Thoughts on Travel in ‘Sense and Sensibility’

Sense & Sensibility is about so many things, but there is an emphasis on income, inheritance and money, and how the world of the late 18th, early 19th century figured in the lives of Austen’s characters, especially the women in her novels.  But one of the things one notices after a number of readings is the amount of movement in this novel – the constant  comings and goings of the characters, with their visiting, travels to London, moving from one end of England to the other.  On first reading, you might almost miss the extent of this movement, after all, nothing really ever happens in Austen, isn’t that what we always hear?!  But take a look at the map on the JASNA.org site for Sense and Sensibility and you will see what I mean. And if you know anything about travel in late 18th – early 19th century England, you will be know how arduous such travel was.  I am going to chart the movement of characters in the novel and the means whereby they moved from place to place, or as Mrs. Jennings so aptly asks of the Misses Steele:  “How did you travel?”  

Austen knew first-hand the travel issues of her day [read her letters!] – and she was very knowledgable and consistent in writing about it in her novels – often not necessarily specific but there are clues all around!   But alas!, there is so much to discuss about travel: carriages and their parts; the history of the postal system; the history of coaching and the turnpike system; the economics of the time – taxation, income and inheritance – all these; but I will in the next several posts offer a brief outline of the travel in Regency England, its difficulty and costs with a few thoughts on economics; then a discussion of movement in S&S; the types of carriages in use in Regency England and those used by Austen’s characters; and finally a few words on the London of S&S – it has the most mention of any of her novels, and interesting to see where each character was housed in Town.  And at the end of this series of posts, I will provide a bibliography and further reading references.
 

 Part I:  Travel in Regency England  

[English Counties: Map from JASNA.org]

  • -The difficulty of travel due to the condition of the roads – each parish was responsible for its own roads but they were largely dirty and muddy, and dangerous
  • -most people traveled by foot:  certainly true of the lower classes, but recall Mrs. Dashwood: 

 …his [Mr. Middleton’s ] repeated assurances of his carriage being always at their service, the independence of Mrs. Dashwood’s spirit overcame the wish of society for her children; and she was resolute in declining to visit any family beyond the distance of a walk.  

  •   -traveling in vehicles in the daytime or only in the nights with bright moonlight, little travel in winter, no travel on Sunday
  • -improper for women to travel alone [if you read Austen’s letters, you will see that she was completely dependent upon her brothers to visit anyone or travel any distance; and how outrageous that Northanger Abbey’s Catherine Morland was put on that coach all alone!]
  • -for overnights at coaching inns, travelers often brought their own linens or silverware…
  • -travel vehicles were uncomfortable and dangerous due to the road conditions and highwaymen
  • -despite all this, the late 18th-century saw a great improvement in the roads, and one could travel great distances more quickly [and if they had the money!].   Paterson’s British Itinerary, a travel guide had 17 editions between 1785-1832 – it outlined the roads used by the stage and mail coaches, the tolls, the bridges, etc.   

[Image from Georgianindex.net]

A quick review of travel times [varies depending upon vehicles]:  

  • – Mr. Darcy:  8 miles/hr –  recall his famous line to Elizabeth:  ‘what is 50 miles of good road? little more than half a day’s journey’
  • -the Stage Coach [and General Tilney]:  7 miles /hr
  • -average travel time:  4-6 miles / hr
  • -100 miles = 2 days of travel [and remember, no travel on Sunday]
  • -in 1800, London to Edinburgh took 60 hrs; London to Norwich, 19 hrs 

The estimated mileages in Sense and Sensibility: [this is in todays distances] 

  • London to Bristol = @ 106 miles
  • London to Bath = @ 97 miles
  • London to Exeter = @ 157 miles
  • London to Plymouth = @ 192 ,iles
  • Exeter to Honiton = @ 16 miles
  • Honiton to Weymouth = @ 35 miles

[Map of S&S: from JASNA.org]

Cost of living ~ some basic facts: 

The economy in Britain during this time was very unstable – hard to effectively calculate the meaning of what the cost of living was in the early 19th century and to compare it with ours today; also some items cost more in Austen’s times than they do today, some less.

One 1988 article calculated that one pound in 1811 = $33., so Darcy’s income of 10,000 = $330,000.  The following month another article said that to compare 1810 with 1990, one should multiply today’s average per capita income by 300 [in 1990 this was $20,894.] = $6,300,000. would be Darcy’s income in today’s language.  Another article:  the pound in 1800 = $100. , so Darcy’s 10,000 = 1 million! – to be honest I just got dizzy with this whole thing!  [There are various websites where you can play around calculating these amounts, such as Measuring Worth, and the National Archives Currency Converter]

And remember that Austen often tells you exactly what someone is worth – this was common knowledge at the time and was not considered rude to talk about it.  But when there is a reference to money, for the men, she is referring to their annual income [Darcy 10,000; Bingley 5,000; Brandon 2,000; etc], but when referring to a woman, the reference is to her total assets, i.e. this money would be invested at 5% and she would earn the income from that each year, so Miss Gray’s 50,000 [Austen’s richest woman] is not her income, but rather the income from that, so £2,500 / year to live on.  [note that this is not always consistent, but is largely a general rule in Austen]

 So rather than trying to figure out what something would be worth today, it is better to look at the cost of living, i.e. what things cost in Austen’s time,  so to gain some perspective, keep the following in mind:

  • the world that Jane Austen writes about and the world we see visually in the film adaptations portrays a very small minority of the population, the “Polite World”, the upper 10,000; Austen might give various clues in each novel to that other world, but it is easy to forget it when reading about the romance and balls and carriages and fashion, etc.   
  • Edward Copeland, an Austen scholar who has written much on the economics of Austen’s world, and says she was “meticulous” in presenting these economic truths, states that this economic world in S&S is presented in terms of the power that money brings with it, and the frightening aspect of this for the women in the novel, where it seems that the “wicked, foolish and selfish” are rewarded.  
  • in 1799, in order to support and pay for the war with France, the British Government imposed a tax of 2s / pound on all income over £200; there were also taxes on windows, on malt, sugar, tea, coffee [considered a luxury tax], etc… 

Some hard economic facts ~ in a world where the lowest “respectable” income would be about £50 / year: 

  • a common laborour:  £25 / year – this to maintain himself, his wife, and 6 children in food, lodgings, clothes and fuel 
  • governess:  £25 / year 
  • curate w/ house and garden:  £40 / year  
  • average gentleman = £150 /yr
  • for a gentleman in 1825 with an income of £250 – for himself, his wife, three children and a maidservant, food cost a little over £2.5 / wk = £135 /yr.
  • £370 /yr – will support 2 servants 
  • £500 /yr – will support two servants, a boy, an occasional gardener  [Mrs. Dashwood and three daughters] 
  • Edward & Elinor when married will have £850  [after his mother gives him money – they would have married with only 350 – see Copeland in Cambridge Companion.]
  • £800 – 1200 will support a carriage  [hence Willoughby is living way beyond his means, as we shall see…]
  • £5000+ – the minimal income needed to partake of the “London Season” – [The John Dashwoods, etc] – renting and running the household, elegant parties, stabling horses, clothing, etc.

So if Austen doesn’t tell us directly about a character’s income, you can figure it out by inference:  London? any carriage? how many servants? 

 Costs of travel:  [estimates for 1800] 

  • Stage Coach:  2-3 pence / mile = 1.25 pounds from London to Bath / half-price if up top / outside [but remember the average income was about £30 / year 
  • Hired post-chaise =  estimate about £1 / mile [i.e @1 shilling / horse / mile, to include the postillion] 

Costs of Horses: for hunting, racing, riding, pleasure drives

  • -expensive to buy and maintain:  cost = 100 pounds; annual maintenance 120 pounds to stable in London
  • -costs of the carriages [discuss later] – but there were also taxes on private carriages and horses; toll roads
  •  -for perspective:  in 1801, 8 million population in England; in 1814, there were 69,200 taxed carriages [i.e. less than 1 / 100]:  23,400 four wheeled; 27,300 two-wheeled; 18,500 “tax-carts” [basic springless vehicles] [quoting All Things Austen]

 The economic realities in S&S ~ remember that Mrs. Dashwood could not keep a horse or a carriage after the loss of their inheritance:  

1.  Narrator on the Henry Dashwoods: 

…the horses that were left her by her husband had been sold soon after his death, and an opportunity now offering of disposing of her carriage, she agreed to sell that likewise at the earnest advice of her eldest daughter.  [and she had 500 pounds a year!]

 2.  Narrator on Willoughby’s gift of a horse to Marianne [his irresponsibility – the realities of owning a horse]:  

 …Willoughby had given her a horse, one that he had bred himself on his estate in Somersetshire, and which was exactly calculated to carry a woman.  Without considering that it was not in her mother’s plan to keep any horse, that if she were to alter her resolution in favour of this gift, she must buy another for a servant, and keep a servant to ride it, and after all, build a stable to receive them…

 3.  Marianne on a competence:  she wants 2000 pounds a year: 

I am sure I am not extravagant in my demands. A proper establishment of servants, a carriage, perhaps two, and hunters, cannot be supported on less.   [the irony being that that is exactly the income of Colonel Brandon!]  – and of course, Elinor responds:

TWO thousand a year! ONE is my wealth!

4.  Fanny Dashwood in the infamous scene talking down the inheritance: 

Their housekeeping will be nothing at all.  They will have no carriage, no horses, and hardly any servants; they will keep no company, and can have no expenses of any kind!

 And on that happy note, I will pause ~ next up:  what is the income of the characters in S&S, where do they live, and to where do they travel in this novel of many travels?

 

[Posted by Deb]

23 thoughts on “Thoughts on Travel in ‘Sense and Sensibility’

  1. Thanks for this informative article, Deb! This answered many of the questions I’ve had about travel and wealth. This will be a useful reference point, too.

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    • My post is such a quick summary – there is much on this topic and once I started reading about it, I realized how little I really understood about the “economic realities” of Austen’s day and the lives of her characters. I will be noting sources in my last post on Travel in S&S – but for information on wealth, money and income, any of the works by Edward Copeland are invaluable: in the Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen; also in Folsom’s Approaches to Teaching P&P – his article “Economic Realities”; his book “Women Writing about Money: women’s fiction in England 1790-1820” ; he also edited the Cambridge S&S –

      Thanks for stopping by!
      Deb

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  2. Pingback: Thoughts on Travel in ‘Sense and Sensibility’ ~ Part II « Jane Austen in Vermont

  3. Pingback: Travel in ‘Sense & Sensibility’ Part III ~ Carriages « Jane Austen in Vermont

  4. I came across your blog while trying to determine for myself some details about travel in the mid 1790s. I have a story in which a couple of midshipmen, one very rich whose ton family lives in London, and the other somewhat less so, whose family lives in Kent.

    I’ve managed to figure out from your entry how long it would take for them to travel from Portsmouth to London, and that with a private coach starting early, it looks like it could be done in one day. And certainly I’ve learned that for the poorer midshipman, traveling to Kent and back would be a real strain on his purse.

    But I don’t know whether it makes sense for the richer boy to give his friend a ride to London. Would it be normal to travel first to London and then back down to Kent? It seems a little bit like there weren’t a lot of cross-country roads, more a spoke system with London in the center, but I could be entirely mistaken. Do you have any idea, or where I might look?

    Even if there were direct coaches from Portsmouth to Kent, Would it be cheaper with more coaches going to and from London versus Portsmouth, to go to London and then Kent, especially if the London leg was free?

    Any pointers on where to look for an answer would be most appreciated.

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  5. Pingback: Jane Austen in Vermont

  6. Pingback: Jane Austen on her ‘Sense & Sensibility’ « Jane Austen in Vermont

    • Hello Georgina – you just need to hit the “sign me up” button in the right sidebar of the blog and give your email- you will then get an email every time I write a new post..
      Thanks for visiting!
      Deb

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  7. Pingback: Travel in Sense & Sensibility ~ Part IV ~ Carriages, cont’d « Jane Austen in Vermont

  8. Pingback: Travel in Sense & Sensibility ~ Part V ~ Carriages ~ Regency Sports Cars « Jane Austen in Vermont

  9. Hi Janeite.
    I am currently writing a dissertation as part of my undergraduate degree on travel in Jane Austen’s novels including Sense and Sensibility. Your posts have been extremely valuable in giving me an insight into the subject area.
    I was just wondering if I would be able to get in contact with you at all regarding where you sourced some of your information, particularly the cost of travel and any further reading you can recommend.
    Any help you can offer would be greatly appreciated.
    Best,
    Samantha

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    • Thank you Tara! It is so interesting to look at each of the novels from the travel point of view – so much more movement all over England than one at first sees!

      Thanks for visiting,
      Deb

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  10. I have been reading “Regency” romances for about 15 years and never noticed any mention of “no travel on Sunday.” I suppose I may simply not have remarked it, or the authors failed to do their research, or they ignored it as being inconvenient for the purposes of fiction. I confess I don’t understand how it would work in practice…if someone decided to travel on Sunday, who would stop them? Or do you simply mean that public conveyances were forbidden to do business on Sunday? What about farm wagons? I’d appreciate clarification as I’ve thought about doing some writing myself. Thanks in advance.

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  11. Pingback: Some shiny needles I found in the haystack of internet research | Leife Shallcross

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  13. Pingback: Book Review: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (2/5) | Taking on a World of Words

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