What was Jane Austen’s income? A fair price for her genius?
According to documents published by the Bank of England, Jane Austen’s third published novel, Mansfield Park made Jane just £310, or £22,000 in today’s money.
That doesn’t sound like a lot, and it wasn’t. For comparison, Maria Edgeworth, a writer who was very popular in Jane’s time, received £2,100 for her novel Patronage. Mansfield Park may not be the most popular of Jane’s novels now (it was very well received in its time and sold out it’s first print run in under six months), but at least we’ve heard of it. Not many have heard of Patronage, yet it was that much better in terms of author profits.
The investigative research conducted using the Bank of England’s archive showed that Jane would have made £575 after tax, which would be equivalent to just over £45,000 at today’s rates. In their piece about the research, the Financial Times noted that, even compared to those making their living as full-time adult fiction writers in the U.K. today, Austen’s earnings were pretty small: the average income for full-time fiction writers is £37,000 a year.
The research was conducted by John Avery Jones, who is the first of an occasional series external researchers who will be using the Bank of England’s archives for their work on subjects outside traditional central banking topics. The full article is well worth a read and can be found here.
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