Money and personal finances play an enormous role in silver fork fiction as tensions increased between the growing ‘new money’ of the middle classes and the dwindling ‘old money’ of the aristocracy. The industrialization and urbanization of the late eighteenth century meant that the traditional, feudal framework for extreme wealth (with aristocrats owning vast acres of land, from which they would receive rent and proceeds from farming) was beginning to fail; the middle and lower classes flooded into cities and into urban jobs, frequently in factories.

Many silver fork plots revolve around poor-but-titled characters attempting to marry into wealth in order to preserve the ‘dignity’ of their position and the maintenance of the family estate. The novels also often depict freshly wealthy middle-class characters learning how to behave properly and give their new social position legitimacy.

'Salubrity of Smithfield'. Punch (London, England), Saturday, June 19, 1847; pg. 248. New Readerships.

‘Salubrity of Smithfield’.
Punch (London, England), Saturday, June 19, 1847; pg. 248. New Readerships.

Yearly Income

  • “’but pay me a thousand a year . . . and I can live abroad like a prince’” (Granby 3:76).
  • “A well-sounding name, and the two thousand per annum allowed by his father, afforded a creditable footing in society” (The Fair of Mayfair 1:24).
  • “They had about thirty-thousand pounds each; which in England is considered as a comfortable, and in Ireland as a very large fortune” (The Davenels 1:134).
  • “’when he comes to the title, his father’s entailed estates descent to him, and his object is to keep the rest of the property wholly untouched till that time; he is, therefore, starving himself upon some two or three thousand a-year till that event occurs’” (Sayings and Doings, Second Series, Vol. I 78).
  • “’Have you not seven or eight thousand a-year?’ ‘Which, as you must be aware, will only just sere to maintain our establishment, and bring us to town for the season’” (Pin Money 1:51).

Wealth and Marriage

  • “’the estates dwindled away with each successive generation; and when Arthur Godolphin . . . succeeded to the property, nothing was left for him but the choice of three evils – a profession, obscurity, or a wealthy marriage’” (Godolphin 1:89).
  • “’An heiress, with thirty thousand pounds . . . can never fail of attracting numberless suitors’” (Harold the Exile 1:115-116).
  • “’men will not marry girls with small fortunes. Nothing less than £20,000 goes down now-a-days’” (Finesse 2:24).
  • “Both the ladies were affluent in means: they had at least a thousand a-year” (Finesse 1:275).
  • “’Poor dear Launceston could not endure to see a woman worldly-wise; he never suffered me to talk to him about his pecuniary concerns; and used to say that a managing woman deserved to wear a beard by way of penance’” (Pin Money 1:7).
  • “There are two charming situations in life for a woman: one, the first freshness of heiress-ship and beauty, the other, youthful widowhood with a large jointure” (Paul Clifford 2:50).
  • “’If she had forty thousand pounds in her pocket, I might be in some danger of falling in love’” (Country Houses 1:6).

Genteel Poverty

  • “Godolphin, who, unlike English persons in general, seemed to love alluding to his poverty” (Godolphin 1:112).
  • “’[Ruin] comes of men frittering away their fortunes,’ said Lord Allington, ‘in paying their tradesmen’s bills’” (The Princess 1:48-49)
  • “’I supposed you have heard that Lord Winthrop is ruined, and his creditors will only allow him 5000l. a year’” (Dacre: A Novel 1:143).
  • “’I cannot endure that flippant manner with which he speaks upon all subjects, – a fellow of three hundred a year, Ma’am, has no right to talk so’” (Love and Pride 1:10).

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