Jane Austen in Your Pocket

The Bank of England released the new £10 note today, featuring an image of Jane Austen and of her Pride and Prejudice heroine, Elizabeth Bennett. But Austen fans—and there are reported to be several—are not all pleased.

Some object to the Austen quotation cited on the note: “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!” A fine sentiment, but delivered, in the book, by the snobbish and superficial Caroline Bingley, who didn’t believe it for a minute. She was just using it to ensnare Mr Darcy.

Given how obsessed many of Austen’s characters are with money and the status it confers, one would think the designers could come up with a more appropriate, finance-related quote for a banknote. I’ve certainly plagiarized borrowed “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” often enough, although, now that I think about it, that line is probably too sexist and too damn heterocentric to be acceptable in the 21st century.

And then there’s a problem with the depiction of Jane Austen. It’s based on a portrait painted years after Austen’s death.

The Sunday Times quotes Lucy Worsley, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces and author of the book Jane Austen at Home:

“It’s an author publicity portrait painted after she died in which she’s been given the Georgian equivalent of an airbrushing — she’s been subtly ‘improved.’

“Jane had a much sharper face — some might call it sour.”

On the left, a portrait of Austen by her sister, Cassandra. On the right, the image on the banknote.

On the left, a portrait of Austen by her sister, Cassandra. On the right, the image on the banknote.

I think she might have a point.

Still, it’s pleasant to see a nation’s writers and painters celebrated on its currency—the new £20 note, to be released in 2020, will feature J.M.W. Turner—instead of the usual dead politicians. I wouldn’t want it to happen here in the US, though. With the current sad state of American civilization, it’s all too easy to imagine the government replacing Lincoln on the $5 bill with a picture of Ayn Rand‎.

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