I’m reading Mrs Dalloway (it’s wonderful) and as in every British novel set in upper class 19th or early 20th century Britain they keep talking about how much people have a year. To keep his Indian divorcee, her children, and himself, Peter Walsh needs a job that will pay at least £500, he thinks, which is the same sum as Woolf herself believes a woman needs a year to write, £500 a year and a room of her own. I’ve always wondered how much £500 a year is, and it’s not excessive, it turns out, certainly not enough to keep servants today, though you’d be able to afford a room and kitchen of your own, and payments on your student debts too: in 1923 £500 had the same purchase power as £17949.01 today. That’s about what they pay us while we’re working on our PhDs in Norway, so yes, it’s enough to write.

You’ll find more converters for historical values of money in many different currencies at a very useful collection called Current Value of Old Money. There’s even a converter for the historical value of Norwegian kroner, from 1865 to today, kindly provided by Statistisk SentralbyrÂ, which really has a very impressive website.

4 thoughts on “money

  1. hanna

    Goodness, £17949 is considerably more than UK PhD students are paid; the typical salary for a PhD student in Britain is currently £9000 per year! (People are, in fact, very excited about this salary — last year £8000 was the norm.)

    An aside: while at Post-Invasion Poetics last night, I overheard a student comment that his advisor, one of the poets present, “really is Mrs. Dalloway….”

  2. Bill

    Ye gods! At my graduate institution, the take-home pay was only about US$800/month (nothing during summers) and that’s with teaching three courses (one/quarter). Granted this was 5-10 years ago, but still….

    Of course, my *current* institution is even worse: the graduate stipend is a mammoth $5000/year. But these are only masters students, who are often lucky to find any support at all.

  3. Jill

    They said she was Mrs Dalloway? God, I hope no one ever says that about me. She’s so closed tight, for all her wonderful thoughts and feelings… A warning more than something to aspire to.

    As for the money, I know, Norwegians doing PhDs get paid more than just about anywhere else, but they’re also on average older and have studied and worked for longer before they get the grant. Look:

    • We generally already have student debts of well over £17949. I did, most of my friends do. You have to start paying those debts down when you finish your MA, so that’s £150 a month right there. The student debt’s not for tuition, which is free here, but for living costs. Few continue to live at home after twenty, many move at 18, and as a culture we assume the individual, with state support, is responsible for his or her own education, rather than parents paying, as is common in many cultures. We love being independent. Though the student loan system’s pretty damn good compared to other countries you still end up with a lot of debt. And there are no grants like in the US where very good students get their living costs paid.
    • When we start our PhDs we’ve already been at university for six or seven years. I know this is different from country to country, but here you need an MA to start a PhD. That takes six years, at least, in the humanities. It’s during your MA you starve and work as a waitress, you’ve had enough of that by the time you’re done.
    • A PhD fellowship is treated as a recruitment position here so you’re not a student.
    • It’s damn hard to get a PhD grant.
    • It’s possible that the cost of living in Norway is higher than in other countries. We keep getting told this, but it doesn’t seem to me that US or British groceries and rent are any cheaper than what we pay here, so I don’t know. Australia’s a bit cheaper, especially groceries and clothes.
    • It’s just a different system. There are far fewer people doing doctoral degrees here than in Anglo countries, though this is quite likely to change. I suspect we’ll move to an Anglo system in a few years: shorter degrees, more of ’em.

    With my huge student loan, a daughter and being nearly thirty by the time I qualified, I sure wouldn’t have taken the risk of doing a PhD if it had meant incurring even more debt and continuing to live on the pittance I’d been surviving on as a student.

    Post-Invasion Poetics? Goodness.

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