When a lady asked Dr. Johnson why, in his A Dictionary of the English Language, he defined “pastern” as “the knee of an horse,” he replied, “Ignorance, Madam, pure ignorance.” I make no pretensions to the wisdom and knowledge of Dr. Johnson, but I can do no less than emulate his candor. In my paper on pounds and dollars in Jane Austen’s world (Persuasions 12), I said that fabric seems to have been more expensive in her day than today. Alas, it was even more expensive than I realized. Melissa Ennis of Arlington, Virginia, who describes herself as “an historic costume maven,” has graciously written to enlighten me and all of us on the subject. She tells me that in 1810 fabric was typically sold in 24” to 36” widths; today it is 45” to 60” wide. Thus fabric was at least twice as expensive in Jane Austen’s time as it is today and perhaps even more. I simply didn’t know about the difference in fabric widths. But the information lends even more support to my contention that the evidence doesn’t suggest that consumer goods were significantly less expensive in Jane Austen’s day than in our own. Thanks, Melissa!