The Bank of England confirmed yesterday that Jane Austen will be featured on the ten-pound note in a few years, ousting Charles Darwin. The decision follows a backlash in Britain over the bank’s announcement in April that 19th-century philanthropist Elizabeth Fry would be replaced on the five-pound note by Winston Churchill beginning in 2016, leaving only male faces (with the notable exception of the Queen’s) on British currency.
The subject has been close to the heart of incoming Bank of England governor Mark Carney. “Mr Carney started discussions about female representation on banknotes on his first day in office,” the BBC reports. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne applauded him in a tweet saying that the choice showed great “sense and sensibility.”
The outgoing Bank of England governor, Sir Mervyn King, last month seemed to indicate that Austen was not an affirmative-action pick in response to public pressure but had been “quietly waiting in the wings” to replace Darwin for some time. “One thing which we are quite determined to avoid is any suggestion that the five pound note in some sense be reserved for women,” he said in his final public appearance.
Amusingly, the quote from Pride and Prejudice selected for inclusion on the bill seems to have been chosen by someone who didn’t read the book. “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!” were the insincere words spoken by the affected Miss Bingly to Mr. Darcy in a futile attempt to attract his attention:
Miss Bingley’s attention was quite as much engaged in watching Mr. Darcy’s progress through his book, as in reading her own; and she was perpetually either making some inquiry, or looking at his page. She could not win him, however, to any conversation; he merely answered her question, and read on. At length, quite exhausted by the attempt to be amused with her own book, which she had only chosen because it was the second volume of his, she gave a great yawn and said, “How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”
Austen would no doubt appreciate the irony.