It is a truth universally acknowledged that social media is a growing superpower and a force ever increasingly catching the notice of government agencies. With the power of twitter, facebook, blogging, commenting and even more ways of expressing ones opinion, the general public cannot be ignored any longer.
This universal truth is shown in the recent news of the updating of the currency of the UK (or more specifically, England and Wales, as Scotland has their own version of the notes) where the decision to removed social reformer Elizabeth Fry from the £5 and replace her with wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill was met with dismay from feminist groups. The decision would have left Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as the only female on British currency.
Petitions were signed – a change.org petition receiving over 30,000 signatures and finally the Bank of England listened. They did not reverse their decision, but took the suggestion of putting one of the greatest female novelist to come out of England on the £10 note instead.
Of course, this decision may well irritate science fans, as she will be replacing Charles Darwin.
Why Jane Austen?
Mark Carney, the Canadian in charge of the Bank of England, explained why quite nicely in his speech at the reveal of the design. She is “one of the greatest writers in English Literature,” he says.
“Her novels have an enduring, timeless and universal appeal, they’ve never been out of print since they were first published, they’ve inspired numerous and modern adaptations and their loved by people around the world. Austen’s combination of sharp wit, engaging narrative, knowing satire and social commentary have earned her place amongst the country’s favourite authors.”
While I wholeheartedly agree, with his statement, it also is important to see that she was a woman writing in a man’s world – she first published anonymously so that her reputation as a lady would not be sullied by the act of writing fiction. When she did reveal her identity she was a huge success and she still dared to write satire about the social conventions of her times. She created one of the most popular heroines in literature, Elizabeth Bennet, who was headstrong and smart, and stood by her beliefs (though one could argue she ended up slightly mercenary in the end if her tongue in cheek comments about Darcy’s estate are to be believed!)
Austen inspired so many to write, was a favourite of the Royals, put Bath, Derbyshire, and Ramsgate amongst other places on the map for tourists, and she did this all while remaining a single, private person whose truth remains a mystery after her sister, Cassandra, destroyed most of their letters upon her death.
That an author should be on a bank note is of great importance too, as England is well known for its literature. The classics of English Literature reach back centuries – Chaucer, Shakespeare, Hardy, Dickens to name but a few.
I am a huge fan of Jane Austen and it thrills me to see that she will be on the £10 note. The portrait drawn by her sister, Cassandra, will be used, as well as imagery from her most popular novel, Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennet will feature, as will a quote from Pride and Prejudice.
The Irony of the Quote
The quote has caused a little fuss of its own, as it appears to exist to be testament to a love of reading, but in the context of the novel it isn’t quite the case.
“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!”
This is a line uttered by Caroline Bingley as she pretends to be what she thinks Mr Darcy admires. As Mr Darcy is reading, she reads a book along side him, but pays little attention to her own book and focuses on him. The irony of the line spoken by a woman who has only a superficial interest in reading. Perhaps it is indicative of the Bank of England having only a superficial interest in putting Austen on the note – an interest in shutting up protesters? How cynical of me! I do find it interesting though, but I would have much preferred another quote.
In fact, it it weren’t for the length, I’d suggest the famous opening line.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife”
Though it was tongue in cheek at the time, I could see it being taken too literally nowadays. It would possibly anger feminists, LGBT groups and probably even men themselves.
But you’d have to get some sort of quote about fortune on a bank note surely?
The new Austen-clad £10 note will be in circulation as early as 2017, a year after the Churchill £5 note makes its appearance.
I’m looking forward to it! Though I can only hope that the Bank of England doesn’t decide at any point in the future to combine the two and have a certain wartime female Prime-minister on any note. At least not any note the regular person on the street can receive…