Stop Dribbling Woman – Jane Austen Wasn’t Underpaid


A little exegesis of how stories become garbled – and feminised – as they pass along the line. Here at Vox we’re told that Jane Austen was underpaid, wildly underpaid in fact, even by the standards of her time:

Apparently Jane Austen was wildly underpaid, even by the standards of her day! You just know she would have had something great to say about that.

That’s the entirety of the entry on Austen there, even though the headline is:

Jane Austen was shockingly underpaid compared to other authors of her era

There is a problem with this. As Jane Austen wasn’t actually being paid a wage the idea that someone was underpaying her seems a little odd. The first source is that Temple to accuracy, Jezebel:

Although she only lived to 42, Jane Austen wrote some of the most widely read and adapted novels of all-time. However, recent research shows that she earned far less than her contemporaries during her lifetime.

Which has the benefit of at least getting the basics right – she earned less, not was paid less. But it still makes this mistake:

Furthermore, Sense and Sensibility earned the author just £140. The research provides an interesting look at how Austen was valued in her time but doesn’t do much to explain why she would have been paid so little.

For the original at the Bank of England explains all:

An alternative approach stems from the ingenious attempt by American professor, Jan Fergus, who worked out the income from sales of her books less the cost of printing and paper using information from a contemporary publisher because Jane Austen’s first publisher’s (Egerton) records have not survived. As she self-published all her novels,

No one, other than the readers, was paying Austen anything at all. In the modern day the equivalent would be sticking a book up on Amazon and getting them to print it. The cause and reason for Jane Austen’s low income was simply that not many people bought the books when they were first published.

But now of course we’ll have myriad harpies repeating the known fact that Jane Austen was wildly underpaid because men are pigs. And so does the current culture operate.