Mrs. Bennet’s famous reaction to Elizabeth’s marriage in Pride and Prejudice contains this rhapsody: “Oh! my sweetest Lizzy! how rich and how great you will be! What pin-money, what jewels, what carriages you will have! Jane’s is nothing to it – nothing at all.”
Pin-money was money given to a wife for her private expenses. Pins were expensive when introduced into England by Catherine Howard when she married Henry VIII, and so women needed an allowance to buy them. A will registered at York in 1542 reads, “I give my said doughter Margarett my lease of the parsonadge of Kirkdall Churche…to buy her pynnes withal.”
Jane Austen had little enough of an allowance, also referred to as pin money, of her own. Oliver MacDonough writes in Jane Austen: Real and Imagined Worlds: “Jane had nothing of her own beyond the pin-money allowed her by her father, which was probably only £20 a year. Twenty pounds was Cassandra’s annual allowance, to judge by Jane’s communication of 28 December 1798, written when Mr. Austen had been rendered temporarily euphoric by good news: ‘If you will send my father an account of your Washing & Letter expenses, & c, he will send you a draft for the amount of it, as well as for your next quarter [£5, to be paid on 1 January].’ It is unlikely that there would be any differentiation between the sisters’ pin-money. The principal charge on Jane’s allowance was materials for, and small items of, clothes. Only gloves, stockings and the like were purchaseable. ‘I wish,’ she wrote once, ‘that such things [as gowns] were to be bought ready-made.’…Jane Austen’s correspondence certainly suggests that both women found it hard to make ends meet for their wardrobe.”
In What Jane Austen Ate and What Charles Dickens Knew, Daniel Pool writes: “Typically the bride’s family would have their lawyers negotiate with the husband’s lawyers, to get the husband to agree to grant her ‘pin money,’ which was a small personal annual allowance while he lived, a hefty chunk of property or money to support her after he died, and ‘portions’ of money for their children. All this would be written up in the ‘marriage settlement’ by the lawyers before anybody walked down any aisles.”
The Bennets were hardly in any situation to have lawyers “negotiate” when Elizabeth married Darcy. Undoubtedly, her uncle Gardiner, an attorney, handled the matter civilly [erratum: It has been pointed out to me that Uncle Phillips was the attorney, not Uncle Gardiner, but I still think Gardiner would have been the one to help Mr. Bennet settle the matter!] and all would have gone very smoothly as the gentlemen, Darcy and Mr. Gardiner, liked each other and got on well. Darcy would have been generous with Elizabeth, of course, and proof that he was (if any is needed) is seen in the description of how Elizabeth was able to aid Lydia and Wickham out of her pin-money:
Lydia wrote, “’It is a great comfort to have you so rich, and when you have nothing else to do, I hope you will think of us. I am sure Wickham would like a place at court very much, and I do not think we shall have quite money enough to live upon without some help. Any place would do, of about three or four hundred a year: but, however, do not speak to Mr. Darcy about it, if you had rather not.’ As it happened that Elizabeth had much rather not, she endeavoured in her answer to put an end to every intreaty and expectation of the kind.”
In other words, she made sure that Lydia and Wickham knew they could not expect a regular income from her. Still, “Such relief, however, as it was in her power to afford, by the practice of what might be called economy in her own private expenses, she frequently sent them. It had always been evident to her that such an income as theirs, under the direction of two persons so extravagant in their wants, and heedless of the future, must be very insufficient to their support; and whenever they changed their quarters, either Jane or herself were sure of being applied to for some little assistance towards discharging their bills.”
How much pin-money would Lizzy have had? Jane Austen does not name a figure, but we know Darcy’s income was £10,000 a year, and he was a liberal man. Perhaps the closest clue we have is in Jane Austen’s own juvenilia. When Mary in The Three Sisters is asked to marry rich, rude old Mr. Watts, her mother bargains:
“’Remember the pin-money; two hundred a year.’
‘A hundred and seventy-five, Madam.’
‘Two hundred indeed, Sir’ said my Mother.”
Mr. Watts is described by young Mary as an “old man” (thirty-two!), “extremely disagreeable…ill tempered and peevish, extremely jealous, and so stingy that there is no living in the house with him.” However, he “has a large fortune and will make great Settlements on me; but then he is very healthy.”
Yet later in the story we learn that Mr. Watts is not so wealthy as all that; Mary’s more sensible sister Sophia reveals that if Mary turns him down, she will not accept him: “My determination is made. I never would marry Mr. Watts, were Beggary the only alternative. So deficient in every respect! Hideous in his person, and without one good Quality to make amends for it. His fortune, to be sure, is good. Yet not so very large! Three thousand a year. What is three thousand a year? It is but six times as much as my Mother’s income. It will not tempt me.”
Three thousand pounds is less than Mr. Bingley’s fortune, and less than a third of Mr. Darcy’s. So, if Mary’s mother was trying to persuade Mr. Watts to give her daughter £200 pin money a year, and he was famously stingy, it’s not impossible that Mr. Darcy might bestow five hundred or more on Lizzy. It is true her expenses will be large, owing to the state she must keep up as his wife, in matters of dress and table; but her pin-money will assuredly be more than Lizzy herself would ever dreamed of having at her own disposal. For when Mr. Collins proposes to her he reminds her of how little money she can expect: “the one thousand pounds in the four per cents., which will not be yours till after your mother’s decease, is all that you may ever be entitled to.” Since Mr. Bennet’s income is £2000 a year, Lizzy’s income should he die while she’s still single, would only be £40 or £50 a year (depending on whether it was invested at 4% or 5%). Her pin money during his lifetime would therefore have been the same as Cassandra Austen’s, who had been left a thousand-pound legacy by her fiancé, the same as Lizzy’s fortune, which gave her a £50 pound income. Jane Austen writes:
“Five thousand pounds was settled by marriage articles on Mrs. Bennet and the children. But in what proportions it should be divided amongst the latter depended on the will of the parents. This was one point, with regard to Lydia, at least, which was now to be settled, and Mr. Bennet could have no hesitation in acceding to the proposal before him… He had never before supposed that, could Wickham be prevailed on to marry his daughter, it would be done with so little inconvenience to himself as by the present arrangement. He would scarcely be ten pounds a year the loser by the hundred that was to be paid them; for, what with her board and pocket allowance, and the continual presents in money which passed to her through her mother’s hands, Lydia’s expences had been very little within that sum.”
Not being extravagant like Lydia, nor her mother’s favorite, Lizzy certainly never ran through £100 a year like her younger sister. Perhaps half that, at most. So to be not only the mistress of Pemberley, but of a private income of perhaps several hundred pounds a year, would have seemed a very delightful circumstance to her – not to mention the happiness of a marriage which was to “show the admiring multitude what felicity in marriage really was.”
Let us imagine it:
Elizabeth seemed unusually thoughtful as she sat gazing into the fire after a Sunday night dinner at Pemberley. She and Darcy had dined tete-a-tete, having, for once, no company, nor family either, Georgiana being visiting her aunt. Darcy had been cheerfully expanding on all the things about the grounds that he meant to do on the morrow, and it was with a slight start that he noticed that his wife’s eyes were not upon him, with her characteristic expression of mirth, delight, and affection, but upon the logs’ embers that were dying down, as a rainy November wind roared outside.
“My dear,” he said gently, “I knew I was a bore, but hoped you had not found it out within six months of our marriage.”
Her dark eyes met his with the familiar recognition of intimacy, and she gave an apologetic smile. “A bore! Oh, how could you think so! Surely I have proved my affection sufficiently in those six months, that you need not doubt?”
“Certainly. But there seemed something you did not quite like in the fire, and if it does not trouble you to tell me, I should like to know what it was.”
Elizabeth got up, and walked over to him with a look somewhat of a repentant child. She seated herself on a cushion beside his chair, and laid her head on his lap.
“But this is serious! I hope nothing is really the matter, Elizabeth. You may tell me. I hope you know you will find a heart ready to understand.”
She lifted her face. “Oh, of course I know that. No one could ever have shown more understanding, than yourself. Yet I must hesitate, for I have done something…something…”
“What can you have done?” he said affectionately, stroking her hair.
“Oh, don’t be kind to me, until you have heard. It is about my pin-money.”
Darcy threw back his head and laughed heartily. “Is it now? Have you spent all this quarter’s allowance and borrowed from Jane?”
She shook her head. “No, no, it is not that. Only…it is hard for me to tell you. You have a severe aspect at times, you know.”
“Well, come and sit on my lap. Perhaps then I will not seem so formidable. What is it, now? Are you wanting me to raise the amount? I don’t mind. I only made a stab at setting the sum, having no experience in knowing what a clever woman of good sense, charged with being mistress of such a house as this, would require. I always expected to raise the sum as necessary, in accordance with your wishes, of course.”
“Oh, Darcy, you are not to be believed, in your unearthly benevolence! As if I could ask you for more money when you have already dowered me like a princess. No, no indeed, I do not need or want any more; I would feel rich with a quarter the sum! I only wonder why you do not press me for accounts, to know what use I make of your money.”
“I – ask you?” He looked truly astounded. “I would not presume to inquire into your private expenditures, any more than your private correspondence. Surely we trust one another, as we love one another. Do we not?” he asked a little anxiously.
She threw her arms around him and for a moment there were no sounds but murmurs, as Elizabeth showed him with her embrace how much she really did love him, and he returned the affection wordlessly but strongly, and with some relief.
“Well, what is this then?” he finally inquired gently. “Surely you are not afraid of me, Elizabeth.”
“No. I am only ashamed of what my behavior has been, in a matter that I ought to have told you about, whether you asked it or not.”
“Is it about your sister?” he asked shrewdly.
“Lydia! Yes. Although putting it like that, saying your sister, might show unwonted sagacity, since I have four sisters; you could not help being right,” she teased.
“But Lydia,” he pursued, “has, I take it, been troublesome? Surely that is not extraordinary, although I hope such an observation does not pain you.”
Elizabeth sighed. “You are right. There is no reason we should have expected her to cease being troublesome upon her marriage, even though she has been dealt with so generously; but I must tell you that when she and – and her husband, left their lodgings in Newcastle, it was one step ahead of the bailiff, for they did not pay their lodging-house, or several little matters of bills from eating-houses and shoe-makers in the town.”
“So you sent them money, did you?”
Elizabeth nodded, reluctantly. “I am so sorry. I know you would not wish any more of your money to go into the hands of – that man…”
“I foresaw that it would happen, of course,” he said after a moment. “To whom could she apply, but you and Jane? And whatever sum you sent her, I have no doubt that Jane has sent three times as much.”
Elizabeth could not help laughing. “How well you know us!” she explained. “I sent twenty pounds, and Jane sent fifty.”
Darcy smiled, and gave her a reassuring caress. “Well, then that ought to keep them quiet for the next half year at least. We need say no more about it. It is not to be expected, or even wished, that you could keep from averting your sister’s distress, inevitable as it will be with such an husband. I knew you would be sure to balance the thing sensibly, and with conscience, being of help to her, without allowing yourself to be used or drained. My love, we need say no more about it, need we? My trust in you is absolute.”
“Oh, Darcy, now I am ashamed of ever hesitating to tell you a thing.”
“I hope you never feel that way again. That, I believe, is what real marriage is all about.”
Elizabeth smiled, and laid her head on his shoulder, her last fears laid to rest. He stood up and drew her by her hand, and picked up a candle to light them to bed. “Only one thing more,” he mentioned, as they went.
“What is that?”
“Do you need more pin-money? I never want you to feel constrained…”
“Oh, hang the pin-money! Such a silly, petty thing, pins and petticoats. Let us go to bed!” she cried.