As we investigate the private lives of Regency Women, it’s important to consider money and a woman’s private expenses. If a genteel woman was expected to dress a certain way, do her hair in the latest styles, wear the right shoes and accessories to accentuate her beauty, and care for her own private needs and beauty regimes, how did she pay for everything she needed?
If one of Jane Austen’s heroines (or Jane herself) wanted to purchase something like a bonnet or a ribbon or a new gown, where did she get the money? Who supplied her with money, what was the amount she might have to spend, and how often was it replenished? Let’s find out!
You are very right in supposing how my money would be spent—some of it, at least—my loose cash would certainly be employed in improving my collection of music and books.Marianne Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility
Pin money, also sometimes referred to as an allowance, was the money that genteel Regency women used for personal expenses, such as dresses, hats, shoes, and other things of that sort. She kept an accounting of it herself and must balance her own budget.
The history of the term “pin money” dates back to the 1500s: “At that time, pin money was a substantial sum that was used for important purchases. The expression is linked to the price of straight pins, once items that were very rare and expensive, and part of the necessary purchases to run a household” (Grammarist). Over time, the term became synonymous with a woman’s personal money.
For the most part, genteel Regency women were entirely reliant on their male relatives for any “loose cash” for their own personal expenses. As an unmarried woman, she would only have what money her father or a close male relative gave to her (or left to her). Once married, she only had what her husband gave to her or what she was entitled to as part of her marriage settlement.
Jane Austen’s Allowance
We know that Jane Austen herself had a small allowance from her father. In Oliver MacDonough’s Jane Austen: Real and Imagined Worlds, we read this: “Jane had nothing of her own beyond the pin-money allowed her by her father, which was probably only £20 a year.” Cassandra’s annual allowance, as noted in a letter from 28 December 1798 was twenty pounds: “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].”
Mrs. Darcy’s Pin Money
Finally, Pride and Prejudice shows us how a generous allowance allowed married women to live in comfort, having enough for their own needs and for the needs of others, either for charitable giving or to help support family members.
We can now read Mrs. Bennet’s famous reaction to Elizabeth’s engagement to Mr. Darcy with even more interest:
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.Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice
And it seems that Mrs. Bennet was correct indeed. We see this play out when Lydia writes to Elizabeth at the end of Pride and Prejudice, hoping to get a regular allowance from Elizabeth and Darcy: “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.”
However, while the Darcys do not provide the Wickhams with a regular allowance, Elizabeth still kindly send gifts of money on a frequent basis to help Lydia. She gives this money out of her own private funds, which as the text implies, was substantial:
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. . . and whenever [the Wickhams] changed their quarters, either Jane or herself were sure of being applied to for some little assistance towards discharging their bills.Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
The Love of Money
Money mattered greatly in the lives of Jane Austen’s Regency women. Having “loose cash” didn’t just provide for bonnets and gowns; it also provided for the safety and protection of several of Austen’s female characters. Money could be used as a means of control or generosity. It could limit a woman or give her greater freedom.
Join me again next month as we delve further into Regency Women: Money Matters and look closely at several instances where Austen uses a lady’s personal money (or lack thereof) as a clever plot device.
RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog and Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine. She is the bestselling author of The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Her newest book The Little Women Devotional is now available for pre-order and releases December 2021. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.