September and October 2016 meeting: Gardens and Money

November 18, 2016

Using notes from members Sally, Jenny and Cheng.

Northanger Abbey, Anxious attentions to the weather

Anxious attentions to the weather, Northanger Abbey (CE Brock)

After several attempts to hold our September ‘meeting’ at the Tulip Top Gardens near Sutton were thwarted by intemperate weather, we met at our usual location in October. Perhaps it was meant to be, because we were joined by two unexpected but very welcome visitors, Robyn and Joan, from JASA Sydney.

We talked about our September topic, gardening styles during Jane Austen’s lifetime, as well as the designated October topic, ‘How much money is enough?” into which we managed to include some discussion about the cost of gardens and the incomes of the ‘celebrity’ landscape designers of the era.

To compensate in a small way for our inability to visit the Tulip Tops Garden, Sally showed her slideshow from a previous visit. She also showed a slideshow of her 2014 visit to Chawton Cottage (which included many photos of the garden) and Chawton village, followed by a slideshow of her visit to Blaise Castle House in Bristol. Blaise Castle House is famous both for its Humphrey Repton-designed garden (and the related Red Book which is on display), as well as for being the location of Blaise Castle, which Catherine Morland did not succeed in visiting in ‘Northanger Abbey’.

And why not? Because of inclement weather, of course.

English gardening styles in the late 18th and early 19th centuries

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown  (1715/16 – 1783)

Brown created 170 gardens, and worked for many of the wealthiest aristocrats in Britain. He carved large landscape parks out of old formal gardens and agricultural land, with lawns sweeping right up to the house and parks surrounded by a continuous perimeter.

He was a large-scale contractor who not only designed by also but also arranged the realisation of his works. By the 1760s his earnings averaged £6000 a year ( ie £740,000) a year, usually £500 (ie £61,000) for one commission

He wasn’t ‘picturesque’ enough, and by the 1780s, his harmony and calmness were seen to lack the sublime thrills, climactic conflict and awesome power of wild nature.

Humphrey Repton (1752 – 1818)

Repton created 400 or so gardens, but many remained wholly or partially unexecuted. Unlike Brown, he acted as a consultant. He also charged for his Red Books. He worked for equally important clients (eg Dukes of Bedford and Portland) but often fine tuning earlier work, often Brown’s.

He would sometimes stake out the ground, leaving the client to arrange the actual execution. Where he got the chance to lay out grounds from scratch, it was generally on a much more modest scale. He would cut ‘vistas’ through to ‘borrowed’ items such as church towers, making them part of the designed landscape.

His was a more contrived approach, creating entrance drives and lodges to create impressions of size and importance. He even monogramed milestones on the roads around some estates. He converted farmland into wooded parkland, and often called the areas ‘parks’. (Hence Mansfield Park?)

Repton defended Brown’s reputation during the ‘picturesque controversy’ (1794), but was also the precursor of 19th century styles which saw the re-introduction of formal terraces, balustrades, trellis works and flower gardens. He created garden areas – Chinese gardens, arboretums etc. He also made cricket pitches/home lawns, and bowling green lawns.

He emphasised utility and convenience over more extravagant principles of contrived irregularity, and believed that good design had a social and moral aspect.

Money and Jane Austen

In the 18th century, novelists wrestled with the same question as Adam Smith – Does the pursuit of money diminish a person’s moral integrity?

Characters are defined by their incomes and fortunes as much as they are by their appearances and their manners in Austen’s novels.

How much money is enough? What is a competence? What is the very sum necessary to support one’s gentility? According to Marianne Dashwood, it is approximately £2,000 a year or AUD183,000. “I am sure I am not extravagant in my demands,” she announced.  Elinor, on the other hand, says she would be happy with half that amount. She is quite content with £850 to live on. Marianne achieves the £2,000 by marrying Col Brandon.  While it all depends on expectations, all Jane Austen’s heroines are “hunters.” They need security. Mrs Bennet is so afraid of what will happen when her husband dies that she can only think of how to marry off her daughters. They would have been left with only £450 a year. This was the same amount as Jane, Cassandra and her mother had after the death of Mr Austen. Fortunately they had brothers/sons to augment their income unlike Mrs and Miss Bates.

Mr Bennet’s income is £2,000 a year but his daughters cost him £500 a year. He was not wise with money always having hoped for a son to inherit.

Jane Austen used money to indicate status, but she condemned greed – those who married merely for money (Maria Bertram); Mary Crawford’s desire for Edmund’s elder brother to die so that he can inherit the family fortune; John Dashwood who, having £6,000 a year, denies his step family; his wife, who persuades her husband to do so, even begrudges her step mother-in-law her gifted china and furniture.

Mrs Dashwood senior is able to employ two maids and a man. Five to 10 guineas year was paid to maids.

Curates earned between £20 and £40 a year. One wonders what Mr Collins was earning from Lady Catherine De Burgh. A certain Rev. Thomas Archer earned £85 a year which he found insufficient to support a wife and five children in 1802. However Jane’s brother, James Austen, earned £1,100 a year and possessed two horses.

Navy families depended on wars. Fanny Price’s mother could have brought £7,000 to her marriage if she got the same as Lady Bertram. This would yield £350 a year and her husband’s half naval officer pay would have been about £45 a year. This enabled the Price family to have two servants. The example of Captain Harville’s family was incredible (unless Mrs Harville had brought a dowry.) Clearly they could not afford servants and sought cheap lodgings, but they were enormously hospitable.

The cost of living is hard to gauge. Jane apparently allowed £10 a year for gifts, charities and entertainment, and put aside £40 for clothes and personal items. She earned £684 for her books during her lifetime.

Before Mr Austen’s retirement, the family derived food from their farm. Elinor appears to do the same and Charlotte also kept hens or ducks. A great deal depended upon the skills of housekeeping and economy exhibited by the wives of spendthrifts like Sir Walter Elliot, and the less well-off characters.

The cost of food as revealed in the Letters was as follows compared with approximate buying power in English pounds two hundred years later:

Item 1810 2005
Meat (lb) 8d £1.13
Butter (lb) 12d £1.70
Cheese 9d £1.43
Salmon (whole lb) 2/9d £4.67
4 small soles 6/- £10.14
Bread  (4lb) 2/6d £4.25

While all the monetary conversions may not be entirely accurate it is possible to get some idea from the following table:

Title 1810 GDP 2016 AUD
John Dashwood’s income 6,000 547,654
Mrs Dashwood and daughters’ income 500 45,817
Edward and Elinor’s income 850 77,446
Col Brandon and Marianne’s income 2,000 183,270
Mr Darcy’s income 10,000 916,351
Mr Bingley’s income 5,000 458,176
Mr Bennet’s income 2,000 183,270
Mr Rushworth’s income 12,000 1,099,620
Edmund and Fanny’s income 700 63,617
Emma’s inheritance 30,000 2,749,060
Mrs Elton’s fortune 10,000 916,351
Elliot daughters’ inheritance 10,000 916,351
Wentworth’s fortune 25,000 2,290,880
Catherine Morland’s dowry 3,000 274,905

It is perhaps amazing just how much detail Jane Austen did reveal about money in her time. It was certainly a very important consideration for her.

Young women, not to mention their mothers, generally had but one serious occupation once the girls were of marriageable age, to find a husband with adequate means, who was reliable and not a gambler.


Chamberlain, Shannon (2014) “The Economics of Jane Austen”, The Atlantic
Copeland, Edward (1995) Women Writing About Money Women’s Fiction in England 1790 -1820
Heldman, James (1990) “How Wealthy is Mr Darcy – Really? Pounds and Dollars in the World of Pride and Prejudice“, Persuasions 12, 38-49
“Pride and Prejudice Economics: Or Why a Single Man with a Fortune of 4,000 pounds Per Year is a Desirable Husband”,  Jane Austen’s World (2008)

October 2012 Meeting: William Gilpin and the Picturesque

October 24, 2012

Prepared by member Cheng

JASNA’s 2012 conference

A surprise opening to the meeting was the announcement by one of our members that he had just returned from three weeks in the U.S. and had attended JASNA’s Annual Conference in New York. A “remarkable event” held from Friday 5th to Sunday 7th October, with 800 attendees.

We (enviously) pored over the programmes and brochures, amazed at the diversity of the multiples sessions and speakers. The theme was ‘Sex, Money and Power in Jane Austen’s Fiction’ and we look forward to hearing a more detailed account of it at a future meeting.

 William Gilpin and the Picturesque

Then we moved on to the subject : William Gilpin [1762-1843]. Had Jane Austen really been as enamoured of Gilpin as Henry claimed?

Gilpin’s writings were taken very seriously during his life time, particularly by the wealthy who could no longer go on the Grand Tour because of the political unrest in Europe and who started instead to enjoy ‘home tours’. Following in Gilpin’s footsteps and seeing through Gilpin’s eyes became very fashionable. His books were the equivalent of our present day guide books and photos.

The general feeling of the group was that whilst Jane Austen often referred to Gilpin’s topographical observations and facts, his pomposity would have been what appealed most to her keen sense of the ridiculous. “You could not have imagined Jane Austen not laughing – she would have laughed out loud”, said one member.

Numerous amusing quotes were produced by those who had done extensive preparatory reading of Gilpins’ works.

However, he was more than merely a source of fun and facts, this being perhaps best illustrated in Elizabeth’s response to seeing Pemberley. Heavily influenced by Gilpin’s theories on the ‘natural’ landscape, the description is also a covert description of Darcy – of the genuine morals and values that he underpins, as opposed to those of the superficial fashionable world. The ‘picturesque’, as Jane Austen applied it, was far more complex than at first apparent:

Elizabeth’s mind was too full for conversation, but she saw and admired every remarkable spot and point of view. They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; and in front a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!

“Pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked”, wrote Jane Austen in a letter to Fanny.

Discussion continued on that old intriguing subject of whether Jane Austen wrote quite unconsciously, as for example, Richardson, in the manner of her time. Did she knowingly plot and plan or did it come out as part of her, as in her letters, where her ideas just “tumble out”?

Evidence – that gorgeous dig from Gilpin’s theories on composition and grouping of cows by Elizabeth to Miss Bingley, Mrs Hurst and Darcy which quite goes over our 21st century heads. Elizabeth says to the three when they ask her to join them:

“No, no; stay where you are. You are charmingly grouped, and appear to uncommon advantage. The picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth. Good-bye.”

Examples of Gilpinesque touches in the novels then tumbled out of our members notes :

  • The passage in Pride and Prejudice where Elizabeth cries “What are men to rocks and mountains? Oh! What hours of transport shall we spend! And when we do return, it shall not be like other travellers…..We will know where we have gone – we will recollect what we have seen”.
  • The hilarious Northanger Abbey scene overlooking Bath where Catherine dismisses the entire view.
  • The description of Lyme in Persuasion which strongly recalls Gilpin’s concepts.
  • Mrs Elton’s comparisons between Hartfield and Maple Grove in Emma.

A member noted that there were three aesthetic concepts regarding landscape in the 19th century: the pastoral (man-made), the picturesque (natural) and the sublime (god given). Gilpin’s principles, established in the 18th century, were overturned during the nineteenth century by the Romantic movement.

While being amused by Gilpin’s pomposity and dogmatism, members did allow that his passion for ruins had at least kindled a respect for them by a public that had previously regarded them purely as building material. And he did lead others to see beauty in barrenness.

In 1775 when Gilpin toured Southern England he found little to admire in the Steventon area. It was seen as odd by one member that he despised farmed fields for having been altered by the hand of man yet he happily moved trees in his own sketches.

His ‘artist’s eye’ was, as a member pointed out, exactly the opposite to that of the Japanese and we wondered what he would have thought of bonsai.

A kindly and tactful letter to Gilpin by Sir Joshua Reynolds was read out – a reply to Gilpin’s request for Reynold’s opinion, or plea for his imprimatur, of a new book.

How, we asked, could a man described consistently by his contemporaries as modest, appear so pompous and pretentious? Then it was suggested that his was, after all, the voice of a school master!

The December 2009 issue of the JASA Chronicle contained an article written by one of our members on the landscape of the Springs Road, between Cooma and Bega, in which he mused on the picturesque and on 19th century plans to turn the area into an Australian Bath!

The meeting concluded with quotes and a tough quiz on the Nobility in Jane Austen novels.


  1. November 17th meeting: Sue to ask Sarah if we can distribute and discuss the P&P chapter of her PhD thesis.
  2. Sat 15th December is the date for our Christmas lunch – details will be announced at the next meeting.

William Gilpin and the Picturesque: Some sources

September 16, 2012
Engraving of Rev. William Gilpin.

Engraving of William Gilpin from Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, No. 231, August, 1869. (Public Domain via Wikipedia)

A Google (or Bing or whatever search engine you use) search on William Gilpin and Picturesque will retrieve lots of hits, including many in Google Books. Listed below are just some online sources to help get us all going:


Online articles