Retrench!

Standard

Barbara Whelehan, writing for Bankrate.com (via Yahoo!), uses examples from Jane Austen’s work to illustrate the negative effects of carrying excessive credit card debt.

The inability to live within one’s means goes back a long way. If fiction reflects reality, consider the character John Willoughby in Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility,” published in 1811. Willoughby’s “estate had been rated … at about six or seven hundred [pounds] a year; but he lived at an expense to which that income could hardly be equal, and he had himself often complained of his poverty.”

Credit cards were nonexistent in those days, so the quickest way to wealth was to marry well. Willoughby used this strategy, and in the process broke the heart of the pretty and poor protagonist Miss Marianne, whom he had been leading on. A sympathetic friend of Marianne assessed the scoundrel this way: “Nothing in the way of pleasure can ever be given up by the young men of this age.”

Now, doesn’t that sound like something you might hear today? (Add “women” to obviate sexist overtones and make it more current.)

OK, things have changed since the days of horse-drawn carriages and letters sent by post. For one thing, up until around the mid-19th century, those who were unable to meet their obligations were often sent to debtor’s prison for the “wantonness of pride, the malignity of revenge, or the acrimony of disappointed expectation,” in the words of Samuel Johnson, who sympathized with imprisoned debtors, not creditors. No wonder: The litterateur of the 18th century suffered poverty most of his life.