In 1796, some twenty years before she finished Emma, Jane Austen wrote, “I am very much flattered by your commendation . . . for I write only for Fame, and without any view to pecuniary Emolument.” She was referring to some compliment her sister (and devoted pen pal) Cassandra had paid a letter, and not to one of her novels, but the quotation is relevant to them as well.

Last summer, The Financial Times published an estimation of Austen’s lifetime earnings, based on investment archives recently published by the Bank of England. Her first two novels, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, appear to have earned her £321. Mansfield Park appears to have earned £310. In 1816, Austen chose to reprint Mansfield Park at her own expense, an unrewarding endeavor that ate up most of the royalties from Emma. Persuasion and Northanger…

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