Should we bank on Jane Austen being the face of our £10 notes?

3 Jul
austen

If the (Fanny) Price is right…

When it was announced that Elizabeth Fry would be disappearing from our £5 notes, feminists (and pretty much everyone who thinks gender equality isn’t such a dumb idea) were up in arms. Without Ms Fry the UK currency would have no female faces. Except the Queen, obviously.

Charles Darwin will soon be leaving our £10 notes and Sir Mervyn King, the until very recently Governor of the Bank of England, announced that the novelist Jane Austen is hotly tipped to be replacing Mr. Darwin. This makes rather a lot of sense as the bicentenary of ‘Pride and Prejudice‘ (her most famous novel) is coming up. In February, the Royal Mail marked this by releasing some Jane Austen related stamps (whether this is a marker of success or not up to you…I once saw some Coldplay themed stamps).

It would certainly make a change to have a writer on a banknote. Currently, we have scientists and politicians (for a full list see here).

Those that campaigned for a female face on our currency are feeling rather mixed about Austen. She ticks one box…she had a vagina. And for us lit loving feminists, she ticks another box…she was a writer. But is she really the best person to represent all females on the only thing that almost every one handles every single day of their lives: money?

Is she even the best British writer to plaster all over our currency?

Personally I think not, on both counts.

Before you click off in disgust, thinking something along the lines of, ”God these ‘book loving’ feminists, they don’t know what they want”, hear me out.

thriftLet’s compare Jane Austen to her female currency predecessor, Elizabeth Fry.

Elizabeth Fry was a major social reformer, born in 1780. She was (according to Wikipedia) a major driving force behind new legislation to make the treatment of prisoners more humane, and she was supported in her efforts by the reigning monarch. Pretty impressive stuff given that women weren’t even allowed to vote until 15 years before she died.

Jane Austen wrote six full length novels. All of which are considered to be classics. They all set within the gentry, and are largely centred around the romantic relations and marriages of these upper class individuals. Austen is a great writer, widely studied in schools and Universities, and funny too.

Compared with Fry though, Austen falls a little short. I recognise and applaud the fact that writers should be praised as much as scientists, but it just kind of sucks that Jane Austen is the chosen writers. There are so many kick ass British female writers from a similar- ish period (Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Barrett Browning… I could go on) but Austen’s just so vanilla. In all her stories, marriage is the solution to all life’s problems. Marriage to someone with money, even better. Austen even famously said she would prefer for people buy her books rather than borrow them, as this would make her an extra bit of green.

In fact, she’s probably perfect for a bank note. At the end of the day, it’s only money. Despite being handled every day, I had to Google who was actually on a bank note to start with. We care more about the money than the face on it don’t we? Shameful though it is. No cool female writer would want to be on a bank note. I mean, that’s just so conformist isn’t it?

Alexandra Wilks

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5 Responses to “Should we bank on Jane Austen being the face of our £10 notes?”

  1. Ankur Banerjee July 4, 2013 at 1:40 PM #

    I don’t see it as a political statement about feminism. More like, she’s an important historical figure / author, and deserves the recognition she’s getting. It could be argued there are equally deserving figures, but then that strays into opinion.

    • Stephanie Davies July 10, 2013 at 9:42 PM #

      I think the argument is that reducing the amount of women in *any* space is a feminist issue, therefore who is the best woman for the job? Alexandra what do you think?

      • Ankur Banerjee July 10, 2013 at 11:42 PM #

        My point was that when picking a person to go on a banknote, even when picking among the subset of female authors, how feminist they were may not have been the overriding concern. Jane Austen, as an author, is many orders of magnitude more popular than any of the other authors mentioned in this article. See: http://img10.imageshack.us/img10/4970/1icb.png

        According to the Bank of England FAQ:

        Who decides who the historical figure should be on the back of a new note?
        It is the Governor of the Bank of England who makes the final decision. The Bank have celebrated the lives of eminent British personalities on the back of their notes since 1970. It is usual practice to consider a number of probable candidates all of whom have been selected because of their indisputable contribution to their particular field of work and about whom there exists sufficient material on which to base a banknote design.

        As one of the best known female authors of her era, did Jane Austen make “an indisputable contribution to her field of work”? I think yes.

  2. cherylmoore July 6, 2013 at 8:28 PM #

    I think that Elizabeth Fry, only being on the lowest valued note, prior to her deletion, is indicative of society’s covert devaluation of women.

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