Fictional Finance Face-off: Mr Darcy vs Jay Gatsby

Bring. It. On.

We all have fictional characters that we admire, for one reason or another. For example, I’m a big fan of the way Winnie the Pooh loves his friends unconditionally and always has a snack on hand.

But since I started blogging at Mozo, I’ve found myself thinking more and more about the financial savvy of my favourite fictional characters and whether or not they’re good role models. I mean sure, James Bond is arguably the suavest guy ever to walk the earth but does he know how to set out a budget? Is he following the 50–30–20 rule? How much of his MI6 paycheck goes into a savings account?

So, as a little experiment, I’ve taken two fictional characters whose wealth is pretty important to their persona — Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby — and pitted them against each other.

Now, it’s hardly fair to compare these two on stated dollar value alone — inflation means that Darcy’s 1803 bank account wouldn’t have a hope of standing up against Gatsby’s roaring ’20s one. So, for these financial fisticuffs, our heroes are going to face off in modern terms (which means at today’s dollar value, not that I’ll be holding a dance off in the Westfields parking lot. Although, how cool would that be?)

So, here it is, the fictional budgetary brawl of the century (or two centuries, technically):

Gatsby

Our first contender, Jay Gatsby, was living large between 1920 and the summer of ’22 as a bootlegger and questionable moral personality — AKA: a pretty shady dude. But on the flip side, there ain’t no party like a Gatsby party. The guy knows how to throw a shindig.

The paycheck:

The Daily Intelligencer very thoughtfully crunched the numbers about 3 years ago and worked out what Gatsby was worth, so I am going to shamelessly piggyback off their research. Standing on the shoulders of giants, and all that jazz.

They worked out that Gatsby probably could have made around $1 million from liquor sales in the roughly two and a half years the book is concerned with, and guessed a yearly income of about $100,000 for his other side ventures. And, since Gatsby built his fortune from pretty much nothing, I’m happy to let this income account for all his worldly wealth.

So, if we accept that Gatsby was worth $1.25 million in 1922, adjusted for inflation, today he’d have a bank balance of $17,905,282.74.

The bill:

Gatsby spent a lot of money. It was kind of his whole thing. Daily Intelligencer puzzled it out to be a total spend of about $1.378 million or $19,738,783.69 in today’s dollars — which, if you’ve got a basic grasp of mathematics I’m sure you’re aware, puts him $1,833,500.95 in the red.

But wait. It gets worse. Daily Intelligencer left it there, but they aren’t finance nerds, so Gatsby got off lightly. I am a finance nerd, so I’d like to point out that all that debt has to go somewhere.

And where would it go? I’m willing to bet all that extra spending went straight onto a credit card. And was it a low rate credit card with generous repayment options? Somehow I doubt it. This is Gatsby we’re talking about, so you just know every dollar would have gone straight onto the fanciest, most prestigious matte black credit card he could get his hands on.

Which means he’s looking at a purchase rate of at least 20.74%. There’s a lot of potential maths here, so let’s just simplify it to this: the month after Gatsby racked up that $1.83 million debt, he’d owe another $380,268.10 in interest, bringing his total to $2,213,769.05 (and not even mentioning credit card fees.)

But wait.

The $1.378 million spend figure accounts for a $1 million down payment on Gatsby’s mansion — the inspiration for which (the Kings Point Estate in Long Island) was up for sale with a price tag of $39.5 million in 2010.

The down payment is $14,324,226.19 today, which means if Gatsby got a home loan at 3.73%, his monthly repayments are about $115,495. And that’s the best deal around.

So at the end of the summer, Gatsby would be left with a total debt of approximately $2,329,264.05 and counting.

Total: -$2,329,264.05

Mr Darcy

The challenger, Mr Darcy, is the original heartthrob, dropping knickers since 1803. And get this, in Austen’s times, the name Fitzwilliam Darcy was so steeped in cultural implications, she might as well have called him Richie Rich.

The paycheck:

Mr Darcy quite famously had an income of £10,000 a year — a sum that makes Mrs Bennett positively giddy — so that’s a good start for him. I’ve plugged that into an inflation calculator, which tells me that’s worth £878,000 today.

But there’s also a bunch of economic factors to consider — a lot has changed between 1803 and now. The Telegraph did the hard yards, and worked out that taking all these factors into consideration, a more accurate representation of Darcy’s buying power would be £12 million. Not as impressive as Gatsby, but don’t worry — we’re just getting started.

Because here’s the really important part: that’s just interest. The idea, back in Austen’s times, was that a gentlemen would inherit a bucketload of money, and then live solely on the interest it earned, so he could, in turn, leave a bucketload of money to his kids. Darcy’s £10,000 income is barely scratching the surface of his actual worth.

Now, I don’t know what kind of interest rates they were getting back in the 1800s, but today, assuming that Darcy found a decent savings account (and c’mon, if he doesn’t scream responsible financial portfolio to you, then what book did you read?) he might be raking interest in at around 3.20%.

Which means modern day Darcy’s got a little under £370 million sitting in his account. No wonder everyone’s got such a crush on him.

The bill:

I’m going to go ahead and make an estimate of not a whole lot. Because, heartthrob though he may be, Darcy is in fact a giant nerd, who mostly stays home and hangs out with his little sister. He only has one friend, and his hobbies include brooding, insulting pretty girls and micro-managing everyone else’s lives.

Incidentally, that last thing is what winds up costing him a bundle: over the course of the book, Darcy had to pay Wickham off so he wouldn’t try to marry his sister — costing him £3,000 or £263,400 by today’s standards. He then had to pay off Wickham’s debts so that he would marry Elizabeth’s sister, which cost him another £1,000, or £87,800 today. Deciding who and when Wickham should marry cost Darcy a total of £351,200.

The other major cost Darcy has to deal with is the upkeep of his swanky house. It’s hard to say what it would cost to run a house that size back in 1803, but today, Chatsworth House — which was used as the set for Darcy’s bachelor pad in the 2005 film — costs its owner £4 million each year.

Aside from that, I don’t think Darcy has many expenses, considering how well-documented his dislike for social outings is. But just to even the score a little, I’m willing to add £9,589.29 ($17,000) for the cost of owning a horse and a £1,000 fund to replace all the white shirts he ruins while swimming in dirty ponds.

Iconic.

Which leaves the illustrious Mr Darcy with an annual income of £12 million and a bill of just £4,361,789.29, thoroughly thrashing the Great Gatsby, who will hereby be known as the Broke Gatsby.

Total: £7,638,210.71

As if that wasn’t enough, if you convert Darcy’s pounds into the same American dollars Gatsby was using, he’d be left with $10,114,633.20. Which means he could pay off Gatsby’s debts 4 times over.

Show off.


*Please note, these numbers could be way off, considering that, well, these are fictional characters. And there are a lot of historical and economic factors that play into what they’d really be worth that I haven’t probed into deeply.

Have a favourite fictional character you’d like to see in a faceoff? Let me know below. You can check out my other writing at Mozo.com.au.