Salaries in the 1890s
aka just how poor are Jonathan and Mina, anyway?
My best guess is that Jonathan earns in the range of £150 to £200. (I’ve upped this estimate since I had a guess previously - so I might still be wrong). A junior clerk earned around £20-25; a senior clerk up to £100. A solicitor on a good salary earned £500-£1,000, but Victorian professional salaries usually started low, and then had large pay rises – as much as £20 per year.
Meanwhile Mina earns £75-£80 as a teacher. But when they get married, they’ll be living solely off Jonathan’s salaries – only unmarried women are allowed to be teachers.
So are they poor? Definitely a lot poorer than their friends. Arthur Holmwood is upper-class, with an income of at least £5,000 but his father’s income might be as much as £150,000. An income of £150 would make Jonathan only just middle-class.
But… the average male salary in the 1890s was £56; for all workers, it was £42/14/- . A servant might earn as little as £10 per year, though they’d get food and accommodation.
So why, when Jonathan is probably earning three times the average salary, does Mina say, “Jonathan and I will start in life in a very simple way, and shall have to try to make both ends meet”?
I think the main reason is because £150 is the absolute minimum threshold in the 1890s for employing a full-time servant – even at £200 it’s a stretch.
When Agatha Christie looked back on her life in the early 20th century, she wrote:
“Looking back, it seems to me extraordinary that we should have contemplated having both a nurse and a servant. But they were considered essentials of life in those days, and were the last things we would have thought of dispensing with. To have committed the extravagance of a car, for instance, would never have entered our minds. Only the rich had cars.”
And that was written about 1919, when wages were higher and cars cheaper. Jonathan and Mina would struggle to afford one servant; they definitely can’t afford two.
The fun thing about this is that for any Victorian reader, the obvious solution is just to wait a few years before marrying – Jonathan’s pay will increase, Mina can keep earning.
They love each other too much to do that though <3